Beginner’s Tips to Shooting Portraits with a 35mm Lens

Model: Clay von Carlowitz

Model: Clay von Carlowitz

Though I generally never recommend shooting portraits with a 35mm full frame equivalent lens, it’s something that I tend to do. To me, 35mm renders the way that I generally see the world–and to that end it allows me to translate the beauty that I see in people directly into the camera (with more of a collaboration between the subject and I, of course!). Generally, the longer the focal length the more that you can get away with. But at the wider focal lengths, there are a couple of tips that you should stick to to create more attractive images in the eyes of most people.

Much of this caters to the acceptance of various body types and paying attention to the specifics of everyone’s bodies and shapes.

Body Shapes

Have someone that’s self-conscious about their stomach? Try to keep it towards the center and combine it with effective posing methods.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 35mm f1.4 review photos Natalie's portraits (1 of 4)ISO 4001-640 sec at f - 1.4

When talking about this also consider the fact that the closer that you get to a subject (in terms of physical distance) the more distorted the image will be. So try to keep a distance. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to note this before you start shooting but additionally taking close note of the shape of the person’s body. Everyone has a higher shoulder, a longer leg, different cheek bone structures, etc.

So try to keep things nearest to the center and around the rule of thirds. There are obvious exceptions, but it’s a great place to start.

Careful Attention to Bulges

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 35mm f1.4 photos with Evelyn (2 of 4)ISO 4001-80 sec at f - 2.8

We started to talk about bulges earlier on, but you’d be amazed at how much a lens can emphasize them. For example, if your subject is sitting back in a seat, then the weight is being put on not only their buttocks but also on their thighs, which makes them look larger. So it’s always a great idea to have them sit on the edge of the seat.

Model: Kristen Sirotta

Model: Kristen Sirotta

But there are other areas that can also budge: such as arms, noses, cheeks, stomachs, etc that are often not looking at as being very flattering. You can sort of see this in the image above. The smart thing: it would’ve been to ask Kristen to step back just a bit.

Thinking Square

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 24-35mm f2 review extras (20 of 34)ISO 1001-250 sec at f - 2.0

With a 35mm lens, you’ll need to be even more conscious of your composition when shooting portraits than you were before. This is where sticking to the rule of thirds and even centering your subject can really come in handy. The reason for this generally has to do with the fact that distortion can really mess with the way someone looks–and to that end placing parts of a person on the far corners can cause areas to bulge more.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 35mm f1.4 Full Frame E Mount lens first impressions photos (8 of 19)ISO 1001-250 sec at f - 1.4

To that end, the best thing to do is to think very square. While I’m not stating you should shoot s square image (though it will greatly help) consider a square to be the middle of the image and try to compose within that area.

These are just some of the most basic tips to keep in mind when using a 35mm lens; but they get much more complicated based on body types. Everyone has a different one, but try to use poses that work with their body type.

  • nratt
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2566528584

    The 35mm lens is a great one for environmental portraiture, such as photographing artisans in their places of work, and the like. A staple lens choice among photojournalists for this kind of assignment.

  • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2564549723

    You can use also tha 35mm to make close up portrait like I do! on my website there are a lot of examples way different from these ones….

    • Charles
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
      Disqus/1.1(2.85):2683207952

      I went to your site. You have some beautify images. I shoot with a Nikon, usually with an 85mm 1.8. What kind of 35mm are you using. I don’t see a lot of distortion in the close ups. How’d you accomplish that?

      • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
        Disqus/1.1(2.85):2683302826

        Thanks Charles, I’m using the sigma 35/1.4 Art! Yes it has a very low lens distortion!

        • Charles
          Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
          Disqus/1.1(2.85):2683306625

          Thanks for responding.

    • Charles
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
      Disqus/1.1(2.85):2683208980

      I shoot with a 50mm 1.4 as well.

  • Eric
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2564052766

    Nice set of pointers! I was just taking a portrait yesterday with my Fuji 23 and this would have come in handy. After looking at the first couple images I had taken, I quickly switched to my 60mm. It worked out great, but I should have persisted with the 23. I may try out your suggestions this weekend.

  • outkasted
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2563920234

    Thanks for this! I love my Sigma 35mm Art 1.4. Especially for environmental style portraits.