Sony 35mm Portraits: Creating unique portraits with a 35mm lens

35mm Portraits

One of the most common questions I see in forums and social media comments is by beginner photographers who are always wondering if you can use a 35mm lens for portraits?

Yes, you can use a 35mm lens for portraits. The best way to shoot a portrait with a 35mm lens is to stay about 3ft-4ft away from your subject (don’t get too close) and keep their face towards the center of the frame. The wider angle of the lens will distort the subject’s features if they’re too close to the edges. Keep your camera around eye level with your subject and take the photo.

35mm Portrait Sony A7 Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Lens Portrait Mirrorless
35mm Portrait – Sony a7 | Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 @1.4 | ISO 160 | 1/500 sec | All Natural Light

Many photographers will also crop into the frame in post-production to get closer compositions of their subjects when using a 35mm. I know I do, but that’s my personal preference.

Let me show you some of my 35mm portraits and why I love this lens for lifestyle portrait photography.

35mm lens for portraits

You can basically use almost any lens for portraits, but you might not get the results you want. There is a big different in shooting portraits with a 35mm vs an 85mm.

Lens compression of longer telephoto lenses tends to make the background look closer to your subjects. The subjects also have less distortion when shooting close up so they look more natural.

A 35mm lens will capture more of the space around your subject so keep that in mind when shooting.

Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 @1.7 Sony a7 Camera
35mm Portrait – Sony a7 | Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 @1.7 | ISO 160 | 1/500 sec | All Natural Light

Why you should consider a 35mm lens for portraits

The 35mm is a classic storytelling lens. There is a reason the 35mm is referenced so much in all of photography. When shooting, you capture your subject but also get enough of the environment to set the mood and tone of your image.

A classic nifty-fifty lens is also a great lens for portraits and capturing your subject in their environment. You may have to take a few more steps back versus using a 35mm, especially if you’re using a prime lens, but you will get the background as well in your shot.

With the 35mm you don’t need much room. The wide angle makes for taking shots very simple is smaller spaces and locations.

Is a 35mm lens too wide for Portraits?

I don’t think so. In my experience, the 24mm prime lens is too wide for my taste in portraits and the 35mm is just right. Unless I’m looking for a specific wide style of shot, I stick with the 35mm as my go-to lens for location shoots.

If I’m in the studio taking portraits, I choose the Sony 55mm f1.8 or the Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master lens. Normally I don’t need wide shots of the background so I choose tighter focal lengths for the sessions.

Is the distortion bad in portraits with a 35mm lens?

Yes and no. This depends of your lens. For me the Sony 35mm f1.8 does not have much distortion, especially in the corners. Keep in mind this is when I’m few feet away from my subject.

If I get too close (within 1ft-2ft) of my subject’s face, I definitely know I will be getting distortion no matter how much I try to compose my shot.

35mm portrait close up distortion
Distortion Sample – 35mm Portrait | Sony a7 | Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 | @f1.7 | ISO 160 | 1/500 sec | All Natural Light

Again, if you’re looking to get a really close up image of your subject, I would switch to another longer focal length, but if you only have a 35mm then take a photo from about 3-4ft away, and keep your subjects face in the center of the frame.

Then, in post-production I would crop the image to be a little tighter around the subject. It’s a pretty common way to take portraits with a 35mm lens.

Full-frame 35mm lens on a crop sensor camera

Yes, on the Sony e-mount system you can put your full-frame 35mm lens on a crop sensor (APSC) body. The e-mount is the same on both body types.

But when I swap this 35mm lens to my Sony a6300 APSC camera, the focal length is more of the equivalent to a 52mm. This has to do with the 1.5 crop factor of the sensor in the APSC camera. Here are some examples of the Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 on the Sony a6300 APSC mirrorless camera.

Sample Shot of Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 FE Lens on Sony a6300 APSC body

35mm portrait Sony a6300 apsc camera with Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 FE lens
35mm Portrait – Sony a6300 APSC camera | Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 FE Lens | ISO 100 | 1/1600 sec | All Natural Light

 

35mm portrait Sony a6300 apsc camera with Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 FE lens Lifestyle Shoot
35mm Portrait – Sony a6300 APSC camera | Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 FE Lens | ISO 100 | 1/1600 sec | All Natural Light

So long story short, if you put your full-frame 35mm lens on a crop sensor body you will be getting a slightly tighter focal length. It happens automatically when you attached the lens to the camera. You don’t have to do anything. This is because the sensor is “cropping” into the lens opening.

35mm portrait Sony a6300 apsc camera with Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 FE lens close-up
35mm Portrait – Sony a6300 APSC camera | Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 FE Lens | ISO 100 | 1/4000 sec | All Natural Light

Get creative with a 35mm lens

Remember how I said you can shoot portraits with just about any lens? That’s because it is true. You can use the wide angle of a 35mm to get really interesting shots. Get creative and change up your perspective. Get low to the ground and use the foreground as a creative element to your shot.

Also, consider foreground elements to help frame your subject and get creative shots. Set the mood and tone of your story by capturing unique images for your portfolio. There are no limits to what you can do, just go out and have some fun.

Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Lens @1.7 Sony a7 Camera
35mm Portrait – Sony a7 | Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 FE Lens | ISO 200 | 1/800 sec | All Natural Light

Capture more of the environment and tell a story

If your spending time doing location scouting, you want to showcase this in your images. For example, you can take 85mm portraits just about anywhere with good lighting. Especially when shooting wide open at f1.4 or f1.8 apertures.

The background will be so blurry that you will not be able to tell where you’re shooting. This is not the case with the 35mm. Your subject can be immersed in the location and you can set a style and story for the shoot.

For example, if you are in a big city, use the buildings as a focal point along with the subject in your portrait. Is your subject excited, or scared of the surroundings? This can be told by the way you shoot using angles and creative composition.

Go beyond just taking a picture, and get into creating emotions and characters for your subjects.

Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Lens @1.7 Sony a7 Camera Foreground Leaves
35mm Portrait – Sony a7 | Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 FE Lens | ISO 160 | 1/400 sec | All Natural Light

Can you get blurry backgrounds (bokeh) in portraits with a 35mm lens?

Yes, but it will not be as strong or blurry as shooting with a closer focal length. Remember you don’t want to get too close to your subject with a 35mm lens, so keep your subject far away from the background to get more bokeh from the scene.

With some practice and planning, I have no doubt you can get the look you want with practical lighting and composition techniques.

Do you own a 35mm lens for portraits?

I currently own the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens. It is a full-frame lens I use constantly on my Sony a7riii and my Sony a6400 cameras. The lens is sharp and very light weight and easy to carry in my bag along with a few other lenses.

I did own the Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 lens, but I ended up selling it due to the weight and size of the lens. I wanted a smaller lens that would balance better with my mirrorless cameras so I ultimately sold off the lens.

If I could start all over again, I would still get the smaller and more compact Sony 35mm f1.8 lens. For the money, you just can’t beat the quality and size of the lens.

Conclusion

Since I started photography a few years ago, I never let anyone tell me there is a right or wrong lens for a portrait shoot. I work to stay creative and learn the limitations and boundaries of my lenses.

My favorite portrait lens is actually the Sony 55mm f1.8 Zeiss lens. It is the first lens I purchased with my camera and it is still in my camera bag to this day.

35mm portraits can create a special look and tone for your images. Take advantage of the wider angle and get creative in your locations. Have fun shooting and never stop learning.

Author - Jason The Creative
My goal is not to be best portrait photographer. It’s to enjoy the journey and have some fun learning. Welcome to my photography blog on portraits, Sony gear and more.

If your interested, check out my portfolio at dallasportraits.com. I hope you learn something and leave being inspired to grab your camera and go out and shoot. Instagram.com/jasonthecreative


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