Misconception about portrait lenses.

On distance in portrait photography…

Tim Gallo


© Tim Gallo. Shot on wide lens.

I see a lot of articles and videos on the subject of what is considered best portrait lens, and it seems a lot of them breed a misconception that telephoto lenses and anything beyond 50mm are your best choices.

When you think about what is considered the best portrait lens — 85, 135, 70–200 comes to many people’s minds, and, technically, they may be right. Still, I want to discuss why I don’t think those lenses are not your best choices, and especially why I don’t recommend them to people who just started in portrait photography.


I think the portrait is all about the distance. How fast the picture you took closes the distance between the viewer; think about what is distance between the photographer and his subject. What is distance between documentary, albeit reality, an imaginary world. All those things are crucial and, believe me, all serious portrait photographer usually contemplate on this the most — how can they close the distance between themselves and their subject. (It’s a little bit strange to write this word in a time of social distancing though, but let’s ignore it for a moment).

85 and 135, no doubt, help you to separate* your subject. But think — what happens when you have an 85 or 135 mm lens? You stand far from the subject… there is a vast, endless distance between you and the subject — one that is only closed through the technicality of picture taking.

The comfort of being close.

Come closer. More closer. Come even more closer. Come as close as you can to your subject and try to find/create comfort in this distance for both of you. That is where real portrait work starts.

Usually, people have some understanding of private space, or a private zone, whatever you call it… I think that great portrait is about destroying, or I prefer to say, transforming this “private space” into “creative” space.

Every smallest particle, every atom are trying to get free and is being held by forces of other particles and atoms at the same time. Eventually, everything comes to the point of stillness or expands to the point that it seems to be still.



Tim Gallo

Based in Tokyo Japan, I work as celebrity portrait photographer. Sometimes Movie Director. Occasionally poet. I apologise for not perfect english. timgallo.com