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What Lenses You Should Buy for Portrait and Wedding Photography


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top-4-lenses-600x362 What Lenses You Should Buy for Portrait and Wedding Photography Photography Tips


* This is a reprint of a popular article from the past that addresses one of the most asked questions on the MCP Facebook Group: “what lens should I use for (insert specialty) photography?”  


Of course, there is no right or wrong answer, and there are an exponential number of external factors that play into this decision: what is the space like, how much room will you have, is there enough light, and how many people in the frame, and what type of photography are you doing, just to name a few.  So, we took this to MCP’s Facebook Page and asked users their favorites. The following is a very unscientific compilation of their real world experience and preferences when it relates to portrait photography. We’ll also mention a few other types of photography along the way… We aren’t addressing brand specific lenses since that would be a much longer article.


Here are our top 4 lens recommendations for portrait and wedding photographers:

50mm (1.8, 1.4, 1.2)

One of the most talked about lenses, and a great intro to primes is the 50mm 1.8 (most brands have one). A 50mm does not produce much distortion, is lightweight, and can be purchased starting around $100 or so. This means that this is a great lens for portraits, and it is used by many newborn photographers. Shot at an aperture from 2.4-3.2 will show off this lens’s sharpness and bokeh. This is a “must have” lens for both crop and full frame camera bodies. For more advanced hobbyists and professionals, they may opt for the pricier versions in 1.4 or 1.2 (not available for all manufacturers).

85mm (1.8, 1.4, 1.2)

True portrait length on a full frame. The sweet spot, or aperture that is generally most sharp, is around 2.8. This lens is a favorite among many portrait photographers because it is not too long (allowing you to maintain a close proximity to the subject) while producing a creamy and rich bokeh. Again, the 1.8 version will be least expensive, climbing to higher prices in a 1.4 or 1.2 version (when available in a specific brand).

24-70 2.8

An excellent all around lens. This is the go-to focal range for a walk-around zoom lens, or for tight, low-light, spaces indoors (yep, back to those newborn photographers).  Sharp wide open, yet even sharper around 3.2, this lens is perfect for both full frame and crop sensor camera bodies. Most brands have this length, including some manufacturers like Tamron, who make them for a number of camera brands. I personally have the Tamron version of this lens.

70-200 2.8

The wedding and outdoor portrait photographers dream lens. A great low-light lens that is also fast. Sharpest from 3.2-5.6. This lens consistently produces creamy backgrounds with tack sharp focus due to image compression at longer focal lengths. I love this focal length.  I have both the Canon and Tamron versions of it and they both are super sharp and amongst my favorite lenses. When at your next sporting event, look to the sidelines.  Every sports photographer I know has at least one or more of these, in addition to their longer telephoto primes.

Honorable Mentions

  • 14-24mm – Great for Real Estate and Landscape photography
  • 100mm 2.8 – a great macro lens. Super sharp at f 5. Also good for wedding and newborn detail shots.
  • 135mm f2L Canon and  105mm f2.8 Nikon –  Two favorite portrait primes. Amazing results.

Deciding to purchase a new lens can be overwhelming with all of the options available. And many are confused at the cost difference from a 1.8 to 1.4 to 1.2 aperture, which can be the difference between a $100 lens and a $2000 lens! The larger the maximum aperture, the more expensive and heavier the lens becomes. This is because of the lens components needed to create sharp images while the lens and sensor are wide open. However, you do not need to spend thousands of dollars on a lens to produce a great photograph. Understanding the exposure triangle and strong composition are  the most important factors in consistently producing great photographs.

Now it’s your turn.  What are your favorite lenses and why?

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  1. Kelli on April 29, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    Great article! I was wondering if you could help with the settings on my Nikon D3100 and a 50mm 1.8g lens. My current settings are : manual mode, ISO 100, Focus mode AF-C , AF Area Mode at single point, and matrix metering mode. I normally shoot at 2.5-3.2 F-stop. I have a couple important photo shoots in a few weeks: including one person shoot and group shots. Thank you for taking the time for making this article.-Kelli

  2. Gary on May 1, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    If I had to do it all over again I would have went with the 85mm 1.2 last year and not the 50mm 1.2. The 50 just isn’t as flattering.

  3. Lea on May 5, 2015 at 10:53 am

    Thank you so much! You’ve just answered many questions I had, all in this one article! Ive recently purchased the Tamron 70-200 2.8 and am slowly getting used to it, trying to find its sweet spot.

  4. Yael on June 8, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    As a woman photographer, I chose the Canon 135 f/2 L, over the 70-200 2.8 L. Had them both and ended up selling the 70-200 after I’ve noticed it hasn’t left the camra bag in ages…The 135 is light, has better results all around, and the focus is faster than the 70-200.It has no zoom which means going back and forth, but that’s good for diet :)Every photographer, male or female who tried this lens ended up buying it.

  5. Maria on June 14, 2015 at 1:40 am

    Any thoughts on the Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8?It’s much less expensive than the 24-70 2.8 and looks like it has good reviews.

  6. Tom on June 18, 2015 at 2:25 am

    are these focal-lenghts regardless whether you have a fx or dx camera?

    • David on March 30, 2016 at 8:14 pm

      While the lens stays the same, the effective focal length changes for a crop sensor. You’ll need to find the crop factor for your camera. Nikon generally has a 1.5 factor, so a 50mm lens becomes 75mm practically (50 x 1.5 = 75).

  7. Bobby Hinton on July 8, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    I am new in the business. Recently a new bride to be want some full length wedding portraits.What lenses do you recommend? Enjoyed your article great information.Thank youBobby (NC)

  8. Barra Freed on August 25, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    Great post.That should be very important for me.Thanks to sharing it.

  9. David on March 30, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    I have the Tamron 24-70 and absolutely love it. I have four nice lenses, but this is my favorite with my Nikon D7200. Sharp and smooth, though it is a big lens.

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