Photography Cheat Sheet: 35mm vs 50mm for Portrait Photography

The debate has gone on for a while: 35mm vs 50mm for portrait photography and which is better?

Photographers have long debated whether or not a 35mm or a 50mm lens is better for portrait photography. The truth is that both are great. But generally speaking, one is better than the other for a few reasons. So today, we’re taking a look at both lenses. We’ll discuss distortion, how to shoot with them, etc. To help you out, we created an original photography cheat sheet on the debate of 35mm vs 50mm for portrait photography. Let’s dive in!

The 35mm Lens

Mode: Asta Paredes

The 35mm lens is best for environmental portraits. If the person you’re photographing is thinner, then you can probably get away with moving a bit closer. But, the situation it’s best for is wider portraits that tell a story. With lenses like this, you’re trying to convey a bit about a person, who they are, etc. They’re perfect choices for photojournalistic stories and candid photographers. In fact, candid portraiture is where the 35mm lens can really shine. If you place your subject closer to the center and have lots of environment around them, the focal length can be fantastic for story telling.

In the photo above, we’re using a Tamron 35mm lens specifically to tell this story. Matt is eating an In-N-Out burger, but in NYC. That’s contradictory but it tells the story of what’s going on here. In the debate of 35mm vs 50mm for Portrait Photography, stick with a 35mm lens if you’re going to try to put a lot of detail in the image. Use this lens when you want a viewer to move their eyes around the whole frame.

The 50mm Lens

50mm lenses are different in that they exhibit less distortion. Because of this you can get closer when framing. Less distortion and widening also means that people look slimmer when being shot with a 50mm lens. Personally speaking, I prefer to go a bit longer than 50mm and instead reach for a 55mm lens, but options like the Canon RF 50mm f1.2 L USM are otherwise stellar. 50mm lenses can also be great for candid portraits, but you need more room in an indoor space to tell a story. Instead, the 50mm lens is great for singling out a person or a detail about them. Try it!

Only Longer, Almost Never Wider

The general rule of thumb is to never go wider, which adds to the debate of 35mm vs 50mm for Portrait Photography. And if you do go wider, then we say you should shoot their full body: less distortion will be in the frame. But if you go longer, you’re only going to get more compression. Arguably the 135mm lens is the best for portraiture, but more on that for another day!

The Phoblographer’s original Photography Cheat Sheets are made with Visme.