Best Canon Lens For Family Portraits

Taking photos of family and friends is likely one of the reasons you are using a digital camera. Or perhaps you are hopeful about using your camera to make a profit from taking family portraits for others.

Canon full-frame DSLRs are capable of making excellent images when used properly. Part of making good use of your Canon DSLR is choosing the right lenses and accessories for your picture-taking needs.

Here are some top choices for Canon EF Mount lenses to use for family portraits.

Top Pick For Family Portraits | Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM

The 50mm prime is Canon’s most inexpensive prime lens and also one of the most useful portrait lenses, especially when you’re shooting more than one person.

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There are good reasons that the 50mm lens became the normal lens for full-frame 35mm photography. In addition to being close to the diagonal measurement of the 35mm film frame, the standard lens delivers a pleasing perspective, can be found with fast maximum apertures, and is often one of the least expensive lenses available for most camera brands, including Canon.

These characteristics fit well with the needs of family portrait photography. The current basic normal lens from Canon for their full-frame EOS digital cameras is the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens. It is one of the least expensive lenses you can purchase for the Canon full-frame digital cameras. It actually costs less than many camera bags found at discount stores.

Part of the appeal for using this lens for family portraits is the optical characteristics inherent in a fast normal lens. Since the Canon EF is 50mm, the perspective issues and distortion effects are virtually eliminated when used at medium distances.

If you get really close, such as for a frame-filling face picture, you will still get some perspective issues and slight distortion of facial features. But since we’re looking at family portraits, that won’t be an issue. To capture a family of 3, 4, or 5 people, you will definitely be at a medium distance.

At wide-open apertures, the bokeh, or out of focus highlights, are very open, airy, and pleasant. The faster a lens, the more options for selective focus you have. With the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM, the f-stops that will give you creamy bokeh start at about f/4.0 to the wide-open f/1.8. Of course, some of that quality will also depend on the specifics of how you line up the scene.

An f-stop of f/1.8 also gives you a lot of leeway in using natural light, even in lower light levels. Canon does have another 50mm lens that is slightly faster, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM. STM is a stepping motor for focus, USM is virtually silent which is also an upgrade. The f/1.4 is about ½ f-stop faster, so it gives more control over selective focus and natural light exposure. It’s also almost triple the cost of the f/1.8 lens.

By the way, I’ve mentioned “full-frame” a few times already. These recommendations are based on using Canon full-frame format DSLRs. If you are using one of Canon’s fine APS-C cameras, the crop factor of 1.6X will need to be accounted for, which changes up things quite a bit for lens coverages.

Runner-Up | Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

With top-notch image quality and a 1.4 maximum aperture, the Canon 85mm f/1.4 is a must-have addition to the bag of any photographer looking to take their family portraits to the next level.

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Short telephoto lenses are good lenses for portraits, including multiple person images. The posing and framing used with a short telephoto can lead to incredibly flattering images for portraits. In fact, I picked it as the Best Canon Lens For Headshots.

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM telephoto is one of the sharpest lenses in full-frame digital photography. Canon reserves the “L” label for their best lenses, the lenses sought after by professionals and other advanced users for exceptional optical quality and heavy-duty construction.

Size and weight are a consideration for many concerning this lens, as it is rather large and heavy for a lens of this focal length. The increase is due to the extremely fast aperture for a short telephoto. The L quality and fast f-stop also make this lens rather pricey. The cost of this fast telephoto is around the range of several of Canon’s full-frame cameras.

At a medium distance, you can capture a ¾ length portrait of a person, two or three if they’re good friends. The resolving power of the 85mm L lens is so high, you may want to look at softening effects in your post-processing program.

A fast aperture short telephoto lens can allow for quite a lot of freedom in regard to selective focus techniques. Bokeh from this lens is one of the reasons this lens is a favorite of many portrait photographers. You can see decent bokeh from around f/5.6 to wide open.

Canon has two other versions of 85mm. A regular series budget-friendly  f/1.8 with very good image quality, and a dream high-speed lens 85mm f/1.2 L which costs slightly more.

Best Zoom Option | Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2

If you’re looking for a great balance between image quality and versatility at a more affordable price than the Canon version, then the Tamron 24-70mm is an ideal choice.

Click below to check prices and availability…

Many camera manufacturers have a set of f/2.8 pro series zoom lenses, one of which is a focal length range I like to call a normal range zoom. Normal range because it has the normal 50mm focal length in the zoom and also because it covers most ‘normal’ photographic situations a photographer may come across.

The camera brand’s f/2.8 zooms are often kind of expensive, but the Tamron version offers significant price reduction without sacrificing image quality. It’s about 2/3rds the price of the Canon brand.

A lens with this range of focal lengths is an extremely versatile tool for all sorts of photographic applications. For family portraits, you can capture everything from an entire large group to a head and shoulders single person portrait.

Close focusing is an added extra capability for the Tamron zoom. Not quite macro, but very close focus. That also adds to the versatility of what you can accomplish with this lens.

Since it has a maximum aperture of f/2.8, you still have the capability for selective focus techniques to isolate your subjects from distracting backgrounds. The f/2.8 aperture also provides some nice, smooth bokeh, more so at the telephoto end of the zoom than the wide-angle.

Though a third party manufacturer lens, it meshes perfectly with all of Canon’s features. The ultrasonic motor focuses the lens quickly, smoothly, and mostly silently. That makes it a great lens for video, too.

Anti Flare multi-coating means you won’t be bothered with backlight causing a lot of lens flare. So, you can use this lens for environmental family portraits in outdoor settings.

Best For Environmental Family Portraits | Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art

Sometimes you need a little bit of a wider angle lens if you want to shoot portraits with more of the environment without introducing too much distortion. The Sigma 35mm Art lens does just that.

Click below to check prices and availability…

Sigma Art lenses are some of the best lenses from any manufacturer, much less a third party brand. Super sharp, low distortion and flare, great bokeh, and silent focusing make the appeal of these fine lenses pretty obvious.

A focal length of 35mm on a full-frame camera is just a little bit wider than a normal lens, making them a good choice for environmental portraits and small groups. Sigma’s maximum aperture of f/1.4 for this lens allows for using it for natural light portraits even in challenging lighting conditions.

For a wide-angle lens, the bokeh it’s capable of producing is incredible. Besides the aperture of f/1.4, the optical excellence of this lens helps produce that. It’s extremely sharp and has excellent contrast. A lens that resolves exceedingly well but that is too soft or too hard, in contrast, might as well not be so sharp for all the good it’ll give you.

Bokeh isn’t all that’s important, stopped down, this lens also delivers a pleasing feel to the entire image area. Flare is very well controlled with this lens and it is sharp and even all the way across the image area.

Close focusing is an added benefit, but you may want to guard against framing very close due to the apparent perspective issues involved. Focused close up on a person’s face, the elongation of facial features is not flattering for most people. But for full-length portraits at a medium distance or for a small group, this is an excellent choice.

Since it is also very fast, natural light environment portraiture is easy to accomplish. At wider apertures, you could also employ selective focus even when used at a medium distance as a slight wide-angle.

What To Look For When Choosing A Canon Lens For Family Portraits

With so many quality choices in front of you, how do you choose a good lens for your own family or group portrait work? There are a few helpful hints of what should be considered in regards to lenses to family portraits

Wide Maximum Aperture

Making use of your knowledge of the exposure triangle and camera settings, you can control your depth of focus from shallow to deep to take advantage of what is necessary for the images you’re trying to capture.

If the lens has a wide or fast aperture, you have more options to make the selective or deep focus effects.

Another advantage of fast apertures is that it opens up the ability to shoot in more places under more lighting conditions. Since many family portrait situations are environmental portraits, the fast f-stop can become very important.

Image Quality

You don’t want just any fast lens for family portraits, you want that lens to deliver image quality worthy of hanging on your wall, posting to social media, or selling the images to a client.

Image quality is more than merely being a sharp lens. You want a lens to be free of other optical defects such as distortion, excessive flare, or flimsy construction. The lenses on this list have great sharpness and pass on all the other criteria, too.

In addition to image quality, I also like to look at how rugged a lens is and how easy it is to add filters to. Lenses with very large filter diameters mean you spend more on filters if you can even mount them on the lens at all.

Moisture resistance is another plus to consider for environmental portraits, as is having a low noise focus motor for swift adjustment. Low noise focusing is actually necessary if you will be shooting video as part of your family portrait work.


I love using ultra wide-angle lenses for architecture and nature scenes and super telephotos for wildlife and sports, but those lenses aren’t very practical for family portraits. A versatile lens for this job covers enough field of view without causing distortion or unnatural perspectives.

Which is one reason why I like the Nifty Fifty most of all for family portraits. The small size, fast aperture, natural perspective, all add up to an extremely useful lens. You’ll notice I didn’t stray too far from that 50mm choice for all four of my recommendations.

Value For The Money

You don’t need to spend exorbitant amounts of money to get quality equipment. These lenses from Canon, Tamron, and Sigma are some of the best performing optics available, yet they don’t cost a ton of money.

Sure, you may need to pay more for extended range of zoom or faster apertures, but the basic 50mm normal lens shows that you can achieve amazing results without much expenditure.

Value in photography often is more than mere dollar costs. A truly valuable piece of photographic equipment will allow you to do the job you intended. Sometimes that does mean spending a little more for certain features or optical quality gains.

What Lens Is Best?

After weighing all the factors, the best Canon lens for your family portraits is the lens that lets you capture as a digital file what you have already envisioned in your eye. You’re already using a great camera system when shooting with Canon full-frame DSLRs.

Take it a step further with an upgraded lens choice and make great family or group portraits.

Best Nikon Z Lenses For Portraits

The Mirrorless Nikon Z system is the latest and greatest from Nikon.

With some incredible portrait features like eye autofocus, the Z system is ideal for Nikon portrait shooters looking for a mirrorless option. In fact, the Z50 was one of our best cameras for family photography.

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Top Pick For Nikon Z Portrait Lens

50mm f/1.8

The Z version of Nikon’s nifty fifty brings image quality improvements courtesy of the new Z mount.

But does the new Z system have enough of a selection of lenses to satisfy the most demanding portrait shooters?

Actually, it does.

So here are our picks for the best Nikon Z lenses for portraits.

50mm f/1.8S | Best Overall Z Portrait Lens

The 50mm 1.8, sometimes affectionately known as the “nifty fifty,” is often the first wide-aperture lens that a photographer will start with. That is mostly because it is the most affordable way to get a wide aperture.

Top Pick For Nikon Z Portrait Lens

50mm f/1.8

The Z version of Nikon’s nifty fifty brings image quality improvements courtesy of the new Z mount.

The same is true for the Nikon Z camera system. Their 50mm 1.8 lens is one of the most affordable lenses in the lineup and easily the least expensive 1.8 max aperture Z lens.

The 50mm makes the top spot because of the affordability combined with the versatile nature of the 50mm focal length.

But the lower price tag certainly does not mean sacrificing quality in this instance.

The new Nikon Z mount is larger than the predecessor F-mount. This larger mount and shorter flange distance (the distance from the camera sensor to the rear glass element of the lens) allows for a much more advanced lens in terms of image quality.

The Nikon 50mm Z lens is incredibly sharp from edge to edge. I have been shooting the Nikon system for years and frequently use the F-mount 50mm. Often when wide open (shooting at f/1.8 you start to see a little sharpness loss on the edges of the frame. I really did not detect that on the Z version.

In addition, this lens does a great job of controlling vignetting. That means that even at the widest aperture (f/1.8), you aren’t going to see any darkening around the edges of the frame.

This lens also uses 2 Extra-low Dispersion (ED) and 2 Aspherical (AS) lens elements plus a Nano Crystal coating to control flare, ghosting, coma or chromatic, spherical and axial aberration. Those are things that you usually don’t notice right away but become apparent in the right conditions and can occasionally ruin a photo. This lens does an excellent job of virtually eliminating those issues.

If you like to shoot video as well, the lens also provides 5-axis image stabilization when combined with a Z6 or Z7 camera and has excellent autofocus.

CLICK HERE to check availability on Amazon.

85mm f/1.8 S | Runner Up

I picked this one as the runner up because it is slightly less versatile than the 50mm but it does create beautiful portraits.

Runner Up

85mm f/1.8

For professional individual portraits, the compression and bokeh of the 85mm f/1.8 is an ideal choice.

Many professional portrait photographers use an 85mm lens for most of their portraits. If you tend to shoot a lot of individual portraits then this may be the perfect option for you.

The longer focal length tends to be more flattering for portrait shooting. When you use a longer focal length, it creates what photographers call compression. Compression is the effect that happens with longer focal lengths where objects tend to look flatter. Think about how faces become distorted with a wide-angle lens…the opposite happens with longer focal lengths.

Without getting into the physics of compression…suffice it to say that it tends to make people look better.

In addition, the 1.8 maximum aperture on a longer focal length means that you can achieve an even more shallow depth of field than the 50mm. While you may not want this all the time, it can be useful in certain circumstances.

This lens could easily be the top pick. But the added cost might put it out of reach for a lot of amateur photographers. So the cost combined with the more specialized focal length makes it a very solid runner up.

If you tend to shoot a lot of individual portraits and are willing to spend a little more money, then the 85mm could be the right choice for you.

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24-70mm f/2.8 S | Best Zoom Z Lens For Portraits

Sometimes versatility is more important than perfect image quality. After all, if you miss the shot, it doesn’t matter how the background bokeh looks.

Best Zoom Z Lens For Portraits

24-70mm f/2.8

For the versatility to grab the shot without changing lenses, a 24-70mm zoom lens has been the go-to option for pro photographers for decades.

The 24-70mm lens is a favorite of professional photographers because it covers a range of focal lengths that are quite useful for portraits.

24mm is wide enough to shoot large environmental portraits and large groups and 70mm combined with the large f/2.8 aperture will give you that classic compressed portrait look for individual portraits.

Much of the same characteristics mentioned in the earlier sections apply to this lens as well. It does a great job of controlling things like chromatic aberration, coma, ghosting, and vignetting. Much of this is related to Z mount itself so it makes sense that all Z lenses would do well in that respect.

This lens also uses two autofocusing motors to help you achieve focus very quickly. Combined with the Z system’s excellent autofocus system (and the very impressive February 2020 firmware update), this makes it so you can focus just about as fast as you can point the camera at something.

In addition, it is one of the quietest focusing motors I’ve used.

So if you want a one-stop-shop kind of lens for your portraits, then the 24-70mm f/2.8 should probably be the one. The fact that it covers multiple focal lengths makes the added cost easier to deal with since it takes the place of 2 or 3 primes.

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35mm f/1.8 S | Best For Environmental Portraits

Sometimes you need a wider look for a portrait, especially if you like to shoot environmental portraits.

Best For Environmental Portraits

35mm f/1.8

With a wider field of view but not too wide to distort your image…plus a 1.8 max aperture, the 35mm is ideal for portraits where you want to capture more of the scene.

These kinds of portraits are very useful for professionals and branding portraits where you want to shoot a person in their environment doing what they do every day.

So unless you already have the 24-70mm above, you’ll need something a little wider than 50mm to really make sure you capture the person’s surroundings.

A 35mm prime is perfect for that.

Crop Sensor Side Note: If you are looking for a portrait lens for the Z50, then this would probably be my top pick over the 50mm. On a crop sensor, the 35mm gives you an effective field of view of 52.5mm.

What I like about using a 35mm f/1.8 as opposed to other wide-angle lenses is that it is right at that sweet spot focal length where you can get a lot of the environment in the frame, but aren’t quite getting any of that unsightly wide-angle distortion.

Also, you get less background blur at wide angles, so the 1.8 maximum aperture will be an advantage over the 2.8 of the 24-70mm.

So if environmental portraits are your go-to type of shots (or you’re shooting a Z50), then the 35mm f/1.8 should be in your bag.

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What To Look For In A Nikon Z Lens For Portraits

Wide Maximum Aperture

One thing every portrait shooter wants (needs) at their disposal is the ability to shoot with a wide aperture. You may not use it every time, but it’s quite useful to have.

A wide maximum aperture is what allows you to both let in a lot of light and create a shallow depth of field.

That shallow depth of field will create blurry backgrounds and separate your subject from the background by keeping them in focus.

Image Quality

Overall image quality is a major factor when selecting a lens of any type.

You have to look for things like blurry edges, lens distortion, vignetting at wider apertures, and overall sharpness and contrast (which tend to go together.

Overall, the Z series lenses are a very high caliber of lenses. You really don’t need to worry about poor quality with any of these lenses listed above.


Depending on what kind of portrait shooting you do, you may need to adapt quickly. Sometimes you don’t have the time to swap out lenses before you need to get that next shot.

Some lenses are more versatile than others.

Of course, zoom lenses are going to be your most adaptable lenses. The ability to change the focal length on the fly without changing the lens can be a very valuable

Best Lens For Full Body Portraits

Full body portraits fall somewhere in between your more standard portraits and wider angle environmental portraits. This can be a tricky middle ground for lens selection.

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Top Pick For Full Body Portraits

Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 G2

The G2 version of Tamron’s 24-70 2.8 lens is a solid step into the professional quality realm of lenses. This lens competes very favorably with its much higher priced brand name competitors. For all but the most demanding photographers, this is easily the best option for shooting full-body portraits.

CLICK below to view on Amazon…

Often finding the best lens for full body portraits requires a little bit of flexibility because the location (and how much of that location you want to include in the shot) can have a significant impact in lens and focal length selection.

Best Lenses For Full Body Portraits

Lens selection is very much a personal preference for photographers. So you might disagree with some of the choices here. My intention is not to tell you these are right and others are wrong, but instead to give you some suggestions and help you understand why.

To help I broke them down into three categories…Overall Best, Best Budget-Friendly Option, and Best High-End Option.

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2 | Overall Best Full Body Portrait Lens

If you’ve read some of my other articles, you’ll know I’m a fan of Tamron glass. Tamron lenses, especially their G2 series are exceptional and cost nearly half of their Nikon and Canon counterparts.

24-70mm is a great range for full body portraits. If you have the room, you can zoom into 70mm and get that “compression” look that works great for portraits. But the zoom range does give you the flexibility in the event that you are stuck in a smaller place.

The Tamron gets the nod as the best here because it packs a ton of quality into a relatively affordable package. It’s difficult to call anything over $1000 “affordable,” but compared to the brand name 24-70 lenses, the Tamron is a great value.

Even at that lower price point, it is very competitive with its Nikon and Canon competitors in terms of sharpness, contrast, and overall image quality.

Check out reviews and current prices on Amazon by clicking here. for the Canon Version | Nikon Version.

50mm 1.8 | Best Budget-Friendly Option

Every major camera manufacturer has a relatively inexpensive 50mm f/1.8 lens in their lineup and the two things they all seem to have in common is a low price and good image quality.

Click to check availability on Amazon: Canon 50mm 1.8 | Nikon 50mm 1.8 | Sony 50mm 1.8

If you’re just getting started in portrait photography and on a budget, a “nifty fifty” is the perfect lens for you.

Many photographers refer to this as a “normal lens.” That is because when shooting on 35mm film (you know…like in the old days), a 50mm lens would be the closest approximation to how we perceive things with our eyes. The same is true today when using a full-frame camera.

On most crop sensor cameras a 50mm lens has approximately the same perspective as a 75mm lens (80mm on a Canon crop sensor lens).

Because a 50mm lens has a “normal” perspective, they are relatively inexpensive to design and manufacture AND easy to make them sharp with high image quality.

That means with a 50mm lens, you can get very high quality images at a reasonable cost.

In the first few years of shooting professionally, I used a 50mm f/1.8 lens as my primary lens.

The only downside of using a nifty fifty for full-body portraits is the lack of versatility as far as focal length goes.

That means that if you find yourself in a tight spot and can’t back up far enough, you may not be able to get a full-body portrait. In these situations, having a bigger zoom range (such as 24-70mm) you can work around these limitations.

However, given the huge budget savings, this limitation is rare enough to not worry too much about it.

Overall, any of the 50mm lenses above will serve you really well for all kinds of portrait work, including full-body portraits.

You can check out the reviews and current prices on Amazon with the links below…

Canon 50mm 1.8 | Nikon 50mm 1.8 | Sony 50mm 1.8

Canon/Nikon/Sony 24-70 f/2.8 | Best High-End Option

Just a small step above the Tamron 24-70 you’ll find the 24-70mm lenses made by the major camera brands. If you want the best of the best and cost is not an option, then it’s hard to beat the native glass options like these.

Click to check availability on Amazon: Canon 24-70 f/2.8 | Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 | Sony 24-70 f/2.8

So why weren’t these the best overall pick? Simply because I tried to take cost into consideration when making the choice. But they do belong here because this category doesn’t take cost into consideration.

Nikon 24-70 f/2.8E ED (click image for more info)

There are some advantages of the brand name lenses over their third party counterparts. Though it is up to you to decide if these benefits justify the price difference.

Better build quality is the primary difference between these and the Tamron 24-70 I recommended above. The native lens options are just tanks. I don’t ever recommend dropping your lenses or being careless with them, but if you often shoot in rugged conditions or travel a lot with your gear, then stepping up to this level may be a good idea.

Small improvement in image quality is the other benefit to stepping it up to this price point. However, you may be surprised just how small that improvement is. There are some very small details, such as the quality of the bokeh that some may like better on the native glass, but even that might be a matter of personal preference rather than objective quality.

To be honest, if image quality is your main concern, I don’t think the incremental improvement from the Tamron justifies the price difference here.

You can check out the reviews and current prices on Amazon with the links below…

Canon 24-70 f/2.8 | Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 | Sony 24-70 f/2.8

What To Look For When Picking A Full Body Portrait Lens

Here’s a helpful guide of what to look for when choosing a lens for full-body portraits. Most of these considerations are the same as for any portrait lens. But there are some specific things to think about for full body shots, like focal length for example.

Best Focal Length For Full Body Portraits

Since it can be difficult to narrow down a specific lens and you might already have your favorite brand, let’s talk about focal length first.

The obvious answer here is that any focal length would work depending on what kind of look you are going for. It is entirely possible to create world-class full-body portraits with any lens from 20mm to 200mm (or beyond). So ultimately, it’s up to you to decide where you want to take your own style.

So rather than try and decide which focal length is aesthetically ideal for full body portraits, we can approach it from a practical point of view.

A wide-angle lens can introduce distortion into your image. This gets more pronounced as your subject gets closer to the edge of the frame. It’s not a huge issue for landscapes but can look very odd when a person is stretched out along the edge of a frame. With a full-body portrait, that means exaggerated head and feet.

On the long end, you don’t want to be standing so far away from your subject that you can’t communicate with them and give instructions and poses. Interacting with the subject and being able to elicit real and genuine expressions is very important and standing 50 feet away kind of makes this impossible.

So with those two things in mind, a good full body portrait lens should be in the 50-85mm range. You can get away with 100mm but even at that point, you’re getting a little far from your subject to easily communicate with them.

Wide Aperture

A lens with a wide maximum aperture is generally preferred for portrait photography.

Wide apertures let in more light which will allow you to shoot in lower light situations without having to increase your ISO or boost the exposure in post-production software.

If you know how aperture works than you will know that a wide aperture (that means lower number) also makes it easier for you to blur the background when shooting a portrait.

Blurring the background can help separate the subject from the background and generally create a simplified background and, in turn, a more aesthetically pleasing image. There are exceptions to this, of course, but for those you can always adjust the aperture to a smaller size.

Having a wide maximum aperture gives you more options when shooting and options are always good.


Any time you buy gear, the cost is a factor.

I can’t really tell you what the right amount to spend on a lens is. But, one thing to keep in mind when looking at the various price ranges is whether you are getting a significant improvement in quality when you jump to a higher price level.

In many instances (and as you can see below, this is no exception), the middle ground on price is really close in quality to the high-end lenses. That means that you can easily create world-class images AND save hundreds of dollars if you are open to trying out some other brands.

To better help you choose a lens no matter what your budget is, you can see the options broken down into three categories above.

Should I Use A Tripod For Portraits?

A tripod is one of those photography accessories that you never think about you need it. But when you are in a situation where you need it, having one handy is absolutely essential.

It’s a common misconception that tripods aren’t necessary for portrait photography or that you only need one for taking scenic shots without people in them.

But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

A tripod is an absolutely essential piece of equipment for the portrait photographer. There are a wide range of situations where you should use a tripod for portraits. Here are seven times when a tripod is essential to shooting portraits.

1. Self Portraits

Ok let’s start with the easy one.

Unless you want the selfie look, if you want to get a better quality portrait of yourself, you’re going to have to put the camera on something. So you’ll need either a friend or a tripod. Friends are helpful, but they complain a lot more than tripods and don’t hold the camera as still.

Just recently I wanted to redo my headshot (the one you see at the bottom of this article) and no one was around when I had some time to do it. So I set up my lights and put the camera on a tripod and was all set.

2. Working With The Subject (Getting Out From Behind The Camera)

If you are shooting a portrait and you’re not moving around a lot (such as when you are using lights and a backdrop) then you should be using a tripod.

Being able to get out from behind the camera has a number of positive benefits for your portrait images.

It allows you to interact with your subject and (hopefully) build some trust to make them comfortable. This will help you get better reactions and expressions. You’ll also be free to work with their posing as well.

Being free from holding the camera also let’s you adjust the lights if needed much more easily. Sometimes a small change in the angle of a light can make a huge difference. Those small changes become much easier if your hands are free.

3. Shooting Tethered In The Studio

Ok, so this one is a little specific.

Shooting tethered means that you have your camera plugged into a computer while you shoot so you can see the images on a larger screen as you take them.

If you are shooting like this (or with your camera connected to anything) then having a tripod can be a huge help. Even if you don’t shoot all your shots from the tripod, having it nearby to put the camera down somewhere safe is important.

4. Long Exposure Portraits

Now we are getting into some of the more fun and creative ways in which a tripod can be used in portrait photography.

If you look at some of the great landscape images online, you’re likely to see long exposure images. The cool part about these kind of images is that any motion in the image becomes blurred, making it apparent that something in the frame was moving. This can come in the form of clouds moving across the sky, water flowing along a stream, and many other kinds of movement.

But if you can get your subject to sit really still, it is possible to shoot a long exposure portrait. But for this you need a tripod because your exposure will in at least a few seconds.

Put your subject in the frame with one of these moving elements. Faster moving elements work better because it can be difficult to get a person to stay perfectly still for more than a couple seconds.

You’ll get the long exposure effect within a portrait.

5. Composite Portraits

If you have your camera locked down on a tripod and not moving, then you can do a portrait composite.

One of the ways I’ve seen this done a lot is by putting the camera on a tripod after you have composed your scene. Then take multiple frames, each with your subject in a different spot in the composition. You can then blend those images together in Photoshop and it looks like your subject has been duplicated.

You can also do this with objects if you want to add set styling to a wide portrait but don’t have enough pieces to cover the entire set.

6. Removing A Light Stand

Getting your light close to your subject is the best way to ensure soft and flattering light on them. But if you’re shooting a wide angle portrait (sometimes called an environmental portrait) you may not be able to keep the light out of the frame and still have it close enough to your subject.

The solution is simple.

Shoot your portrait from a tripod. Take one frame with the light in the best spot to light your subject properly. Then remove the light from the shot and take another frame without moving the camera at all. This will allow you to easily mask out the light stand from the shot in Photoshop later by layering the two shots.

7. HDR Portrait Photography

HDR photography isn’t as popular as it used to be (especially the over processed “HDR Look”).

But you can still use the HDR approach in portraiture to create portraits with more even lighting even when the subject and the sky are a very different brightness. Just like removing the light stand, the key to being able to blend in multiple exposures.

In addition to these seven ways you can use a tripod for portrait photography, there are countless more that you’ll discover as you shoot more and expand your creativity with new projects.

Best Tripod For Portrait Photography

If you are looking for a great lightweight tripod to add to your bag, check out our Peak Design Travel Tripod Review.

Using A Polarizing Filter For Portraits

If you know a little about polarizing filters, then you probably think about them in terms of shooting landscapes. But using a polarizing filter for portraits can be a very effective way of improving your images of people as well.

I use these filters for all of my photography. After trying a lot of the best brands out there, they were by far the most well made with the best image quality.

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Can You Use A Polarizing Filter For Portraits?

The short answer is Yes…you can use a polarizing filter for portraits. In fact there are many situations where a polarizing filter can greatly enhance your portraits. There are some things you have to keep in mind, however. Strong polarization may have a negative effect on skin tones and also a polarizing filter cuts down about 1-2 stops of light…so they don’t work well in low light.

The Basics

In simple terms, a polarizer is two pieces of glass placed together than rotate independently to control reflections and glare. There’s a lot more to it than that, but for purposes of this article, that’s a good overview.

Almost all polarizing filters used for digital photography today are circular polarizers (often called a “CPL”). That has nothing to do with the shape of the actual piece of glass (you can have a square shaped circular polarizer). It refers to the type of glass used. The other kind is a linear polarizer, but that’s not important right now.

Polarizers works most effectively when you are shooting at a 90 degree angle (or perpendicular) from the light source (usually the sun). So when positioning your portrait subject, if you point your index finger at the sun, then you should be shooting in the direction your thumb is pointing.

It Can Reduce Skin Glare

Likely the most common goal when using a polarizing filter for portraits is reducing the glare on a subject’s skin.

When you’re shooting during a sunny day, glare on the skin can cause bright “hot spots” that can be almost impossible to correct in a realistic looking way with post processing.

This can be very useful when shooting in locations, such as a beach, where there is no shade and you want to avoid very harsh highlights and shadows.

It Can Help Control The Background

You would be hard pressed to find a landscape photographer who doesn’t own and frequently use a polarizing filter. If you are shooting portraits, especially enviornmental or wide angle portraits, then you should be taking the same approach with regard to the background of your image.

Foliage tends to be shiny and cause a lot of bright highlights (especially if they are wet). Those reflections will detract from the natural color of the foliage. This is especially important if you are taking portraits in the Fall and want to use the leaves as a colorful background.

A polarizing filter can improve the look of skies in your portrait.

First, the filter will make blue skies a rich saturated blue. You can overdo this and make it look unnattural, so pay attention as you adjust the filter.

A polarizing filter also cuts down on the appearance of haze in a photo. Haze is simply light reflecting off the moisture in the air. So if you can control those refelctions with a polarizer, then you can make the image clearer. It may not have a huge effect on your subject since they are going to be relatively close to your camera, but it will enhance the definition in clouds.

It Can Add More Dynamic Range

A lesser known effect of a circular polarizing filter is that they tend to flatten the contrast of an image. This can be very helpful for outdoor portraits.

Decreasing contrast with a filter is a great way to capture more detail in an image. Since you are decreasing the contrast BEFORE the light hits the sensor, then more of the extremes of the image will be able to be captured by the sensor.

Outdoor portraits are notorious for presenting high dynamic range situations. In addition to carefully considering your composition, adding a polarizing filter can help you diminish “hot spots.”

It Can Lower Ambient Light

Most polarizing filters block out about 1 to 1.5 stops of light. That means that it is the same as using an ND filter of that value, but with the added benefits discussed above.

You can use that to your advantage, even with portraits.

Here I used a CPL with a flash. It helped darken the blue of the sky and soften the glare off the helmet.

It can especially come in handy when using off camera flash. Unless you have a flash with high speed sync (HSS), you may not be able to shoot with a low aperture (such as 1.8 or 2.8) and still keep the shutter speed below the flash sync speed (that’s the highest shutter speed that syncs properly with your flash and can vary from camera to camera).

By knocking out 1 to 1.5 stops of light, you are effectively lowering the overall exposure of the camera without having to speed up the shutter. This can get you closer to the wide open aperture you want while still controling the exposure.

Just keep in mind a few things:

You will need to increase the flash power.

If it is really bright, 1.5 stops darker may not be enough.

You can combine this approach with HSS so that neither one is taken to the extreme.

Common Pitfalls When Using Polarizing Filters For Portraits

So we talked about how awesome a CPL can be when taking a portrait. But there are certain mistakes that I see often. It takes some practice and getting used to, but if you want to get a head start on the learning curve, be sure to avoid these common mistakes photographers make when shooting a portrait with a polarizer…

Removing Too Much Contrast On The Face

Specular highlights on a person in a portrait are not always all bad. Highlights and shadows give the face definition. That is what gives depth and that three dimensional feel to a good image.

Eliminating that contrast alltogether leaves the image flat and dull looking. There is a good middle ground to controling highlights when shooting a portrait. It is not an all or nothing proposition.

Don’t forget that a circular polarizer doesn’t have an on/off switch. As you rotate it, you can control the reflections to varying degrees. I would suggest stopping short of making the image completely flat.

Not Adjusting Exposure Settings To Compensate

As mentioned above, most polarizing filters block out about 1 to 1.5 stops of light. It is also important to know that this varies as you adjust the relative strength of the filter.

That means that every time you change the polarizing filter, you may need to make some adjustments to the exposure settings to ensure a well exposed image.

Shooting Skies With A Wide Angle Lens

Remember that part about a polarizing filter being strongest at a 90 degree angle from the sun?

What happens when your field of view encompasses a huge angle?

The result is that polarization will be stronger in some parts of the image than others. This is most prominent when looking at the saturation effect on blue skies.

If you use a polarizer for a wide angle portrait, then the sky will not be consistent. You’ll see a gradient from dark to light blue. This looks very unnattural.

You can lower the strength of the polarizer, try to avoid having a lot of sky in the shot, or just take it off altogether. The best way to learn about this is to get out there and try it.

Forgetting To Adjust Polarizer When You Change Angles

Along the same line as using a wide angle lens, you need to be aware of how your image looks when you or your subject move. Any time either one of you change positions relative to the light source, you’re altering the effect of the polarizer in some way.

It could have a significant impact on the image. The best way to avoid this is to simply be aware that it happens and adjust accordingly.

Using A Cheap Circular Polarizer Filter

I am always an advocate of being sensible when making photography related purchases. I often use third party lenses that are very close to the quality of name brands for a fraction of the cost.

However, I have yet to find a high quality option for a CPL that is also in the budget price range. Some are way over priced though.

I use and highly recommend the X4 CPL from Breakthrough Photography. Breakthrough is a small but exception company based in San Francisco, California. That produce the sharpest most color neutral filters I have ever used. I highly reccomend checking them out.

When Not To Use A Polarizing Filter For Portraits

Using a polarizing filter can really improve your portraits in some situations, but it is also important to know when NOT to use them. Sometimes, they are either not necessary or can actually hurt the quality of your image.

Here are a few times when you shouldn’t use one…

Low light

If you’re shooting in low light situations, light is at a premium. So adding a polarizer will cut out even more light.

You may be tempted to use one to cut out glare from artificial lights, but be careful. Sometimes the loss in light can cause more harm than good.

Capturing Reflections

I love shooting at the beach when small tide pools form away from the water. That lets me capture reflections of my clients in the water. If I tried that with a polarizer, then the reflection would all but disappear and all I’d get in the image is a clear shot of the sand below.

Using A Polarizer At Sunset

Shooting a portrait at sunset with the sun behind your subject is a lot of fun. But if you try that, be sure to remove the CPL from your lens. If you are shooting with your subject backlit, the filter will have almost no effect whatsoever.

If you want to learn more about shooting amazing sunset portraits check out my other article, How To Take Portraits At Sunset.

Photographing Rainbows

Rainbows are just light filtering through water droplets like a prizm which separates the light into the full color spectrum (or something like that…I’m not a scientist).

I do know, however, that using a polarizing filter will fade out the rainbow or eilimante it completely from the image (even when you can still see it with your eyes). So be sure to remove it if you’re trying to capture a rainbow.