Is 35mm or 50mm Better for Portraits?

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When you want to capture amazing images with your camera, it is important to know the right lenses to use. With each lens giving a different effect, matching it to the subject at hand gives you the desired effect. A common debate with lenses is whether or not the 35mm or the 50mm is better for portraits.

Is a 35mm or 50mm Lens Better for Portraits?

Overall, using a 50mm lens is better for portraits compared to the 35mm lens. As prime lenses, both the 35mm and 50mm lenses are versatile and therefore adaptable to different photograph shooting situations.

However, a 50mm lens is best for use in portrait work because it more accurately depicts how we naturally see the world and causes less distortion than the 35mm lens.

The advantages the 50mm lens brings to portrait photography include the following:

  • Tighter field of view
  • Captures how people naturally view the world
  • Stronger for low light portraits
  • Better depth of field
A 50mm camera lens on display

Tighter Field of View

Portrait photography focuses on the subject. Using the 50mm lens allows you to capture the subject more sharply. As the field of view is narrower, the viewer’s eye will not be drawn to other areas of the photo but will pick out the subject first.

The lens fulfills the goal of portrait photography, which is to bring the subject to the center of attention.

This lens is ideal for situations where you cannot zoom in to the subject or where you want to remove as much clutter as you can from the image, thus reducing the focus to the subject only.

The 35mm lens is a wider angle lens, causing more to be included in the frame. While this is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to portrait photography, it can create distractions around your subject because of everything that can be seen in the image.

Captures How People View the World

Images captured with the 50mm lens more closely mimic how the human eye interprets images naturally. Lenses with wider angles distort the image by stretching people’s features.

While an 85mm lens will completely reduce distortion on portraits, a 50mm lens is still a highly regarded portrait lens. Kalamazoo boudoir photographer, Betsy McCue, shares that when using a 50mm lens, you might see some minimal distortion on the edges of photos, especially if you’re close to your subject. For the most part though, you’ll get an accurate depiction of what your subject looks like as long as they are at least a few feet away.

Stronger For Low Light Portraits

While it can be ideal to capture portraits during the day, sometimes you’ll find yourself in low light situations where you need to take portraits.

For example, you might be shooting a wedding and you’re in a dark room as the couple is getting ready. Generally, the 50mm lens will produce slightly better results compared to the 35mm lens in these scenarios. If all else fails, make sure you always have a flash on hand.

Better Depth of Field

With proper use of the 50mm lens, you are able to separate the subject from the background. Most professional photographers will use a wide aperture together with the 50mm lens to give cinematic effects similar to those in movies. As the background blurs, the subject becomes the sole focus of the photo.

Even though both the 35mm and the 50mm have lenses with wide apertures such as f/1.4 and f/1.2, the 50mm creates a better depth of field due to its longer focal length. This helps to blur more of the background and eliminate distractions that might otherwise be seen.

A 35mm lens attached to the camera top view

Can I Still Use 35mm Lenses for Portraits?

Yes, you can still use 35mm lens for portraits. While it may not give quite as sharp images of the subject, it’s still a great lens.

The 35mm lens allows for a wider field of view, allowing you to capture more of the background, thus giving context to the photo. If you’re shooting portraits in smaller spaces, the 35mm lens is ideal because you’ll be able to fit more into the frame.


Picking a 50mm lens for portrait photography gives you better results as it helps to capture the subject from a more realistic point of view with minimal distortions.

While both lenses have its differences but can work for portraits, if you only have space for one of these lenses in your camera bag, the 50mm lens is recommended.

Kaitlin Cooper is an active professional wedding and portrait photographer in San Diego, California at Kaitlin Cooper Photography. She is also a contributor to many large publications, including Bridal GuideBustlePixpaWith Joy, and Hello Giggles.