Portrait Photography Tips and Tricks

Read the guide to learn:

  • What is portait photography
  • Useful tips about portrait photography
  • How to apply portrait photography tips
  • How to make a final result even better

Edited by Nataly Bogorad

October 1, 2019

Great Tips for Your Portrait Photography

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What is Portrait Photography?

Portrait photography is about taking images of people in which you bring out their best. Whether it is for business head shots or arranging family members for a group photo, portraits have to come out powerfully and correctly. If it were a simple matter of shouting "cheese," it would all be too easy for the average photographer.

However, you need to master some intricacies that go into the creation of spectacular images. Determining the best aperture for portraits for both indoor and outdoor portraits requires technical skills. These skills include learning how to shoot pictures by adopting specific creative portrait ideas.

Top 9 Tips for Shooting the Best Portrait Photo

The journey towards great portraits begins by mastering the technicalities of photography. If you are a beginner, take time to learn the best camera settings for portraits, which include the F stop and shutter speed. Even professionals with years of experience in studio photography still have to learn how to take good portraits to produce beautiful images.

To add a professional look to the final product, you need an efficient and reliable photo editor, such as Movavi Photo Editor, for final polishing. But before you get to this point, here is a useful guide to the best portrait photography tips for all photographers.

Using exposure compensation

Your camera has a way of working out how much light enters the camera to make the correct exposure. While the metering system is smart, it is not entirely foolproof. It may struggle to do accurate readings if the frame is dominated by many areas of extreme brightness or darkness.

You will notice that light skin tones can easily trick the camera into under-exposing the shot. This is often the case at weddings where brides are all out in whites. You can correct this situation by increase the Exposure Compensation on your camera to +1, or even higher if you notice that subjects' faces are darker than necessary.

Adjusting aperture

The rules of portrait photography would never be complete without factoring in the crucial aspect of apertures. When you go outdoors to shoot portraits, use a wide aperture ranging from f/2.8 to f/5.6 if you wish to capture a shallow depth. The wide aperture works to blur the background, making the subject to stand out better.

For the best results, shoot in Aperture Priority mode if you are using a DSLR camera. This mode gives you control over the depth of field, and the DSLR camera will automatically set the shutter speed to correct the exposure where necessary. You could also get specialist portrait lenses with wider apertures to blur the background even further.

Setting shutter speed

Take into account the lens focal length before setting your shutter speed to prevent camera-shake or blurred images. The general rule of the thumb is that your shutter speed should be higher than the effective focal length of your camera.

If your subject is in constant movement, use the camera's anti-shake mechanism. Be sure to check whether this system is built around the sensor or in the lens. But if your lens features this technology, use it regardless of whether it is also inbuilt in your camera.

Consider increasing the ISO

You can also achieve excellent portrait photography by increasing your ISO. It may help if you can have a look at different examples of shots taken at both low and high ISO; hence, no need for a protracted tutorial. It is one of those simple tricks that photographers employ to create spectacular images.

One challenge common in portrait photography is people blinking or continually changing their facial expressions when under the glare of the camera. Such issues often take a toll on the quality of the photos, and so you have to find a way to avoid them.

You could solve this problem by increasing your ISO, which also has the effect of increasing shutter speed. Increased ISO will capture better images since it also takes care of any accidental camera shakes. You also need to escalate your ISO in low light conditions. Raising it to ISO 1,600, 3,200 or even 6,400 would effectively deal with any blurriness that may occur due to insufficient light.

Choosing the best lens

Sometimes you need to go back to the basics if you wish to make amazing portraits. Simple photography tips and tricks, such as tilting the camera to an angle before snapping away may go a long way for beginners. But first, you should have an appropriate lens to achieve any meaningful effect. Go for a wide-angle lens to achieve a significant visual impact. Focus attention from the subject to the background by making use of a telephoto lens such as the 85mm or 105mm.

It may also be essential to enable the zoom if you are using the 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto lenses. Such lenses let you zoom in on the subject while reducing the foreground and background to cut down on any distractions present in the field of view.

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Build rapport with subjects

Not many people would feel comfortable with a camera with a long zoom lens pointing down their faces. But if your models aren't comfortable, then your shots won't be any useful. It is always a good idea to establish rapport by chatting with them and helping them settle down for the photo session. Give them helpful information on how they should pose, the correct facial expressions – and possibly show them pictures of their earlier poses to build their confidence.

Use light reflectors

Reflectors are a quick and cheaper way to brighten your portraits, especially in challenging lighting situations, such as in the evenings when shadows grow longer. You can use them indoors to bounce streams of light back onto the subject from the window, or outdoors to throw light rays into unwanted shadows from the setting sun.

Consider choosing one of those 5-in-1 reflectors with a variety of surfaces shooting back silver, gold, white lights to introduce a professional look to your portraits. White surfaces also serve as diffusers to soften the intense light from the midday sun.

Clever posing for portraits

Naturally, many people would love taking photos while looking directly into the camera lens. Shots taken this way are great because the subjects establish personal contact with the viewers with the impression that they are looking directly at them.

However, some models may not be entirely comfortable with such poses, and may not produce professional photos. Some may blink, or switch between facial expressions, ruining the quality of their portraits. Consider having them look at something else other than the camera, or stare over the photographer's shoulders.

Strategic camera focusing

Strategic camera focusing technique comes in handy, especially when using wide apertures. Since wide angles decrease the depth of the field, it is crucial that your focusing is spot on, or you will end up with out-of-focus facial features.

One way you can achieve perfect camera focusing is by setting the central AF point, then half-pressing the shutter button to focus on the eyes of the subject. You can then position your subject off to one side before depressing the shutter button. You will achieve better shots than fiddling with the AF points.

Even the best and most advanced cameras may not guarantee cool portrait photos. These cool tricks and portrait photography techniques can help you to adjust shutter speed, set apertures, and exposure compensation for stunning images. Don't forget to download and install Movavi Photo Editor to help you create spectacular final portraits.

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