Showdown of the Portrait Photography Focal Lengths: 85mm vs 135mm

Both 85mm and 135mm lenses are highly sought after options for portrait photography, but which focal length reigns supreme?

When it comes to portrait photography, many photographers will naturally reach for an 85mm or 135mm prime lens. Both lenses are equally capable of delivering stunning results in the right hands. However, there are fundamental differences between the two focal lengths that give each lens unique advantages. Understanding them will allow you to pick the most appropriate option at your next portrait session.

Distance From Subject

If you’re photographing portraits outdoors, either options will be fine because you don’t have to deal with space restrictions. If you’re working indoors (a studio or a client’s office), space becomes more of a concern. 135mm lenses require you to be quite a distance away from your subject. Your framing will be tighter due to the space restrictions that come with photographing indoors. 85mm lens offer more flexibility here because you don’t need to be as far away from your subject.

Compression

Both 85mm and 135mm lenses do a great job at compressing your portrait subjects, resulting in a flattering final image. Due to their longer focal length, 135mm portrait lenses will naturally render more compression than 85mm lenses.

Image Quality

If you’re just getting into portrait photography, you can’t go wrong with any of the latest 85mm and 135mm portrait lenses currently on the market. The Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM (along with its DS variant), and the Sony 135mm f1.8 G Master are some of the stellar examples we’ve reviewed within the last couple of years. Regardless of the focal length you choose, you’ll be rewarded with excellent sharpness, beautiful bokeh, and gorgeous color rendition.

Portrait Photography Tips

The idea of photographing other people may seem like a daunting challenge if portrait photography is a new genre for you, but it doesn’t have to be! The next time you’re photographing someone, give this technique a try: have your lighting set up and ask your subject to take a seat as if you’re just having a normal conversation. Ask your subject to tell you a story about themselves, something that means a great deal to them. Pay attention to what your subject is saying and be mindful of their reactions. This technique will allow you to capture some genuinely candid moments!

Remember to constantly communicate what you’re doing with your subjects. This helps them feel engaged in the photography process rather than just sitting/standing in front of the camera looking like a deer in headlights. To give your subjects a sense of spatial awareness, it can also be helpful to show them what your framing looks like so that they know how they’ll appear in the final image.

For more portrait photography tips, be sure to check our other handy articles on portrait photography: