Canon Portrait Lenses

Canon Portrait Lenses – Every Canon Photographer Needs One

most popular Canon Portrait Lens - Canon 50mm f/1.8

Good News! If you own one or two lenses for your Canon EOS camera, you probably have one of the capable Canon portrait lenses. Just about any lens can be a portrait lens. However, there are some that do a better job than others.

The photo on the left was taken with THE most popular Canon portrait lens on market… The Canon 50mm f/1.8.

Get a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 Lens…
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What To Look For In A Canon Portrait Lens

When you take a portrait, you usually have a certain look in mind. You want the eyes to be sharp and clear, and you want the background to be just that, a background. The details in the background should be muted and blurry. You can use a backdrop for this, but you still want to use the right setup to get a good portrait.


These are the reasons that many photographers choose a lens that has a focal length between about 80mm and 150mm. The other critical ingredient is a wide aperture, such as f/2.8, or even wider. The wider the aperture, the faster the shutter speed. When you use a fast, wide lens, you get a very shallow depth of field which, in turn, gives you the muted background so desirable in portraits.

The Magic Of Bokeh

On camera websites, you will always see comments about how good (or bad) the Bokeh of a lens is. More expensive lenses tend to have the better Bokeh. You can tell if the Bokeh is not so good if you see spotty or sharp transitions of color in the background versus smooth blurred backgrounds.

Candid shot with Canon portrait lens
This candid portrait was taken with a Canon Rebel T3i and a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens which works as a Canon Portrait lens in a pinch.

Distance From Subject

The normal setup for portraits is with the camera about eight to fifteen feet from the subject. A 100mm lens will get a nice head and shoulder shot at that distance. You can move closer or further away as the situation dictates, but using too short of a focal length is going to give less than perfect results (see below about perspective). Using a longer lens, such as 150mm is better than a shorter lens. Just move a bit further from the subject.

Pro’s Take on Distance – If you observe a professional portrait photographer, they will probably be farther away than the 8-10 feet mentioned above. In fact, they may even have some monster 300mm lens on their camera. This is a good prescription for narrow depth of field and good Bokeh. But in the absence of several thousand bucks for that kind of lens, you can use the guidelines here. Experiment to get your portraits the way you (and your model) like them.

One more hint about getting a nice blurred background. Move your subject further from the background. The more distance between the background and the subject, the better the Bokeh. This will help tremendously if you don’t have a lens with a particularly wide aperture (like f/5.6).

The good news is that most lenses will give decent portrait images. You may have to play with camera settings or distance from the subject to get the best results, but it is possible.

Keep in mind that your Canon Digital SLR camera also affects the focal length of the lens. Most of us amateurs are using cameras with APS-C sensors. What this means is that the designated focal length of the lens is not the actual resulting focal length. You will have a multiplication factor of 1.6 times the lens length. So, if you are using a 50mm lens, the actual focal length is 80mm when you take the multiplication factor into consideration.

A Word About Perspective.

Perspective has nothing to do with lens selection. Well, yes it does, but changing your camera position in relation to your subject affects the portrait drastically. Moving closer or farther from the subject changes the perspective. So, if you want to take a tighter shot, like just a head shot, you can either move closer to the subject or change the focal length of your lens and stay in the same position. Changing your distance from the subject may change the perspective to something rather undesirable. For instance, a 50mm lens may be fine for taking a head and shoulders shot, but the features of the head could change when you move in too close (like the ears will be out of proportion). So the best way to handle that is to have a longer focal length, i.e. change to a 100mm lens or even 135mm.

OK, Now To The Good Stuff – The Canon Portrait Lenses

(Click any lens title to view the product page)
This first group is here for the budget conscious photographers.

Canon 50mm f/1.8 camera lensCanon EF 50mm f/1.8 II
The Canon 50mm lens is known for excellent image quality. This model will surprise you, even though it will separate you from only about $100 of your cash. It is all plastic construction, making it feel a bit “toyish” but the results speak for themselves.

See more about the Canon 50mm f/1.8

Canon 50mm f/1.4 camera lensCanon EF 50mm f1.4 USM
Results in terms of image quality are similar to the Canon 50mm f/1.8, however, the build quality is so much better. Also, the added f-stop makes a difference in bokeh, which is really important in portrait lenses. You will definitely feel the difference when you first pick it up.

See more about the Canon 50mm f/1.4

Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lensCanon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Macro lenses are a good choice for doing portrait work, and the Canon 100mm macro has been a workhorse for many photographers. The macro images are excellent, too, so your lens will give you plenty of use.

More about the Canon 100mm Macro

Canon 70-200 f/4.0LCanon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM
If you are looking for one lens to cover a multitude of image jobs, this one will fit the bill. An L lens for less than $700!

More about Canon 70-200mm f/4L

Tamron 28-75mm lens for CanonTamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 Lens for Canon
Tamron makes a variety of really great lenses that are comparable to Canon products at a fraction of the cost. This one producses tact sharp results, and the wide aperture makes it an excellent candidate for portraits.

More about Tamron 28-75 for Canon

Sigma 105mm lens for CanonSigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens
This Sigma Macro lens will give the same kind of results as the Canon 100mm for less money. The auto-focus is a bit slower, but you will not be disappointed with the image quality.

More about Sigma 105mm for Canon

Canon 85mm f/1.8 lensCanon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM
If a prime lens is what you want (many pros use only prime for portraits), this one is well worth your consideration. Super wide aperture and fast focus so you can keep your camera off the tripod giving you more flexibility. Comment from – “Best bang for buck. With this performance, how can you justify 85mm L which is roughly 20 times the cost of this, just for F1.2 and red ring?”

More about the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens

More Canon Portrait Lenses

Following are the Canon Portrait Lens recommendations for those who are fortunate enough to have deep pockets (or the willingness to sacrifice for the sake of image quality).

Canon 135mm f/2.0L LensCanon EF 135mm f/2L USM
If you are looking for the best “dedicated” portrait lens, this is the one for you. Nice big aperture in a Canon L lens. The results are indisputably awesome.

More about the Canon 135mm f/2

Canon 85mm f/1.2L lensCanon EF 85mm f1.2L II USM
Another excellent portrait lens (L of course). Notice the f/1.2 aperture. When you put this lens on your Canon DLSR, you will feel like a pro, and the images will justify the cost.
Canon 24-105mm f/4L lensCanon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM
Also recommended as an “all purpose” lens, the Canon 24-105 f/4 L will cover your portrait needs with no regrets from you or your subjects.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS USM LensCanon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
Every photographer should have a Canon 70-200mm lens in their bag. This one is the top of the line. Pros use this lens quite often as their portrait “lens of choice.”

More about Canon 70-200mm Lenses

Canon Portrait Lenses and Pet Photography

Hamster w/ Canon Portrait Lens
30D set on continuous shooting
with a Canon Portrait Lens.

Aside from kids, one of the most popular subjects for photography enthusiasts is their pet. A DSLR camera coupled with a great portrait lens is an awesome tool for this type of photograph.

Plan Your Pet Shoot

Taking pictures of a pet can be challenging, so having a plan is a good way to start. This is especially true if you are shooting a friend’s animal rather than your own. Talk over your plan with the owner. He or she may want to capture a particular look that is a favorite with them.

Use props to help you keep the attention of the animal. You can also use props as part of the photo. Hats and glasses can help you create award winning shots.

Use Canon Portrait Lenses To Gain A Different Perspective

Everyone takes the average shots, standing above and shooting in a downward direction. Get down on the same level to increase the interest. Even better, get to a level below the animal. These two perspectives create interest and intimacy.

You can also set your camera on the continuous shooting mode. Pets are not at all predictable, so taking lots of shots is one way to get some good ones as the pet moves. They just don’t react right with the “look at the camera and give me a nice smile” routine you use with most people. Your DSLR camera with a Canon Portrait Lens attached will give you some very memorable shots of your beloved pets.

Four Photography Tips To Help Take Better Portraits In Natural Settings

Taken with a Canon Portrait Lens
Subject was moved away from distracting
objects in the house.
Image was cropped for effect.

If you carry a digital SLR camera, you will naturally be expected to take lots of pictures during a weekend vacation or a family reunion. But the good part is that you will want to because you love photography. Many of the photos you take will be group shots or portraits. This means you will want to pack smart; make sure your portrait lens is in the bag. If your camera happens to be a Canon, portrait lens selection becomes much easier simply because of the wide variety of lenses available. However, even with the most obscure digital SLR, taking portrait photos can be very successful if you follow a few suggested guidelines.

Here are a few simple tips, perhaps they are just reminders, to be aware of when you’re shooting those portraits that will become lasting memories.

  1. Look for a pleasing background. Setting up the shot should not be done in haste. Look for pleasing patterns and colors that can serve as a portrait background. You can use something as simple as a stucco wall, of barn wall with aged planks, a beautiful field of wildflowers, or possibly a sandy beach with ocean waves gently rolling in. What you want to avoid are harsh colors, especially a mixture of vibrant colors that will draw the viewer’s attention away from the main subject of the portrait. Also avoid things like large sculptures and other imposing structures that will grab the viewer’s eye.
  2. Pay attention to distractions. This tip goes kind of hand-in-hand with the background. Nothing is more disappointing than taking a photo only to find out that some random stranger got caught in the picture as he wandered through the background. Other things can be major distractions as well. For instance, be careful not to have objects that appear to be growing out of your subject. For example, don’t position your model or subject in front of a light pole or mailbox. More than one photograph has been ruined by unnoticed naturally appearing objects. This can be avoided by checking the entire composition for distractions. We normally just check to see if the subject’s face is in focus and discover the distractions too late.
  3. Depth of field will set you apart from other photographers. Depth of field is how much of the photograph is in focus. When shooting portraits, a shallow depth of field is very desirable. This can be controlled in a couple of ways. The first way is to choose an extremely wide aperture on your portrait lens. This means an aperture of F/4.0 or larger. The beautiful thing that happens when you choose the right depth of field is that the subject becomes the main focus of your photograph while the background is muted by being out of focus. Another way to control depth of field is to move your subject farther away from the background. When you focus on the face, objects that are in the distance will be blurry, thus making your subject the center of focus.
  4. Light Is Very Important. Proper light in the photograph can make it or break it. The best natural light is early in the morning, before 10 AM, or late in the afternoon. During these times you will get your most desirable portraits. That being said however, photo opportunities do not always happen at the optimal time. If you do have to take your pictures in the middle of the day, you will have to be aware of the harsh light and shadows of the midday sun. There are ways to avoid the harsh light. Most professional photographers carry light filtering disks for these types of occasions, but if you are on vacation, chances are slim that you will have one of these with you. You can move your subject to an area that has more favorable lighting, such as in the shade of large tree or under a park pavilion.

Selecting an appealing background, removing distracting objects, controlling the depth of field with good Canon portrait lenses, and being aware of lighting conditions when shooting portraits will add appeal to your photographs, as well as enhancing the best features of your subjects.

Photography Lesson for Canon Portrait Lenses

Using the right portrait lens is not the only thing that is required when taking excellent photos. Watch this little tutorial about camera settings and controlling the light when shooting natural light portraits…

Wedding Photographer’s Take on Canon Portrait Lenses

How You Can Improve Your Portrait Photography

By Chi Pritchard

We all love to sit back and relive a moment in our lives. These are moments in our past when we were innocent and carefree. Without the worries of life that so many of us take for granted these days. These moments for most of us are captured through pictures. From the moment we are born most of us have a camera pointed directly at us. This is the way we preserve our visual memory. There are two methods in which we preserve these visual memories. Candid shots are those where the subjects are unaware, unplanned, and without posing. Portraits are shots where the subjects are posed and aware that a picture is being taken. With each style there are ways to capture the perfect shot if you follow a few simple rules. First on the list should be to pick the location you want to use for you portrait session.

You’ll find that studios aren’t the greatest locations for you portrait photography. Sure it’s easier in a studio to capture a pretty good posed picture. However, to get a great shot you need to expand beyond the studio. The best way to do this is by going to a park or somewhere as simple as in your own backyard. You can even follow your subject on their way to work or while the stroll down the street.

Showing the subject in their natural surroundings allows them to be more relaxed. If they feel a bit awkward then it will reflect in your shots. This will also allow you to get a natural shot instead of your subject giving a staged appearance. Your going to get a better picture a child playing at a playground. Rather than if you try and take them to a studio and ask them to sit still for a hour. It just doesn’t work and again this will reflect in your shots. The next step would be getting the proper lighting.

There are many different ways you can use light in portraits. Most studios use off camera lighting due to the limited natural lighting at their disposal. You can however use a window as a great way to get soft and diffused lighting. Make sure you place your subject at an angle and not looking forward straight out the window. This is probably the best way to get some natural lighting in your studio setting.

Natural lighting is best achieved outdoors. An overcast day offers the best lighting. Sunny days are great for a picnic, but they can cause your pictures to be over exposed. If you have a sunny day and you aren’t able to shade the subject under a tree or building. Then make sure you don’t position them facing the sun. Most photographers think this sun will reduce shadows. Actually, by pointing them directly at the sun it creates more shadows. These can be touched up in post processing, but if you have 700 shots to process. It can be extremely time consuming to fix an issue you shouldn’t have too if it was done correctly during the shoot. Finally, there are a few other tips that you can use to improve your portrait photography.

Go back and look at your shots that don’t turn out that good. Study the shot and figure out why the shot isn’t that good. Determine if it’s because of lighting or the settings on your camera. Always try and improve and learn from your mistakes.

Take the time to learn a little about your subject. You can get a pretty good idea of what they will and what they won’t like. You don’t have to get to know their life story. It also helps to make your subject comfortable as well.

Whether your shooting a candid or posed shot. Shooting portrait photography is a skill that you should always strive to improve on. Capturing a special event or moment in a person’s life and being able to tell their story through your pictures. In the end that’s what portrait photography’s ultimate goal is.

Chi Photography is one of the top Charleston Wedding Photographer located in Charleston, South Carolina.

Charleston Photographer

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