For Photographers – Lenses for Family Portraits

Over the years I have found different websites, services as well as techniques that have helped me run a more efficient service for my brides and grooms. For the next few weeks I will be posting additional information to help other photographers who may be interested in improving their photography or workflow. Feel free to ask any questions in the comment are below and I will do my best to respond!


Over on the FAQ Page, among other things, you will find a list of different pieces of equipment I use on a wedding day. You’ll see that there are a whole range of lenses from primes to zooms to wide angles but I wanted to use this post to talk about what lenses I use for family portraits. The lens of choice given the available space is the Nikon 85mm 1.4. Not only is it sharp, but the 1.4 aperture allows in plenty of available light while blurring out the background to help eliminate distracting background. The only downside to this lens is that you need to back up a bit to fit everyone into the picture, especially for full length portraits. If you are taking pictures in a smaller room, it may only work for a waist-up picture or not at all. If the group is larger and in a smaller room I will often use my Nikon 50mm 1.4 since I can still blur out the background a little, but there is a tradeoff. It will not eliminate as much of the background since it has a wider field of view. Take a look at this graphic example for instance:

BTS - D3S_8570-7_stomped

Image from

The picture below is a great example showing how the two lenses compare in a real-life situation. Just a little background on the setup; Melanie and Adam were married on a day with 95+ degree weather, in NYC. Because of this we took as many portraits as we could indoors to keep everyone comfortable, which meant we had to work within the limitations of the rooms and their sizes.

The shot on the left was the first one I took using the 50mm lens because I had just taken a portrait of a larger group, but I did not like how the objects above the bookshelves distracted from the subjects. For the second photograph, shown on the right, I switched over to my 85mm and backed up as far as I could, from my memory my back was against the opposite wall. Melanie and her family did not move from their spot between pictures, but as you can see there is a big difference in what is shown in the background, and this is because the 85mm has a narrower field of view making for a much nicer portrait composition.

BTS - D3S_8570-7_stomped

February 18, 2014 - 3:27 pm

Abegail Domond - Great example Paul!!

February 18, 2014 - 5:14 pm

Taylor Allen - I love the banner on top with the bts shots! Awesome…

February 26, 2014 - 4:58 pm

Paul - Thanks Abby!

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