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What Is the Best Distance to the Subject for Portrait Photography?

When it comes to portrait photography, finding the right distance from the subject can be a bit of a balancing act.

On one hand, you want to be close enough to capture the subject’s features and expressions clearly.

On the other hand, you don’t want to be so close that you end up with distorted or unflattering shots.

So, what is the best distance to the subject for portrait photography?

In this article, I will explore the factors that go into determining the ideal distance for portrait shots and offer some tips for finding the sweet spot.

Factors That Affect the Ideal Distance to the Subject

There are several factors to consider when figuring out the right distance for a portrait.

Lens Focal Length

Your camera’s lens focal length has a big impact on how close you can get to your subject.

For example, if you’re using a wide-angle lens (35mm or shorter), you’ll need to be much closer to the subject than if you have a telephoto lens (between 70 and 200mm).

With my Fujifilm x100v mirrorless camera and its fixed 35mm lens, I often take portraits by standing around 2 – 3 meters away from the subject.

On the other hand, when I used my Sony A7III mirrorless camera with an 85mm f/1.8 fixed lens to take portrait shots, I had to be 4 – 8 meters away from the subject depending on whether I wanted to take a close-up or full-body portrait.

To give you a better understanding of the ideal distance to your subject for portrait photography depending on lens focal length, here is an informational table I have compiled.

Focal Length (mm)
Ideal Subject Distance (m)
Ideal Subject Distance (ft)
35
2 - 3
6.5 - 9.8
50
2 - 3
6.5 - 9.8
85
4 - 6
13.2 - 19.6
100
4 - 8
13.2 - 26.2
135
4 - 8
13.2 - 26.2

Note that these are general guidelines and the ideal subject distance will depend on the specific lens, the camera sensor size, the desired effect, and a number of other factors.

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Aperture

One way that the aperture affects the ideal distance from the camera to the subject is by controlling the amount of background blur.

A wide aperture, such as f/2.8 or f/4, can be used to create a shallow depth of field and isolate the subject from the background by blurring it out.

In this case, the camera should be positioned closer to the subject to take advantage of the wide aperture.

On the other hand, if a deeper depth of field is desired to keep the subject and the background in focus, a narrower aperture, such as f/8 or f/11, can be used.

In this case, the camera can be positioned further away from the subject.

Personally, when I shoot portraits with my Fujifilm x100v, I frequently use an aperture of f/2.0 – f/2.8 to separate the background from the subject and make it the center of the photo. When I shoot with a shallow depth of field with my Fuji, I tend to be approximately 2 meters away from the subject.

Portrait of Alina during her photo shoot for a local restaurant
Portrait of my wife Alina (f/2.0, ISO 1250, 1/125sec)

Background and Environment

The background of an image can also play a role in determining the ideal distance to the subject.

If your goal is to capture the subject in their environment, you’ll want to be further away from them so that you can fit more into the frame. This can be particularly effective if the background has an interesting or attractive quality, or if it has some relevance to the subject of the photograph.

Portrait of Imant and Irina in Italy (Amalfi Coast)
Portrait of my friends Imant and Irina in Italy (Amalfi Coast)

On the other hand, if you do not want to capture details of the environment and instead want to focus solely on the subject, it is generally better to stand closer to the subject in order to blur out the background.

Subject’s Comfort Level

The subject’s comfort level can significantly affect the ideal distance to the subject for portrait photography.

For example, if the subject is shy or reserved, it may be more comfortable for them to be photographed from a distance that allows them to maintain some personal space.

Portraits of the local people in Amalfi Coast, Italy that I took in 2022 with my Fujifilm x100v.

Alternatively, if the subject is outgoing and confident, they may be more comfortable with a closer distance that allows for a more intimate and engaging portrait.

It is important to consider the subject’s comfort level when determining the best distance, as a comfortable subject is more likely to produce natural and genuine expressions that are essential for a successful portrait.

Tips for Finding the Ideal Distance for Your Portrait Shots

Now that we’ve discussed the various factors that determine the ideal distance for portrait photography, let’s look at some tips for finding the best distance for your shots.

Experiment With Different Distances

By varying the distance between the camera and the subject, you can alter the perspective and create a range of different effects.

For example, shooting from a closer distance can create a more intimate and engaging portrait, while shooting from a farther distance can convey a sense of detachment or formality

By experimenting with different distances, you will quickly develop your own sense of what looks best and eventually become more confident in your ability to compose beautiful portraits.

Consider the Composition and Use of Negative Space

When deciding on the best distance for your portrait, consider how the composition of the shot can be enhanced through the use of negative space.

Including a bit of negative space in your frame can create a more balanced and visually appealing image. 

Communicate With the Subject

In order to create a genuine and impactful portrait, it is essential that you communicate with the subject and involve them in working together towards finding the perfect distance.

By collaborating through experimentation, you can create an image that truly expresses their personality.

Pay Attention to the Perspective and Distortion

The best distance to the subject may also depend on the specific lens that you are using, as certain lenses can cause distortion of facial features or a distorted perception of distances.

For example, if you’re shooting with a wide-angle lens, it is best to stay further away from the subject in order to reduce distortion and keep the perspective looking natural.

On the other hand, a telephoto lens can be used to capture portrait shots from greater distances without distortion.

Portrait of my friend Imant that I took in Spain in 2019
Portrait of my friend that I took in Spain in 2019 using Sony A7III with Sony 85mm f/1.8 fixed lens.

Don’t Be Afraid to Break the Rules

At the end of the day, it is best to keep in mind that there are no hard rules when it comes to the best distance for portrait photography

You should always feel free to experiment with different distances, angles, and perspectives in order to find your own unique style.

By playing around and pushing your boundaries, you may even find yourself stumbling upon original and exciting compositions.

So, don’t be afraid to break the rules and let your creativity take over!

Conclusion

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what distance is best for portrait photography.

The ideal distance will depend on a variety of factors, including:

  • lens focal length
  • the desired depth of field (aperture)
  • background and environment
  • subject’s comfort level
  • composition

By experimenting and taking all of these factors into consideration, you will be able to find the distance to the subject that works best for you!

As always, if you have any questions, or you feel like I’ve missed something in this post, feel free to email me at: hi [at] ohmycamera.com.

P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe to my email newsletter where I share photography tips, photography gear reviews, photography tutorials, and more.

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Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author

Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author

Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

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Disclosure: OHMYCAMERA.com is a participant in several affiliate programs and may be compensated for referring traffic and business to companies from affiliate programs at no additional cost to you.