If there’s one thing you must do when taking portrait photos it is flatter the subject/model and get them looking at their very best. No-one likes a photo of themselves where they look ‘bad’ and if you are capturing portraits not showing your subject at their best you need to sort it out, and quickly.
One of the most common causes of bad portrait shots is because the wrong lens was used, and I see this most when people use a wide angle lens to take the portraits. Wide angle lenses do have their place in portrait photography, and they can be used to great effect and capture some stunning (and flattering) photos, however you do need to be careful when using wide angle lenses to capture portraits.
Used incorrectly wide angle lenses can create distortions, proportionality issues and make the subject’s face look bulbous. I know there are some portrait photographers out there who can capture stunning individual portraits using 24 mm (full frame equivalent) lenses, however I have always struggled with individual portrait photos with lenses this short. I know it is possible to use these lenses it’s just that I have never quite managed it and, in my opinion at least, the subject never looks right. When I take individual portrait shots I prefer to use 35mm lens (full frame equivalent), and whilst many may not consider this a wide angle lens, it is wide for portraits. There are times I will go even wider and drop down to a 28mm focal length, but in the main I will stick with the 35mm lens for single subject portraits.
‘Proper wide angle lenses’, i.e. those with a focal length of 28mm and less (full frame equivalents) are most useful when taking group portrait shots, and this is where my wide angle portrait lens comes in to its own. There are times when I am taking group portraits and need to use focal lengths of 16mm in order to get nice and close to the group (so I can pose them, direct them and get an engaging shot) and still get everyone in the frame. Whilst shooting wide will often distort individual portraits the same issues seldom happen with group portrait photography, and in these situations I can shoot very wide without being plagued by distortion.
My go to wide angle lens for group portrait shots is a 16mm – 35mm f4 zoom lens, and I find it is the best lens for the job. The 16mm wide end is plenty wide enough for large groups and the 35mm end is okay for individual portraits, should I need to capture individual portraits during a group portrait shoot.
Many photographers may think that a lens with a maximum widest aperture of f4 isn’t wide enough for portrait photography and achieve a tack sharp subject against a nicely blurred out and non-distracting background but this is not the case. When shooting group portraits using super wide apertures, you know the apertures that many portrait photographers use when taking individual portraits, is highly unlikely to render everyone in the group nice and sharp. Using slightly narrower apertures, such as f4 – f5.6 will ensure that everyone in the portrait is nice and sharp.
As you can see wide angle lenses do have a place in portrait photography however you have to use them in the right situations. Failure to do this, i.e. use a wide angle lens when you should be shooting with a longer focal length lens, and your portraits won’t work. If you get to know when to use a wide angle lens, and when not to use a wide angle lens you will see a dramatic improvement in your portraits.
Canon 16mm - 35mm f4L IS
Focal Length – Full frame/APS-C:- 16mm - 35mm/ 25.6mm - 42mm/ Aperture:- 4 - 22/ Min focus:- 11"/ Dimensions:- 3.25" x 4.44"/ Weight:- 21.7 oz/ Image stabilization:- Yes/ Price (approx.) $USD/£ GBP:-$1,000.00/£820.00
The wide angle lens, when I need one, I use for my portrait photography shoots is the Canon 16mm – 35mm f4L IS lens, and I have to admit this is one of my favorite lenses.
This is a professional spec L series lens which means it is made from the best quality materials and uses the best optics. The build quality of this lens is superb, and like all Canon L series lenses bullet proof. This lens is tough, durable, robust and will last a lifetime. This lens is weather sealed which means it will not only keep out whatever Mother Nature throws at it but also any dust, dirt and debris. This lens is perfect for outdoor and indoor shoots.
The image quality of this lens is awesome. It is sharp from the centre of the frame to the edges, fringing, barrel distortion, pin cushioning etc. are well controlled and the colours are bright and vivid, but not over saturated. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed with the image quality of this lens.
This lens is smaller, lighter and not as intimidating as its f2.8L bigger brother, which I really like. The image quality of this lens is just as good as that of thef2.8L version (some photographers claim it is actually better) as is the build quality. Unlike the f2.8L version this lens has image stabilization which works very well and a great feature.
This is not a cheap lens, but it is a lot cheaper than the f2.8L version. All things considered the f4L IS lens is the better value for money lens and, if you don’t need the f2.8 maximum aperture (you don’t need to shoot this wide for group shots) this is Canon 16mm – 35mm lens to get.
The Canon 16mm – 35mm f4L IS lens is available from Adorama, Amazon (US), eBay, Amazon (UK)
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.