Last Updated on April 12, 2021
When I started in portrait photography I used my Canon kit lens and it held me back from growing my portrait business and cost me a ton of money.
If you are looking to get professional portrait quality out of your Canon camera then investing in a top lens is a must. Growing your portrait business requires the best image quality and that is only possible if you are shooting with the right lens. After reading this article you will know which lens to invest in so your portraits are the best they can be.
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- Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens – Ideal For All Portrait Photographers
- Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens –Excellent Canon Lens for Low Light Portrait Shots
- Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens – Great All Around Canon Portrait Lens
- Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens – Top Image Quality Canon Portrait Lens
- Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens – Ideal Portrait Lens For Shooting At a Distance
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens – Great Overall Distance Portrait Lens
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Lens – Top Value Canon Portrait Lens
- Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens – Best Overall Beginner Canon Portrait Photography Lens
Canon Lenses For Portraits – Top Picks
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens
Exceptonial Canon Lens, Ideal For All Portrait Photographers
When shooting portrait photography you must have a top quality zoom lens and the 70-200 f/208 Canon image stabilizing lens is my absolute favorite. As a matter of fact, it is one of the best overall lenses I have ever used and I shoot in many different photography styles. This lens is widely popular with professional portrait photographers and amateurs who want to take their image quality to the next level. It has an impressive focal length for it’s price point making it an incredible value. The wide f/2.8 maximum aperture makes shooting moving targets possible even when shooting in low light (it’s actually one of my favorite low light Canon lenses as well).
This Canon portrait lens offers true professional image quality while offering fast autofocus that is very accurate. The image stabilization quality is top notch while also providing a full weather proof design allowing you to take outdoor portraits, particularly great for senior pictures and other outdoor events. You also get the option of using lens extenders providing you with exceptional flexibility. This portrait lens is ideal for every photographer.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens
Excellent Canon Lens for Low Light Portrait Shots
I absolutely love this Canon EF 85mm lens for shooting in poor lighting. Early on I did many sessions in my clients’ homes and that meant dealing with less than ideal lighting and this lens was a life saver. With an 85mm focal length you will be able to achieve eye catching perspectives without compromising on image quality. It is easy to create a beautiful blurred background with this lens which will make your portraits really pop. Your subjects will love how they look in their portraits which is what you want, right? This lens also provides excellent image stabilization and your results will be pro quality. I always keep this lens in my photography bag even when traveling across the country for a shoot, it’s that good.
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens
Great All Around Canon Portrait Lens
Most portrait sessions you will find yourself using multiple lenses to get all the shots you need but when I can only have one lens with me this Canon 85mm f/1.4 lens is my go to all around portrait lens. You can get almost any standard portrait shot with this lens and that makes this my favorite when shooting quick sessions or for those who want to get the most out of their lens budget. When paired with my best portrait camera this lens produces exceptional images consistently making it a great option for the working portrait photographer.
Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens
Top Image Quality Canon Portrait Lens
I have used this Canon lens for some of my best portrait photography sessions. It provides truly amazing image quality and with a 135mm focal length it is able to handle some challenging perspectives that other lenses just won’t be able to handle. It provides crisp subjects set against a beautiful blurred background for portraits your clients will cherish. This lens is quite a bit larger than others on the list making it less travel worthy but it is very durable and well designed making it’s size much easier to manage when compared to lower quality models in the same category. It also comes in at a very reasonable price point for it’s performance making this a very popular portrait lens for photographers across the globe. One more great thing I’ve found about this lens is that it performs exceptionally well in low and poor lit environments.
Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens
Ideal Portrait Lens For Shooting At a Distance
Professional portrait photographers must have a lens that can handle shots from longer distances and most traditional options are not capable of doing so. This 200mm Canon lens offers a focal length ideal for taking shots at a distance and particularly shines at events such as sports, concerts and theater. With a fast and accurate AF this lens will capture moving subjects with ease providing excellent image quality that isn’t possible with a traditional Canon portrait lens. It performs well indoor and out while coming in at a great price making this an excellent investment in your portrait photography business.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens
Professional Design, Image Quality, Stabilization and More at a Great Price
For those who feel the 70-200mm f/2.8 is too bulky or pricey should snag this Canon lens as it provides almost all of the performance at a lower price point. The only trade off is this lens is not as well suited for poor lighting as it’s bigger aperture cousin. But as long as you have adequate light this lens will provide insanely good image quality with pro level image stabilization and AF. This Canon lens is also smaller making it easier to shoot long portrait sessions without getting fatigued. The build quality is great and offers Canon’s excellent weather proofing making this one of the best Canon portrait lenses for the money.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Lens
Top Value Canon Portrait Lens
This Canon 70-200 f/4 lens is a very popular entry level model for photographers looking to build a portrait photography business without blowing their budget on lenses. It provides pro quality performance under good lighting and comes in a lightweight build design making it great for less experienced photographers. I am a huge fan of the compact design for less experienced photographers because as fatigue sets in, image quality always suffers. And this lens will help you shoot longer sessions without letting fatigue effecting your image quality. This telephoto zoom lens is a great option if you plan to shoot indoor events and at this price it is an excellent value.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens
Best Overall Beginner Canon Portrait Photography Lens
This compact Canon prime lens is my top recommendation for the budget conscious portrait photographer who is just starting out. It provides all the performance you need for a standard portrait shoot. It offers good autofocus performance and image quality allowing you to capture beautiful pictures. If you are looking to do senior photos, family portrait photography or any standard studio shooting this is a great entry level model to get.
What Makes A Great Canon Portrait Lens?
Portrait photographers find themselves shooting in so many different circumstances that any lens may be used under the right conditions. But with the high cost of lenses it is important to be efficient when selecting the lenses you put in your camera bag. Traditional portrait photography calls for a completely different lens than when shooting a subject who is acting on stage in a low light theater. So if you are planning to shoot primarily studio sessions, you will need a lens suited for those conditions. Thankfully, Canon makes amazing lenses for all conditions so you will be able to get great shots no matter the type of portraits you want to shoot.
Portrait Photography Perspective
When shooting portraits it can be argued that perspective is everything. Getting a flattering shot of your subject is always something you will be trying to capture. (Nobody will hire you if you can’t make them look good!) And perspective distortion is a portrait photographers worse enemy. And a proper lens for your particular subject and distance is imperative if you want to avoid perspective distortion. With the wrong lens you will be forced to shoot from too close or too far away which will lead to problems such as blurred subjects or distorted images.
Portrait Lens Focal Length
Shots from too close can lead to facial features being distorted and no client will be pleased with images where their face is distorted. Basically, the longer your lens’s focal length, the further away the lens is designed to shoot from. Therefore, studio sessions will require a smaller focal length while event shots will require a longer focal length.
When deciding on which lens to pull for a particular shot first you need to consider where your subject will be in relation to your camera lens. Always be sure that you have adequate space for framing your subject while keeping background and foreground objects in mind.
You will find that wide angle portrait lenses are best for when you want to capture some of the surroundings with your subject, but you won’t be going with a wide angle lens if you want a classic blurred background. Most shots will be using a telephoto lens for capturing tight head shots without focusing on the background.
Traditionally, portrait photographers will opt for a focal length in the range of 85-135mm. You will find times for a longer focal length but that tends to be special circumstances that most beginner portrait photographers will not have to worry about any time soon.
Full body shots tend to be best suited for 50mm, while occassionally dropping down to 24mm. This will also allow you to get the classic bokeh effect most portrait photographers look for.
Portrait Photography Aperture
A blurred background is great for making your subjects pop, so unless the background is an important part of the image you will be going for sharp subjects and blurred backgrounds. This is best achieved by using a wide aperture, which reduces your depth of field.
If you are starting out as a studio portrait photographer you will find that narrow apertures of f/8 or f/11 are most common. With studio lighting, this aperture will offer you the best subject focus with a blurred background. Headshots will be your bread and butter so getting a lens in this range is the way to go. And luckily Canon has many great option (my favorites are on this list:)
Portrait photography offers so much room for creativity and expressing yourself starts with selecting a lens best suited for your Canon camera. Over the years I’ve used hundreds of lenses and not all are created equal. But all of my top picks will provide you with years of services taking awesome photos. If your budget allows, my first four picks are the absolute best, but if your budget calls for a lower price point the final two lenses are also real winners.