Best Canon Lens For Family Portraits

By | 16/10/2022

Welcome to my blog. I’m Helen, a family photographer for seventeen years and a Canon Ambassador. Since I started my business, I’ve bought a lot of lenses. Some have been upgraded, some are the originals I bought back in 2003 and others sit on the shelf rarely used as I’ve streamlined my kit pocketbook. I’ve learnt a lot over that fourth dimension about what to expect for in a lens and in particular which are the best lenses for family photography.

Today I’1000 going to share that experience with you and hopefully help you to create the perfect lens line-up.

(January 2021 – This article has been updated to reverberate my move from an EOS R to an EOS R5 and greater knowledge, and use of, Catechism RF lenses)

The Technical Terms for Describing Lenses: A Glossary

When yous first enter the wonderful globe of photography, the terminology can feel overwhelming. People talk of fast lenses and bokeh, tilt-shift and hyperfocal distance. Information technology can be hard to continue upward and work out what you lot demand to know now and what you tin can learn later. I’ll first by running you through some of the basic terminology.

Fast lenses

These are lenses with the option to shoot at wide apertures. What is considered fast has changed over the years with advances in lens technology and, of form, one lens can be fast in comparison to another. For this guide, I’ll exist talking about lenses with an aperture of f2.8 or to a higher place as fast. Very fast lenses, which I tend to use indoors, will let me to shoot at f1.4 or f1.2. The widest aperture of a lens is described at the finish of the lens proper noun, e.grand. the Canon RF 50mm f/ane.2L USM has a maximum discontinuity of f1.two. Some zoom lenses have a variable maximum discontinuity such as the Canon EF 100-400 f/4.v-v.6L 2 which means that at 100mm the lens has a maximum discontinuity of f4.five while at the longer 400mm length the maximum aperture is f5.half dozen, i.eastward. the maximum aperture moves every bit you zoom the lens.

Lens mount

Lenses are designed to work with a specific camera system so a Catechism lens won’t work on a Nikon torso for example. Some 3rd-party manufacturers such every bit Sigma and Tamron brand lenses for dissimilar camera systems, merely you always demand to check that the lens you buy volition fit the camera you own. There may besides be adaptors available. For example you can utilize Canon’southward EF lenses on its RF cameras with an adaptor but you can’t employ RF lenses on EF cameras.

I shoot entirely with Canon lenses and am a Canon Administrator so I’ll be referring to Canon lenses in this piece.

The RF or EF in the lens names refers to the lens mount on the 2 Canon EOS systems: RF refers to lenses that fit on the new mirrorless R-System cameras while EF lenses are on Canon’s traditional DSLRs.

As yous volition notice in this article, I employ lenses with both EF and RF lens mounts as I shoot with both camera systems.  I am slowly moving towards a completely mirrorless set up up and so I will eventually merely shoot with RF lenses.  Canon are bringing out more of these all the time and the new lens line up is very heady for usa photographers with incredible technological advances bringing new opportunities for artistic imagery.

Where yous see USM this refers to the small motor congenital into the body of the lens and means the lens will focus faster than standard models.

IS stands for Image Stabilizer which ways the lens has stabilisation congenital in.

STM stands for Stepper Motor Technology which means the motor in the lens is designed for quieter and smoother focusing which is specially of import for shooting video.

Prime number lenses

A ‘prime lens’ is a lens that has a fixed focal length such as 35mm or 50mm. This is in contrast to zoom lenses that allow you to change the focal length, such as the 24-70mm or 70-200mm.

1 of the benefits of prime lenses is that they’re unremarkably faster than zooms (only the Catechism RF 28-70mm f/2L USM has a maximum aperture faster than f2.8). They’re also usually optically superior to zooms although mod zooms are excellent.

Personally, I love to shoot with primes as I detect them more instinctive to use than zooms. I don’t waste time tweaking my focal length. Instead I tin quickly move, or ‘zoom with my anxiety’, to get the perfect angle.

Zoom lenses

Zoom lenses are designed to make life easier for us as photographers. We can alter our bending of view without needing to change our lenses and and then tin can move from a broad bending to a telephoto view in a affair of seconds.

The most common zoom lenses used past professional person family and wedding photographers are the sixteen-35mm, the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm. These cover pretty much all eventualities but there are lots of unlike zooms on the market, from those aimed at travel photographers such as the Canon RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS USM or the long lenses aimed at sports or wildlife work such equally the Canon EF 100-400 f/iv.5-5.6L Two USM.

Wide bending and telephoto/long lenses

Lenses come in a huge variety of focal lengths from Catechism’s EF 8-15mm f4L fisheye USM to the incredibly rare Catechism EF 1200mm f5.6L USM lens which was on sale in 2014 for £99,000. Yeah yous read that correctly!

Different focal lengths requite different perspectives to our pictures and can be used in different situations. With long lenses nosotros can photograph things further abroad and they also compress perspective which can be very flattering in portraits. Broad angle lenses give us flexibility on our angle of view. Nosotros tin fit so much in but we do need to be careful of distortion in the corners which can be an event for family unit portraits.

The 50mm lens is close to what our centre naturally sees and is an excellent place to start. A 50mm is i of my favourite lenses and one of the best lenses for family photography.

Macro lenses

Macro lenses allow united states of america to get really close to our subjects and take close-up images. Lenses that permit ane.0x or 1:i magnification at their closest focus distances allow u.s.a. to record the prototype onto our camera sensor at exactly the aforementioned size as it is in real life. This means that in one case nosotros await at those images on our screens or enlarge them for print, the level of particular is phenomenal. Those astonishing close-up shots of insects y’all’ve seen? They’re shot on macro lenses.

For family portrait photographers these come into play for taking detailed shots and are a neat addition to whatever kit pocketbook. Most newborn photographers will have a macro lens in their bag for taking pictures of delicate eyelashes and tiny toes.

My favourites are the Canon EF 100mm f/2.eight USM Macro and also the wonderfully versatile Canon RF 35mm f/i.8 IS Macro STM lens which works for macro merely can but equally easily accept a family shot. It lives on my camera during newborn sessions and if I could only have one macro lens, information technology would definitely be the Canon RF 35mm f/ane.8 IS Macro STM.


The dictionary definition of bokeh is ‘the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially equally rendered by a particular lens’. In layman’southward terms, information technology’s how nice the background looks if y’all’re shooting at a wide aperture.

When you start start you lot won’t observe the difference in bokeh between lenses, or I didn’t anyway. But the further you go along your photographic journey the more this becomes important. Different lenses can have very dissimilar looks. My personal favourite lens is the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM considering of the glorious expect to the bokeh. Camera manufacturers are aware of how important this is to photographers and so have establish ways to brand the bokeh even better, such as on the ground-breaking Canon RF 85mm f1.2/L USM DS lens. Here, the DS refers to the defocus smoothing blanket which makes the discontinuity even more creamy than normal. You tin can read more near that on the Catechism blog.

Then that’s a lot of information merely to get-go with. The big question is, with all those options, what should we take in our bags, what are the best lenses for family photography?

The Best Lenses for Family Photography

When I’m heading out to photograph a family on a normal twenty-four hour period I carry the following lenses: the Canon EF 35mm f/one.4L Two USM, the Canon RF 35mm f/1.viii IS Macro STM, the Canon RF 50mm f/one.2L USM and the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

2 35mm lenses I hear you say? That’due south considering I currently piece of work with two camera systems. I’ll be carrying two
Canon 1DX Mark II
cameras and an
EOS R5. I similar to utilize the 35mm on both cameras in different situations.

As y’all will notice in this commodity, I use lenses with both EF and RF lens mounts as I shoot with both camera systems.  I am slowly moving towards a completely mirrorless gear up and and so I will somewhen only shoot with RF lenses.  Catechism are bringing out more of these all the time and the new lens line up is very exciting for us photographers with incredible technological advances bringing new opportunities for creative imagery. I expect that this twelvemonth I will exist adding a Canon RF 85 f1.2L USM lens to my lineup.

I usually piece of work with two cameras, the Canon 1DX Mark II and the EOS R5.  I’ll tend to have a 35mm lens on ane and either the 85mm or the 50mm on the other.  Oft it will be the 85mm outside or the 50mm indoors.  Sometimes if I’m indoors I’ll just shoot with the EOS R5 and alter lenses.

Why 85mm exterior and 50mm inside? The 85mm gives me a bit more accomplish and kids run around a lot so I find that extra length helpful outside. Just, inside at that place’s ofttimes less room to motility effectually and so the 50mm is a amend focal length giving me the option for both cute close-upwardly portraits without distortion and as well a wider view to include the environment of the family domicile.

Sometimes I’ll pop the Canon EF 24-seventy f/2.8L II USM into my bag too if I think I’ll desire a wider angle. It’s mainly used if the kids are jumping on the bed where I want a scrap of actress infinite around the image equally I might need to straighten verticals in mail-production afterward on.

But that’s not what I started with. When I initially fix up my business my first lens purchases were the Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L USM (the mark 1 version, I’ve since upgraded), the Canon EF lxx-200mm f/2.8L USM (which I nevertheless have) and the Canon EF 50mm f/1.four USM (which I take upgraded multiple times as y’all will read nigh below). Quite a different prepare upwardly, so what’s changed?

Primes vs zooms

The prime vs zoom debate is probably up there with RAW vs JPEG as something that divides photographers and, with both, at that place’s no right answer. It depends on your circumstances and personal preferences as to what will be the best lenses for family unit photography for you.

I similar to shoot with prime lenses. I love to work with two bodies equally I discover this is more balanced and although it involves carrying more than weight, it’s actually less strain on my back if it’s evenly distributed. 2 bodies also mean I have a backup in my hand in instance of disaster and, as a professional photographer, this reassurance is essential.

Working with two bodies means that shooting with ii prime lenses works really well. I have my longer length lens (unremarkably 50mm or 85mm in my right hand) and my wider lens (usually the 35mm in my left paw). Considering I’m ever set upwardly that way round it means it’south incredibly instinctive to pick upwards the correct photographic camera every bit a scene evolves in front of me. I use a Black-Rapid Double Breathe strap which I love.

Using fixed focal length lenses also means that over time I’ve got to know their angles of view incredibly well. If I need to shoot from the hip, or if I have my camera in a EWA-Marine bag for underwater work and tin can’t actually encounter through the viewfinder, I tin can compose my image by instinct, knowing roughly what will be in the frame at whatever given time. This is a peachy skill to have every bit a lensman and one you won’t become using zoom lenses.

I too love the speed of prime lenses, the extra light entering the lens gives me more flexibility when I’m working indoors which happens a lot when I’grand photographing families. I also love the await that portraits shot wide open up at f1.4 or f1.two have. Information technology’s not easy shooting moving kids at those apertures but when you go it right the results are out of this globe and advancing technology such as the incredible face and eye tracking on the Catechism EOS R5 are making this easier all the time.

This is not to say that I don’t take a identify in my middle and my camera handbag for zoom lenses. I will frequently use them if I’m travelling light and desire to work with merely one camera and one lens. If I’g going out with my family, I’ll either put the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM on the Canon EOS R or the Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L 2 USM on the Canon 1DX mark II so I know I can cover most eventualities on a family 24-hour interval out. The Catechism EF 24-70 f/2.8L Two USM is the most flexible lens I own.

My married man, a professional person wedding photographer earlier he set his company Light Blue Software (which provides business direction software for professional photographers and is an invaluable resource for anyone setting up a family unit photography business) preferred to shoot with zooms. The flexibility and speed of irresolute angle of view appealed to him in the fast-paced parts of a wedding ceremony day.

It’s definitely a personal determination. Have a play with the different options and run into which you adopt: there’south no correct or wrong to the primes or zooms contend. Just exist enlightened if you lot’re shooting indoors then primes will give you lot more flexibility in low light and for that reason makes them some of the best lenses for family photography.

The 50mm lens

I desire to talk a scrap more about the 50mm focal length as this is the length of lens that I most commonly recommend. Years ago, cameras would exist sold with a 50mm ‘standard’ lens, at present they tend to come with a zoom. The 50mm is the nearest we can get to the way our eye sees and and so it’s a lovely comfy focal length to work with. The smashing Henri Cartier Bresson shot nigh of his work on a 50mm lens.

My favourite lens to work with is the Catechism RF 50mm f/1.2L USM because information technology’southward then sharp, then fast, but also has such beautiful bokeh. Sometimes the sharpest lenses tin have a very breakable feel to the bokeh so that’s something to expect at when you’re choosing a 50mm. Equally mentioned before, the bokeh varies between lens models and between brands.

When I’1000 recommending a lens though I go for the Canon EF 50mm f/1.viii STM, the ‘dandy fifty’, which I believe is one of the best lenses that Canon brand. The EF 50mm f/1.8 STM is affordable (it’s currently £99 on Wex), so it’southward a brilliant place to kickoff if you want to endeavor a fast prime lens just don’t want to spend a lot of money. In comparison, the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM is £2329. I know many professional photographers who shoot with the EF 50mm f/one.8 STM and dearest information technology.

Since the start version of this article came out Canon have too released a cheaper 50mm lens for their R organization full-frame mirrorless cameras.  I added and RF 50mm f1.8 STM lens to my armory recently every bit it’s tiny and calorie-free and perfect for conveying around when out with family unit and friends.  The quality is wonderful and the price (currently £219 at Park Cameras) makes it an affordable addition to any kitbag.

When nosotros build our lens collections at that place’s a temptation to ever go straight in at the top and buy the very best lenses for family photography. I’ve always believed it’s better to buy once and get the best I can afford than to buy inexpensive and purchase twice. In that location’south as well a good argument that lenses will retain their value much longer than cameras which are updated more than quickly, and so information technology’s better to invest in expert glass rather than the fanciest camera. But, of course, it’s all budget-dependent and when we first out that budget is limited and so it’due south non sensible to become into debt to buy fancy lenses. We don’t need to spend £2000 on a lens until we know the lens will make that money back tenfold.

Over the concluding seventeen years I’ve had iv 50mm lenses. I started with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens which I had for years before I upgraded to the Catechism EF 50mm f/1.2L USM. I had 2 copies of that lens, the first one was dropped on a physical flooring (there were tears) and I still take the second copy. I utilize information technology infrequently now I have the RF version as this is much newer and has improve applied science: it’southward a sharper lens and faster to focus.  I bought the RF lens when I bought an EOS R as I’d used it when I was lucky enough to test information technology before it was launched. I roughshod in dearest with the lens there and and then.

Equally I mentioned I at present have the RF 50mm f/ane.8 lens too, it’s prissy to have a small light lens for family days out and I besides believe that if I’yard going to regularly recommend a piece of equipment, I demand to like it enough to use information technology regularly myself.

Lenses go broken, they wear out, and their technology improves over the years. When you lot are starting out it can be tempting to jump direct in at the top simply yous can too work up to the very best lenses for family photography over time every bit your business evolves.

If you’re unsure about using prime lenses and so commencement with the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM or the RF 50mm f/1.viii STM. They are great lenses, cheap, and also a fantastic way to learn. I’ve always felt that prime number lenses are a bright fashion to get your head around photography as there are fewer elements to think well-nigh compared to a zoom. And, importantly, the photographic camera won’t be changing your aperture from ane end to some other as information technology would on a cheaper zoom lens. This can be very confusing when you’re starting out. Go an EF or an RF 50mm f/i.viii STM, you won’t be disappointed.

Speciality Lenses for Family unit Portraits

While I work mainly with my three prime lenses, I do have a selection of more specialist lenses which I use for different situations.

Long telephoto zooms

When I first started out – and I believe this is common amid family photographers – I used the Canon EF lxx-200mm f/two.8L USM a lot. It’s an easy lens to become corking results with and produces pictures with a beautiful compressed perspective: pictures that are very different to the types of images your clients volition be producing with their phones.

If I look at pictures of family photography training days that appear on my Facebook feed, and so the majority of photographers accept a 70-200mm lens on their cameras. And a lot of those close-up head and shoulders portraits of children I see on friends’ Instagram feeds are taken with this long zoom lens.

It’s a very useful lens. However, as my photography journey has progressed, I use it less and less. Now I only ever pack information technology if I’m going to be doing specific activities: annihilation on boats, horse-riding, shoots on the embankment where the kids are likely to be running into the body of water, annihilation where I know I’ll accept to keep a altitude from my subject. For a normal shoot at the park I wouldn’t pack it. Why? Because of the minimum focus distance – ane.3 metres compared to 85cm for the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM. That’s a big divergence when having a conversation with a three-year-old.

I want to be able to chat quietly to my subjects rather than having to shout instructions from way back. I believe the all-time expressions, especially from children, are when they can see and hear you easily and when they regard you as a friend to play with rather than a stranger with a camera. I also discover that personally I’m more than lazy when I shoot with a long zoom. There’s a tendency to stay in one place and pick pictures off rather than move myself around searching for the best angles and most innovative limerick.

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM isn’t my but long lens. I too have a Canon EF 100-400 f/iv.5-5.6L IS USM which I use just enough to justify its buy. Again, it comes out on special occasions, usually on the embankment or for some children’s birthday parties where I’ll be far away from the children (information technology was invaluable when photographing a get-karting party recently). These lenses are fun to have simply unless y’all know you’ll be using them a lot then consider hiring them or borrowing from a friend rather than ownership them, certainly when you’re starting out. A 100-400mm lens is definitely not a 24-hour interval-to-24-hour interval lens for family unit photography.

Super broad lenses

I have a Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye and as well a Catechism EF 16-35 f/2.eight II USM zoom, both of which I utilize very infrequently. I’ve constitute that when photographing families the very wide angle lenses can make it too easy to bring baloney into my images which can exist very unflattering in portraits. Where they come into their ain is if I want to include a huge amount of the environment or create something that’s making a feature of the super wide angle of view.

Tilt-shift lenses

Tilt-shift lenses are mainly the preserve of mural and architectural photographers, just they can be used by portrait photographers to create a actually lovely and very unusual look to pictures. I utilize my Catechism TS-East 45mm f/2.8 on newborn shoots occasionally equally I dearest the way it blurs the paradigm and allows me to shift the apparently of focus creatively to produce images different anything my clients have seen earlier.

Whatever of these lenses that give a very specific wait to your pictures, like a fisheye or a tilt-shift, need to be used in moderation. Quirky pictures can get clichés very quickly and y’all don’t desire your images to date badly. Timelessness is disquisitional for my family photography because I want the children to dear the images every bit adults, then whatever special effects achieved with lenses should be used with circumspection.

The Benefits of Swapping Between Lenses

One of the things I relish most about having a wider selection of lenses is that it gives me the opportunity to push myself, to bounce myself out of a creative rut and to mix it upward in my work. I owe information technology to my clients to always be pushing myself forwards, always striving for ameliorate and more interesting work. I detect having a selection of different focal length lenses is groovy for this.

Sometimes I’ll switch between working with primes and working with zooms for a month or and then but for variety, to sharpen my brain and simply just for fun. Having a new slice of equipment is exciting. I’ll infringe or hire lenses for a couple of shoots and see how I go on. This tin can be a fantastic manner to try new ideas without investing in the full cost of a new lens.

Try a shoot with only one camera and 1 lens (with a dorsum-up in your purse but in example of form) but see how it forces you lot to think more creatively. Often limiting our options is exactly what we need to make us more than experimental. Use a prime if yous unremarkably use a zoom or vice versa, hire a tilt-shift or a very long lens and take a play. There’s so much fun to be had and, over time, you lot’ll learn which lenses adapt your way of working and how you lot run into the world.

And so, what are the best lenses for family photography? For me, it would be the primes: the Canon RF 35mm f/1.eight IS Macro STM, the Canon EF 35mm f/ane.4L II USM, the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM, the Canon EF 85mm f/one.4L IS USM and the Canon EF 85 f/1.2L USM.  For you information technology might be the zooms, at that place’due south no right or wrong. Try unlike things and discover out what works for you.

If I could only have one lens it would be the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM and I urge you to attempt a 50mm to bask the flexibility that a fast prime lens tin can bring. Commencement with the EF or the RF 50mm f/1.8 STM and run across where the journey takes you lot.

Enjoy photographing your families whether that’due south professionally or but for fun. Information technology really is the almost fun you can accept with a camera.

I promise this guide to the best lenses for family unit photography has been useful. If yous have any questions do ping me an email or connect with me on Instagram and we can get forwards on this journey of family photography together.