Ever wonder what’s in my camera bag? It’s been awhile since I shared one of these types of posts, and I thought I’d answer the question that often makes its way into my DMs: what is the best lens for family portraits?
First, I’d say that this can totally differ depending on the type of photography you’re doing. For instance, someone photographing a posed newborn portrait in a studio will have totally different needs than someone photographing an extended family of 25 outdoors. For me, as a family photographer who primarily photographs immediate families outdoors, I have a few specific needs.
First, I need to cover a range of focal lengths, allowing me to get close to my subject or far away depending on the family’s comfort level.
Next, I personally prefer prime lenses to allow those wider apertures and dreamy bokeh you see in my portfolio. Plus that’s what I learned on and switching lenses quickly is just a normal part of my workflow during a session! Having to switch lenses to switch focal lengths helps me remember to get the specific types of shots I get with each lens, ensuring variety in each session.
Lastly, I list Canon lenses here since that’s the body that I use, but that’s just personal preference as well. Look for these focal lengths in whichever brand you’re using.
Read on for my favorite lenses for family photos, in order of my most to least favorite!
Best lens for shy kiddos and creating magical backgrounds with plenty of bokeh: Canon 135mm
This lens is my current favorite. I usually start a session with my Canon 135mm f/2L lens, especially if the kids aren’t so sure about me. Its longer focal length allows me to stay pretty far back, and it creates just the dreamiest background blur. If I’m in a location with a lot of background distractions, or if I just want to isolate the subject from the background to put all the focus on the family’s connection: the 135mm is the lens to use. If I’m in an epic location and want to bring the background closer (or “compress” it), like I did here to highlight the mountain behind the family, the 135mm focal length will get that done. It’s a heavy lens though, and its long focal length means you’ll want to keep an eye on your shutter speed to avoid blur from camera shake. I usually keep it around 1/400 or faster.
Best all-around lens for family portraits: Canon 85mm
The 85mm was my go-to lens for family portraits for years, and it’s still an easy choice. It has great compression to isolate my subjects from the background, it doesn’t require an unusually high shutter speed to avoid camera shake, and even the entry-level version of it, the Canon 85mm f/1.8, delivers great images. I use it for most standard portraits and images where I need to be a little closer to my subject to give them direction.
Best lens for photographing children & cozy moments: Canon 35mm
The 35mm lens is my favorite for these overhead shots of the whole family snuggled together. I also like the 35mm for interacting with active toddlers. Its shorter focal length means that you can hover above the family or get down on a kid’s level and engage with them. It’s easy to grab a photo mid-conversation since you can be close and still focus with this lens. I love to tell toddlers there’s a friendly dinosaur inside the lens and invite them to look for it, then photograph their sweet little eyes looking right into my lens, searching for the dinosaur!
The 35mm lens is also lightweight and won’t easily get camera shake as long as you keep your shutter above 1/200, so it travels well on whatever adventure you’re on. I mostly use it towards the end of the session, when the kids have warmed up to me since I have to be relatively close to use it. The 35mm f/2.0 is affordable, the 35mm f/1.4L solid, and the Sigma 35mm ART lens is a dream.
Best other-people-love-it lens for family portraits: Canon 50mm
I’m not sure why, but this one just isn’t my favorite! I started out with the infamous “nifty fifty” (the Canon 50mm f/1.8) when I first started learning photography a decade ago. It was great for that and absolutely a lens I would recommend if you’re just starting out and want to give a prime lens a try without a huge investment. They’re affordable and can be great lenses–even the Canon 50mm f/1.4, which I have now, is a nice lens. But as my style evolved and I grew to love the 35mm, 85mm, and 135mm more, I found I just wasn’t reaching for the 50mm focal length as much. Buuuuuut, I’m adding it to this list because many successful photographers really do love it and create beautiful images with it!
Final Thoughts on the Best Lens for Family Photography
So there you have it! Those four are the best lenses for family portraits. My most-used three encompass a wide range of focal lengths for every possibility that could come up at a family session. Whether the family prefers a little more space to get comfortable (hello, 135mm!), or the kids want to share an action-packed conversation (the 35mm is where it’s at), these are the lenses I trust for family photos. If you’re a photographer looking for more photography and business tips, check out these posts on how to start a client closet or light and airy editing tips. If you’re looking for a family photographer for your own family portraits, head to my main website to learn more about my process!