One Lens for Portrait Photography: How to Make the Most of a Single Lens

The goal of every photographer is to pair down their kit. For years, we’ve recommended prime lenses. And for simplicity, we often stick to primes. But zoom lenses like those made by Tamron have been stellar in the past few years. And if you only wanted one lens for portrait photography, you’d need to think carefully about what you’d pick. Recently, we tested two that are truly stellar. And one of them is genuinely bound to amaze portrait photographers that want one lens for portrait photography.

This piece is presented in partnership with TAMRON.

Gear Used


Motion Portrait Photography

The idea of playing with motion in portraits is something beautiful. Getting a subject perfectly sharp while having a blurry background requires a bit of technical play. First off, you have to use second-curtain flash. In Sony speak, that’s Rear sync. This makes sure that whatever the flash hits is nice and sharp while the rest of the background is blurred by motion. It’s popular on the dance floor at weddings, but also really great for creative portraits.

If you had to use one lens for portrait photography in this case, you can’t go wrong with either option. The photo above was shot with the Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 Di III VXD G2 on the Sony a1. It’s an excellent lens for many reasons. For starters, it lets you get closer than the standard 24-70mm lens. And it maintains the f2.8 aperture throughout the whole range. Tamron lenses are sharp and have a unique color character to them. Most importantly, they do it at an affordable cost without sacrificing build quality.

Even better, they work very well with Sony’s autofocus system. Just make sure that you’re in Human face detection, and the Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 Di III VXD G2 will work with your camera to get the subject in focus.

Because it’s such a lightweight lens, this can genuinely be the ONE lens for portrait photography. The photo above was shot down to 1/30th of a second to get the blur. The Profoto B10 made sure to stop all motion on Irona. 

With the above photo of Ash, it wasn’t as tricky. We used a projector that rotated a scene mimicking the Aurora Borealis on her. Then we asked her to dance. The B10 was gelled with a purple camera right. As she moved, we caught the motion blur and froze some of the motion too! That’s how we’re getting this subtle blur effect combined with the moving projector. We did this all at 1/40th of a second. For years, cameras, flashes, and lenses would’ve had some sort of issues working together. But the Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 Di III VXD G2 proved itself to surely qualify as the one lens for portrait photography that you need.

You also shouldn’t count out the Tamron 35-150mm f2-2.8 Di III VXD. It has a fast variable aperture, but it’s also arguably one of the most innovative lenses to be released in the past few years. Besides stellar build quality, it boasts excellent image quality and a handy range. It starts at f2 and ends at f2.8; what’s not to like there! The Tamron 35-150mm f2-2.8 Di III VXD was responsible for getting this shot at 1/25th with the Profoto B10 freezing Irona while letting the blur of the 7 Train create a more unique background. The Tamron 35-150mm f2-2.8 Di III VXD lens made this happen while mounted onto the Sony system. And again, it didn’t give us any real trouble.

If you really want to get geeky, check out the bokeh. Even in the extreme corners it’s terrific!

Studio Headshot Style!

If you’re more of a traditional portrait shooter, then there’s something here for you too! The Tamron 35-150mm f2-2.8 Di III VXD is a lens you’ll consider as your one lens for portrait photography. Arguably, it’s the only one you need. Most studios don’t have a lot of space, so the 35-150mm range is a lot more practical. It seldom happens that someone shoots a portrait at 200mm, so you don’t need a 70-200mm lens. Instead, you’ll probably opt for a 135mm range, and in that case, spring for the Tamron 35-150mm f2-2.8 Di III VXD lens. It’s sharp without being overly sharp. In our mind, you shouldn’t spend all that time shooting and setting up only to sit in front of a computer and spend tons of time retouching and editing.

And besides, when was the last time you heard about a headshot subject wanting to look at their pores?

For even more practicality, I submitted myself to be photographed by Desiree. I’m not a model, and the closest thing I’ve got to makeup is beard oil and face moisturizer. But even with gray in my beard, the Tamron 35-150mm f2-2.8 Di III VXD lens still made me look great!

Even better, this was done on the Sony a7r III. We purposely used these lenses with both a newer camera and an older one to show people that even an older camera can have new life. You just need a lens like the new Tamron 35-150mm f2-2.8 Di III VXD to breathe some magic into the sensor!

Low Light Portraits

The fear for many years was that autofocus wouldn’t work so well in low light with third-party lenses. But again, that’s gone now. The synergy between Tamron lenses and Sony camera bodies is unreal. And we’d know, we’ve tested more lenses for Sony E mount than any other publication. 

The choice is pretty obvious:

  • Image quality: Check
  • Build quality: Check
  • Autofocus performance: Check
  • Useful range: Check
  • Price: Checkmate!

If you own a Sony FE camera and shoot portraits, Tamron has two great lens options that could end up as the one lens in your camera bag for portrait photography.

This piece is presented in partnership with TAMRON.

Chris Gampat

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