I see this topic discussed on photo forums from time to time: Can one make good portraits with a 28mm lens? The most open-minded respondents always say that you can make a good portrait with any focal length, and I agree. Maybe 85mm is perfect for head and shoulders shots, but, depending on the subject and your goals, any lens can produce a portrait that both you and the subject like. And if you want your portraits to have a defocused background, you can still do that.
I was at People’s Park in Berkeley on Sunday, and even though I had other equipment with me, I shot everything with my 28mm fixed lens camera. I talked for a while with these two musicians in the morning, and then took several photos of them while they played—as opposed to posed—for me.
How much environment you want to show determines how close you want to get with the 28. The wide angle of view makes it easy to show a lot of environment, but if you want the subject to be big and dominant in the frame, you’ve got to get within a few feet. I did both with Gabriel the trumpet player.
Couldn’t resist calling attention to the blue shoes. (“You can do anything, but stay offa my blue suede shoes.”)
With the guitar player, I’m neither close enough to do a head and shoulders portrait, nor far enough to get in all of him. I did shoot him both of those ways, too, but I think this one is the most successful.
One could create a whole body of work consisting of portraits shot with a 28mm. I don’t think I’ll do enough of them for that, because I do like portraits with a 50 or 75, but I recognize that the 28 is nonetheless a useful focal length, especially for environmental portraits.