5 of Our Favorite Lenses for the Environmental Portrait Photographer

Environmental portraits not only capture a person’s likeness, they show that person’s very essence, and to capture that you need a great lens.

Unlike regular portraits, environmental portraits capture not only who the person is, but also what that person is about. From a person’s job, to their hobbies, a good environmental portrait will tell a short story about the person in the image. Seeing as environmental portraits could put a photographer in very challenging situations in regards to weather and available light, having lenses that are built to withstand the elements, and lenses that can shoot in low light as an absolute necessity. In this article we will take a look at the five best lenses perfect for environmental portraits across a variety of platforms.

Sigma 18-35 F1.8 DC HSM

 

There are no doubts about it, when it comes to APS-C based lenses there is nothing better than the Sigma 18-35mm f1.8. This lens is the sharpest piece of glass you can buy for any crop sensor camera, and thanks to its wide angles, and its constant f1.8 aperture through the focal range, this lens is perfect for environmental portraits.

In our review we said:

“We’ve got absolutely nothing but respect and love for the Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 DC HSM. If you’re an APS-C DSLR user, this should be the lens that is a high priority item on your list to get. It’s sharp, contrasty, has beautiful color that is true to life, focuses quickly, and stays compact due to its internal zooming and focusing design.”

When used on a crop sensor the equivalent focal rage will be roughly 27-56mm which is still plenty wide enough to capture an image that can tell a story. The image quality is simply amazing, sharp from corner to corner, and color rendition is natural and contrasty. The Sigma 18-35mm is fast to focus, even when adapted to use on Sony bodies. Build quality is fantastic, with an all metal body, and wonderfully dampened zoom and focus rings. While the lens isn’t weather sealed you should have no worries using this in a light shower. If you shoot environmental portraits, and use a APS-C camera body, buy this lens and never look back.

Buy now Canon ($719): Amazon

Buy now Nikon ($699): Amazon

Buy now Pentax ($749): Amazon

Buy now Sigma ($799): Amazon

Buy now Sony A ($749): Amazon

 

Pro Tip: Sigma lenses with the Canon EF mount work perfectly on any Sony camera with the affordable Sigma MC-11 adapter. You’ll have access to all five axis of IBIS stabilization, and all electronic shutter and aperture control (not to mention you’ll still be able to use features like eye AF too).

 

Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM

 

Another Sigma lens, this time the 14-24mm f2.8 Art DG. This lens has a focal range that is perfect for environmental portraits for users of Full Frame cameras. The excellent build quality (including weather sealing), and the constant f2.8 aperture mean you can use it in inclement weather and low light situations with no problems at all.

In our review we said:

“Then there are the optics themselves. The Sigma 14-24mm f2.8 Art DG is technically a perfect lens although you’ll surely see some distortion due to the nature of the lens. That distortion is kept to a minimum though and the lens will suppress things like lens flare and so much more. Sigma’s colors are also an industry standard and the bokeh is more than usable in the situation where you may genuinely need it.”

The Sigma 14-24mm f2.8 is another beautiful option in Sigma’s Art series. Like many other Art lenses, this one offers very sharp image quality, saturated, contrasty colors, and fast autofocus speeds in both good and low light situations. The lens weighs in at 2.53lbs due to the amount of glass (17 elements in 11 groups) it has to move around. Despite the weight it feels mighty fine in the hand, balances well, and is easy to use for long periods of time. This is another lens that should be strongly considered if you shoot environmental portraits.

Buy now Canon ($1,195): Amazon

Buy now Nikon ($1,195): Amazon

Buy now Sigma ($1,299): Amazon

 

Pro Tip: No matter what lenses you have, keep them in tip top shape by making sure you have a good quality lens cleaning kit. There is nothing worse (or more unprofessional) than turning up to a photoshoot with dirty glass. You spend a lot of money on your lenses so keep them clean.

 

Fujifilm 23mm F2 R WR

 

Fuji shooters have no shortage of amazing prime lenses to choose from. Not only is the Fujifilm 23mm f2 R WR perfect for environmental portraits, it is incredibly affordable. Fuji cameras have a crop factor of 1.5x so this 23mm lens has an equivalent focal length of 34.5mm which is still perfectly fine for this type of photography. When you factor in great weather sealing, the f2 aperture, and solid overall performance, this lens is a no brainer for Fuji shooters.

In our review we said:

“The best thing about this lens has to be the color rendition. As always, Fujifilm’s color rendition is second to none in part from the Fujifilm film profiles built into the camera. But then consider that this is a high quality lens and you’ve got a winning combination.”

The images that this little marvel produces are nothing short of excellent. Color reproduction is beautiful, images are sharp across the board from f2 and up, focusing is lightning quick on all Fuji bodies, and its small footprint and light weight make it very easy to use for extended periods of time. When you look at all of these features and then consider the price point, you can see why it’s hard to go wrong with this lens. It may just be the best Fuji lens for environmental portraits.

Buy now ($399): Amazon

 

Pro Tip: If you like using flash in your environmental portraits, but don’t always like carrying around cumbersome softboxes, you should consider a small flash modifier to help you control the light. The Rogue Photography Flashbender 2 easily attaches to your flash via velcro and allows you to get the light exactly where you want it.

 

Pentax D FA F2.8ED SDM WR 15-30mm F2.8 Ultra-Wide

 

The Pentax K1 and the new K1 Mark II are both excellent cameras for landscapes and portraits. Thankfully they also have a beast of a lens in the 15-30mm f2.8 that is a great fit for environmental portraits. The overall build quality, the excellent weather sealing, and fast focusing make this a brilliant lens.

In our review we said:

“The colors from this lens are truly something special. They’re saturated more so than Canon and Nikon’s offerings, but not like Sony’s. When you apply the camera profiles to the images, you’ll get even better results too.”

The Pentax 15-30mm f2.8 ED SDM WR has 18 elements in 13 groups, and has nine rounded aperture blades which means this lens can produce some very nice bokeh wide open. The colors reproduced are beautiful and saturated which will go a long way to making your environmental portraits come to life. The Pentax 15-30mm f2.8 is not the smallest lens ever and weighs in at 2.3lbs, but it still feels great in the hand. The lens focuses at a rapid pace and is incredibly accurate which means you will be able to nail the shot every single time. If you’re a Pentax shooter you should seriously consider adding this lens to your arsenal, especially if you shoot environmental portraits.

Buy now ($1,134.99): Amazon

 

Pro Tip: Make sure you have plenty of memory cards in your bag. You never know when you may leave one at the house, or when one may fail on you out in the field. Be prepared and buy some extras to keep on your person.

 

Panasonic Lumix G Leica 12mm F1.4

 

Olympus and Panasonic users have a great lens to consider for environmental portraits too in the 12mm f1.4. With an equivalent focal length of 24mm after the 2x crop factor, this lens is perfect for this genre of photography. The lens may have a small footprint, but it’s big on image quality.

In our review we said:

“One of the most lovable things about this lens is the sharpness. When you nail the focusing, the image quality overall just sings the praises of sharpness. It’s beautiful, and surely sharper than the 12mm f2 from Olympus. Like all Micro Four Thirds lenses, the sharpness maxes out at f5.6. No need to stop down any further.”

The Panasonic Lumix G Leica 12mm f1.4 works well on both Olympus and Panasonic camera bodies, and it produces images that are incredibly sharp. Color rendition is beautiful and distortion is minimal. The lens is weather sealed so you will be able to use it when mother nature decides to let loose, and with a maximum aperture of f1.4 you can virtually see in the dark with this glass. Thanks to its wide angle, weather sealing, and excellent performance in low light you will be able to get shots in the most trying conditions. This is the lens to use for environmental portraits if you are a Micro Four Thirds user.

Buy now ($997.99): Amazon

 

Do you shoot environmental portraits? If so let us know what your favorite setup is in the comment section below.

Brett Day

Brett Day is the Gear Editor at The Phoblographer and has been a photographer for as long as he can remember. Brett has his own photography business that focuses on corporate events and portraiture. In his spare time, Brett loves to practice landscape and wildlife photography. When he's not behind a camera, he's enjoying life with his wife and two kids, or he's playing video games, drinking coffee, and eating Cheetos.