Lens choices for studio work

When it comes to portraiture and beauty work, lens choice can make a big difference. The last thing you want is a distorted image that doesn’t accurately portray your subject. Lens choice can dramatically change an image so it’s important to understand the effects, pros and cons of each

In this photography class Karl demonstrates a variety of lenses, from 16mm to 400mm, clearly showing the results of each. Looking at the shots, he explains which lens is best for portrait or beauty photography.

In this photography class we cover the following:

  • Comparisons between the following focal lengths:
    • -16mm
    • -35mm
    • -50mm
    • -70mm
    • -85mm
    • -100mm
    • -135mm
    • -200mm
    • -400mm
    • Results from each
    • Selecting the ideal lens for portrait or beauty photography

    NOTE: This photography class is available with English subtitles.


  1. Hi Karl, brand new student. You mentioned focus markers. How would you go about setting those up? I’ve never heard of that. 🤦🏻‍♂️ I’m also shooting on a canon (EOS R).

    1. Hi Paul, thanks for joining. Please can you indicate at what time in the video this is. It’s best for future reference on any content to make a note of the time in a video so we can jump to it and check. I’m guessing on this one I was simply talking about putting something like a lighting stand in as a focus check position.

  2. Hello,

    Thank you for the comparison. I wish you you used the 100mm macro lens as well to compare it with the 85mm lens.

    1. Hi, you will see us using the 100mm Macro in a lot of our food photography tutorials in the ‘product photography’ section.

  3. Hi Karl
    Amazing tutorial!!! … I have a question. What if you want to include more of the background, let´s say add a one piece sofa a little table … what would be your choice of lens? something a little wider perhaps?

    thank you

    1. Hi Karl, wonderful video. I have a question, why 85 mm is suitable for portrait, why it is not 100mm or 200 mm?

    2. Hi Raul, thank you. I’m afraid and you need to understand the basics of photography better if you are asking this question. Lens focal length has a bearing on many factors such as perspective, distortion, compression all of which mean certain lenses are better suited to particular tasks. You also haven’t considered distance of the lens away from your background so your question doesn’t really make sense in this scenario. Please watch this course, and especially the part on lenses and focal lengths https://www.karltayloreducation.com/section/introduction-to-photography/

  4. Karl, first of all thank you for an extremely informative series of training videos. I have owned a commercial photography business however, I have learnt more on portraiture from this series of videos than a lifetime of photography. Currently I have the Canon 5DS R and the 70-200mm f2.8 lens. This is a remarkable lens and coupled with the Canon EF12 extension tube it has turned this into an excellent macro lens although I now have the Canon f/2.8L IS macro lens. This particular lecture has answered the big question on how a prime 85mm lens compared to the 85mm setting on the 70-200 mm zoom lens. I cannot see much visible difference but there does appear to be a huge difference in weight and portability. I would not want to do an extensive portraiture session using this zoom lens. What are your thoughts? Peter

    1. Hi Plato, my preferred choice would always be the prime 85mm for portraiture as it’s easier to handle and for full aperture shallow DOF shots it will have a different look to it. It also makes you move your feet as there is no zoom option to fall back on. If the 85mm 1.2 is too pricey then the 85mm 1.4 is a good alternative.

  5. Hi Karl, The content covered a lot of information I already knew, but you deliver it in a very informative and entertaining way. Was well worth watching to get such a great refresher course.
    I am one of those that does have a fairly low ceiling height in the studio and agree with all you say on that subject. If possible it would be the one thing I would change to get more out of the space.
    Really enjoying your videos.

  6. Thank you Karl. I have learnt more in two weeks from your classroom than anywhere in my over ten years of photographing. You have given my desire to own a studio a leap. Thank you for your love.

  7. Hi Karl, your courses are phenomenal. You’ve blown the world of photography open for me and I can’t thank you enough. The breadth and depth of the content on this site brings together an incredible wealth of knowledge that I can’t imagine finding anywhere else. I’m a hobbyist, but I love photography and I’m always looking to learn from the people who have mastered it. Putting it all in one place like this almost feels like cheating…. 🙂
    Thanks again.

  8. Hello Karl,

    Does the light fall off (inverse square law) apply to the lens focal length..? Assume that if you are in 16 mm and right next to the subject more light comes to the sensor and if you are in 200mm or even 400 mm does that light from the subject reduced a certain amount..?

    1. Hi Kassa, no as lenses are based on Aperture values that account for this. So f8 on one lens should be the same amount of light as f8 any other lens. In practise though they are a little but off but close enough.

  9. Hi Karl, I just open this courses today, and I am so interesting to build small studio at my house asap. I need more information about the software that you using ( Adobe Lightroom CC ) to plug in to my camera (Canon 5D mark 3). In which one section I will get the information (downloads sections). Thank you

      1. Dear Karl,
        Thank you for your answer. I tried to open the Lightroom CC or Capture One to Work with as you said, but my computer automatically. In this case , did I have to buy software Lightroom 4 (Lr 4) by my own separate ? Thank you. best regards Yato

        1. Hi Yato, Capture One you purchase as a standalone software. Lightroom and Photoshop are $10 per month I beleive.

  10. Hi Karl,
    thank you so much for your work! It really inspires me a lot and i’m learning soo much!
    I signed in just few days ago and it seems to me to be entered in an amusement park jumping from a class to another ?
    I’m on a FF camera and have a 50mm and a 100mm macro lens (mainly for products and food photograhy)
    Is the 100 macro lens suitable for portraiture?
    And (maybe a very stupid question…) do you always use manual focus?
    Thanks, Andrea

    1. Hi Andrea, I use manual focus about 70% of the time, one of the reasons is that I can also manually adjust the focus in very small amounts from the Phocus software for my Hasselblad camera. It is also easier to manual focus on a medium format camera because the viewfinder is bigger and brighter. However if it is difficult or dark then I’d switch to the AF, on 35mm cameras I use MF about 50% of the time. In answer to your other question yes it’s possible with a 100mm macro but I’d prefer a fixed 85mm portrait lens.

  11. Hi Karl,
    Great video and enjoyed light source. I’m curious to know, with these comparisons on people, would it be the same effect with products? I am in the process of setting up a new studio and have mostly been shooting with longer focal lengths, especially with smaller products so wanted to hear your thoughts on how focal length would effect a product. Of course, not using a wide-angle haha.
    Thanks, Ryan

    1. Hi Ryan, yes similar although you can get away with it a little more with products than people. I’m generally using 80mm or 100mm focal lengths for all my product work on a medium format camera so that would be about 60-80mm on a FF 35mm camera.

  12. Thank you so much, Karl! I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying and learning from your site. I have a Nikon D850 and want to do head shots, small studio shots, etc. I recently rented a Zeiss Otus 85/1.4 and loved it. But it has manual focus which I had bad experience in past. After reading many favorable reviews I purchased Nikon 105/1.4 for less than half price. Good choice? (Until I can afford new Hasselblad X1D and lens.) Don

    1. Ha Ha that’s quite funny. I’m afraid there is no special lens for this special type of person. I’d recommend the usual focal length for portraiture about 80-135mm and maybe a bit of photoshop work in liquify to help them out 🙂

    1. Hi Malky, no very rarely do I shoot people shots at that aperture. As you watch various chapters of courses throughout this platform you will see many different examples.

  13. Not being able to afford a 85mm lens at the moment I’m guessing using my 18-135 should still give me good results. When you took the pictures with your 200mm @ 85 there wasn’t to much difference from your 85. Should I still look to investing in a 85?
    Also, do you shoot full body portraits with the 85?

    1. Hi Charles, you can usually shoot 3/4 body with 85mm focal length, if you’ve got enough room to get back far enough in your studio then no problem. The 70-200 I was using is a very sharp lens with a maximum aperture of 2.8 giving also a nice shallow DOF if needed. The advantage of a prime 85mm is usually it is sharper and you have the option for even shallower DOF because they have a lager maximum aperture.

  14. Hi Karl, thank you, normally – do you focus on the eye closest to you, and with the focus point closest to that particular eye, recompose and shoot ?

  15. This makes a lot of sense however why is it then that in movies wider angle lenses are used quite extensively and don’t look distorted (such as 28mm which is quite popular)? Is it something to do with the anamorphic characteristics of them? Also, some DSLR lenses like the LAOWA 12mm have a Zero-D (zero distortion) ability to them. Does that impact the greatly distorted look at all making it more usable?

    1. Hi Paul, the focal length is relative to the size of the medium you are recording on to, so in movie cameras they may be on a smaller sensor or they could be on a larger format film such as 70mm. For example 28mm on a 35mm format camera would not be the same on medium format camera or a crop sensor camera. There are also the crop ratios of movie compared to stills and it is unlikely that it would be solely to do with anamorphic characteristics or corrections as regardless of this trying to squash a very wide area of view into a rectangle 4:3 or 16:9 will inevitably lead to some distortion. It is often the placement of the subject in the frame and the shooting distance that affects facial distortions too. If you use a wide angle lens from far enough back and keep your subject central then the distortion will appear less. The interpretation of distortion is also less noticeable in moving pictures than stills simply because of movement.

  16. Another excellent chapter! Somethings I’m aware of but you have gone deeper regards to the perspective and its relation to the facial features. Like the difference of a prime focal length and the zoom equivalent. If working with a crop sensor camera body using an 85mm lens, is that the same as the full frame? I hear things like a 35mm on a crop sensor is like a 50mm on a full frame body. So would an 85mm on a crop sensor also give the proper look that our eyes would see?

    1. Hi Geoff, the perspective of an 85mm on a crop sensor or a full frame camera would be exactly the same if you were at the same shooting distance. But the problem is on the crop sensor a large portion of the shot would be cropped out so you would need to move back to fit the same area in the shot. Then perspective would change because the perspective only changes with distance. You might find this video also useful https://www.karltayloreducation.com/course_video_page/full-frame-vs-crop-sensor/ Cheers Karl.

  17. What a superb course, I have learnt more than I thought possible. Every single chapter was educational and had merit as a stand alone subject. Thank you very much for all the hard work you put into the videos and all the planning that must have taken place.

  18. Loving the videos! I presume a crop sensor on my 7D would then equate 85mm to 50mm lens been ideal?

  19. excellent! Ben was either bored out of his mind or doing exactly as instructed by you Karl. haha! I appreciate his patience and your demonstrations Karl. Confirmed what I have always thought…85 mm or go home!! (Unless you want to distort a portrait to emphasize character or features of course)

    1. Haha no karl told me to be as still as I possibly could so that each photo I would be in the same position making sure you could really see the difference with each lens

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