How Close Should You Be to a Portrait Subject When Shooting With a 35mm Lens?

Modern day 35mm lenses are quite good; so good that they’re good enough for portraits.

Many photographers swear by their 35mm lenses and almost never want to shoot with anything else. The reason for this is because it so closely simulates what the human eye sees and so it’s easy for a photographer to go out there and shoot a scene just the way that they see it. That would be great, if 35mm lenses were absolutely perfect. While they’ve greatly improved, 35mm lenses are still not perfect and when used for portraiture still can’t replace or do what a proper telephoto focal length can. But with patience, you can figure out how to make the most of a 35mm lens for portraiture.

Here are some quick visual tips.

The Easy Answer: Half the Person in Around Half the Frame

The reason why a photographer photographing a portrait subject with a 35mm lens should keep around half the person is the frame has to do with distortion primarily. Though the corners of most lenses keep distortion down and fixing a problem like this in post-production surely exists, it’s still best to give yourself a fair amount of room in the frame. For that reason, back up until you have around half the person or a bit more in half of the frame. This is a great general starting point that becomes infinitely more complicated.

We should also mention that this tip works best when shooting straight on at the subject. When changing angles, the distortion can change too.

The Complicated Answer: Body Types and Creating Flattering Images

Shot with the Sigma 35mm f1.4

The more complicated answer is that not everyone is a model and knows how the look on camera. But, to be frank, tons of folks are vain enough to shoot loads of selfies of themselves and know how they may look on camera. While you may have that going for you, you may also be photographing a person not on their best day. So it’s important to consider a variety of body types. For folks that are taller than you, get an apple box or a chair and try to get on eye level with them. If someone is shorter, well, Instagram and dating apps have taught us all that being photographed from above really does do wonders for lots of folks.

However what you can see in many of these photos is that I’m still sticking to the guide of shooting at least half the person in the frame. This keeps things safe. If the lighting is right and the angle is right though, 35mm can work closer up.

Here are a few more examples.

You Need to Work Your Angles

Angles sometimes are everything. Even though you’re working to keep around half the person in the frame, you should not neglect the effectiveness of good communication and posing the subject. A few tips:

  • Everyone has a higher shoulder, bring one forward or backward
  • The hips and how the feet are positioned will affect how the torso looks
  • Have the subject shift their weight back a bit. This can straighten them out. If you’re shooting them from the side, then it all depends on what they’re doing with their arms.

Some of Our Favorite 35mm Lenses

Tamron 35mm f1.8 Di VC USD

The Tamron 35mm f1.8 Di VC USD is one of our favorites because it gives you image stabilization and can deliver really gorgeous images at an affordable price point. You can check out our review of it here.

Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss

Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4

If you’re a big fan of that really saturated and vivid look in your images, then the Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 lens is the way to go. It’s sort of pricey at $1,598 though.

You can check out our review of it here.

Canon 35mm f1.4 L USM

Model: Clay von Carlowitz

This is a solid performer overall; but if we had to pick this or the Tamron, we’d probably still reach for the Tamron. Though if you need your L glass, why not go for this?

You can check out our review of it here.

Nikon 35mm f1.8 G

The Nikon tends to exhibit a bit more distortion than we’d like. So when you’re using it, be really sure to avoid the perceptual distortion of any one particular part of the body coming too close to the lens. Do that, and your investment will be well worth the money.

You can check out our review of it here.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.