BEST PORTRAIT LENS for Shooting headshots

Choosing the best portrait lens for headshots can be confusing. This post will dive into this complex topic and make it simple for you to understand.

Understand this. There is not just one single lens recommendation that meets the three requirements of adequate focal length, large maximum aperture, and working distance. The good news for you is that there are many good lenses that will give you great results when you're shooting headshot portraits.

Just as an example, check out my own lineup of lenses that can be good for shooting successful headshot below.

Headshot portrait lensesLenses that can be used for shooting headshots

You want the best lens for shooting headshots. It's all about focal length and max aperture. A good headshot lens must be capable of shooting at a distance that renders your subject's face attractively and renders the background pleasantly out of focus.


Headshot Lens Comparison

HEADSHOT LENS *PRICE COMMENTS
85mm f/1.8 $437-$499 Good for full frame cameras. Great for crop sensor cameras.
18-135mm f/4.5-5.6 $411-$599 Fits crop cameras only. Extremely versatile. Excellent perspective and distance iwth it's longer telephoto zoom reach.
70-200mm f/2.8 $1599-$2099 The go to choice of pro portrait shooters for shooting headshots.
24-105mm f/4.0 $1209-$1364 Very versatile. This lens can handle large group photos as well as headshots.
50mm f/1.4 Prime $399-$1599 Only recommended if you're shooting with a crop sensor camera. Wide open at f/1.4 you'll still achieve excellent blur in your background, despite its relatively shorter focal length.
* Prices vary by time, vendor, and specific lens version.

 Additionally, a good headshot lens gives you a comfortable working distance between you and your subject. It's important to understand all three of these characteristics of a sold performing headshot lens for your camera.

The short video below gives you my choices for headshot lenses for my Canon camera bodies, but you use similar lenses for other brands of cameras. Just pay attention to the focal lengths and maximum apertures. 


HEADSHOT LENS VIDEO

I'm a Canon shooter, but you can find these same focal lengths in other brands.


Headshot focal length comparison

The focal length of the lens you use for shooting headshots is the single most important factor in choosing the best headshot lens. Using too short of a focal length renders the human face with a distorted, unattractive rendering. Longer focal lengths "flatten" the perspective and are much preferred. 

I used a single 24-105mm lens on a full frame camera using three different focal lengths to show you the comparison below. I shot each headshot at a different distance that equally filled the frame with my mannequin model's face.

24mm

Headshot at 24mm focal length(POOR CHOICE)

This wide angle focal length is a poor choice for headshots. Facial features are distorted and unflattering.

50mm

Headshot at 50mm focal length(BETTER, BUT NOT IDEAL)

This normal angle focal length is a better choice for headshots, but it's not ideal. Compare with the more distant, telephoto focal length.

105mm

Headshot at 105mm focal length(BEST CHOICE)

This telephoto focal length of 105mm is  the best choice for headshots taken with this general purpose, 24-105 lens.


Best Focal Lengths For Headshot Photography

The best focal length for a headshot lens depends on the size of your sensor. Look at the comparison between using a 50mm lens on a full frame camera versus using the exact same lens, from the exact same vantage point, of the exact same subject.

50mm lens

Headshot with full frame cameraHeadshot photographed using a full frame camera

50mm lens

Headshot with crop cameraHeadshot photographed using a crop camera

Although 50mm is not an ideal focal length to use for headshots, it could be used in a pinch on a smaller crop sensor DLSR or mirrorless camera. The cropped sensor camera gives you a narrower view, the equivalent view as you'd get with an 80mm lens on a full frame sensor. More importantly, you'll take a slight farther position with your camera and you'll get a nicer looking headshot. 


MOST OF THE READERS OF THE BETTER-DIGITAL-PHOTO-TIPS WEBSITE USE CROP SENSOR CAMERAS


I could have simply moved closer to the subject with my Canon 5D Mark III (full frame) but that would distort the face of my subject. I recommend a minimum of 85mm as a focal length to use for shooting headshots. The angle of view you get with a lens should give you a comfortable shooting distance between you and your subject and fill most of your camera frame with your subject's face.

Alternatively, you can shoot from a farther distance and use software to crop your photo to the desired headshot framing. This is less than ideal and wastes using your camera's entire sensor for the best quality.

You might also be wondering what's the best camera for headshot photography. Although you CAN take a head shot with a cellphone camera, you'll get much more professional looking results with a DSLR or mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses.  Point and shoot cameras with a decent sized sensor, and zooming lens can suffice too.

Usually the advice on the best portrait lens centers around posing the individual person. Being primarily a family portrait photographer I think of a good lens for portraits as one that is good for all people photography, but a headshot photo is a specific

This include large groups and small families, as well as individual portraits. 

Three approaches to choosing the best portrait lens for headshots

What approach you take when evaluating the best headshot lens depends on your specific situation. Your budget and your need for versatility in shooting other types of portraits are additional factors you must consider.

MOST AFFORDABLE HEADSHOT LENSES. The 85mm f/1.8 is the top choice for headshot photo lens for crop sensor cameras and is also a solid choice for full frame cameras. 2nd choice when affordability is a 50mm prime lens. They come in f/2.0, f/1.8, and f/1.4 with each of these getting pricier along with the larger and larger size of maximum lens opening.

BEST PERSPECTIVE. The 70-200mm lenses are by far the best and most popular with pro shooters for getting a pleasing "flat" attractive representation of the human face. There are f/2.8 and f/4.0 maximum aperture versions. Pro lenses with pro price tags will give you the least distortion, best quality and sharpness. The alternative choice is more affordable 70-300 that aren't as fast.

MOST VERSATILE. Zoom lenses are the most versatile. You can shoot full length, 3/4 length, and headshots with just one lens. 24-105 full frame. Save money with a smaller crop lens such as the Canon 18-135  or the


My Recommended Lenses For Headshots

To help you choose the best one, I created a list of the best lenses for headshots you can browse through. I gave you my 5 headshot lenses above, although I now use my 70-200mm f/2.8 100% of the time for headshots and have my other lenses available if I'm shooting other subjects as well.

This list of the best lens for headshots was made using the brand I shoot, Canon, but similar focal lengths are available from other brands too. I've included the links for checking current prices at the end of this post.


1. Canon 70-200mm f/4.0 L

Canon 70-200mm lenses

This lens is one of Canon's "L" lenses and the go-to focal length that professional portrait photographers use above any other. It's far cheaper than the f/2.8 and gives you plenty of background blur at f/4 at focal lengths of 100mm and higher. I've been using the pricier f/2.8 (usually I set at f/4 or f/5.6 anyway) version of the 70-200 for more two decades.

The 70mm focal length is good for shooting small family portraits, and 3/4 length, and full length individual portraits. It's designed for full frame cameras, but gives you extra reach (1.6x) when used on a crop sensor camera.


2. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0 L

Versatility is the best way to describe this lens. At 105mm it will give you a good distance perspective when shooting headshots. With the lens wide open at f/4, you'll get ample background blur for a pleasing headshot.

It's one of Canon's pro "L" lenses. It performs at a professional level and is priced that way. Additionally, the 4x zoom gives you the flexibility to shoot families and groups, events, landscapes, and close-ups.


3. Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6

This lens is a perfect upgrade if you've been shooting with the standard 18-55mm "kit" lens that came with your camera. The 135mm maximum zoom gives you great perspective for shooting headshots. The 75x zoom makes it a shooting anything lens with the exception of distant wildlife or high-end sports photography.


4. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6

Not so popular with professional photographers, the 70-300mm lens has the right focal lengths for shooting headshots, but also the added versatility to use as a mid-range sports, action, and wildlife lens.

It's not a pro-level lens, but for the advanced enthusiast shooting a profile photo for Linked-In, Facebook, or a headshot for an About Us webpage, the 70-300mm lens might make sense for you. I confess I've never used this lens, but user reviews have been heavily favorable.


headshot lens conclusion

You don't need a special lens that's good just for headshots, although website and YouTube marketers would like you to believe so. You just need one of your lenses to be capable of taking great headshots. Professional headshots involve more than just choosing the best lens. Lighting technique and control of the background are just as important.

Maximum focal length is the most important element to watch for. It's much more important than the maximum aperture of the lens. A long lens will give you plenty of blur in the background and attractive rendering of your subject if you shoot with your aperture set wide open providing your accurately focussed on your subjects' eyes.

REVIEWS OF HEADSHOT LENSES ON AMAZON

I hope you found this post helpful. No matter which brand you shoot, you can get additional insights by reading the reviews on these potential choices for headshot lenses on Amazon by other photographers. Happy window shopping!

As an Amazon affiliate I may receive a small commission from qualifying purchases, at NO added cost to you.



Article published by Bruce Lovelace

ABOUT BRUCE LOVELACE

Bruce is the publisher of Better Digital Photo Tips. Read more on the About Page. He's been known as The Traveling Photographer ever since he started his location photography business in 1994.

View some of Bruce's photos on Instagram.   Visit the Facebook Page. Watch him on YouTube.  Bruce runs photo workshops for kids and adults, and provides one-on-one photography coaching.


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