Mastering portrait photography is a great skill to have when starting out. You can use this to create a photography business or even use these skills to take fantastic photos of your friends and family.
As you may already know, portrait photography focuses on a person or group of people. It is designed to capture the mood and personality of your subjects and has a lot of room for creativity.
It can be a bit daunting when you first start, especially when you have a look at all of the different portfolios out there. Don’t let that discourage you, though. Have a look at some of the tips below, and try them out in your own portrait photography session with a friend or client.
Exposure & Aperture
Where ever you are, outside or indoors, you will want to make sure you have the optimum exposure and aperture settings for the image you are trying to capture.
If you are outside, the sun can over expose some areas of the photograph. You may have to reposition your model or take the photo at a different angle. If you’ve tried this though, and your image is still over exposed, adjust the shutter speed so your subjects face is the correct exposure that you are looking for. It is much better to have your subjects face in focus and exposed correctly, rather than the background (you can edit the background afterwards if you need with post editing software).
The depth of field is also an important element that you should be aware of. While focusing on people, it is usually best to have a wide depth of field (f/1.8-f.2.2 I find works) to blur out the background and have the focal point only on the subject in the photograph. This avoids any distraction and allows the audience to immediately see the person or people in the image.
There will be some circumstances that you would prefer some background however. In this case, I would suggest adjusting the aperture to no more than f/4. This will show the background, however it will not completely focus it. If the whole background is focused as well, it will become too distracting.
Alter the ISO
Don’t be afraid of the ISO (International Standards Organisation). Like many new photographers, when I first starting using my camera, I had no idea what the ISO was. It is a very important part of your camera! The ISO measures the sensitivity of your image sensor (lighting). When shooting in a dark environment, you can adjust the ISO to a higher setting and it will allow more light into the picture. This is incredibly useful if you can’t use a slower shutter speed due to movement. Alternatively, if the environment is too light, you can adjust the ISO to a lower setting to capture a better shot. Be aware though, when you shoot with a high ISO, as your image can record a lot of noise. This can be difficulty to edit out, and can potentially ruin your photo.
Best lenses for portrait photography
The great thing about DSLR photography is that there are so many lenses to choose from. But which one is best for portraits? I would generally recommend a 50mm or a 35mm lens if you are just starting out, as they are compact and affordable, but also produce a great and crisp image.
Most 35mm and 50mm have the ability to have a low depth of field allowing a great bokeh effect behind your subject. You can also look into wide-angle lenses as well to fit everyone into the picture.
Bokeh is a very popular technique that many photographers use. When you position your subject, make sure you have a lens that can have an aperture as low as f/1.8 or f/2.8. This is will blur the background enough to get that amazing bokeh effect. The image above was taken with an aperture of f/3.5.
Wide angle lens
If you need to capture a group of people, a wide-angle lens can help you out here. But be careful, if it is too wide, it might start distorting the image. The size of the people on the outer edges of the photo might be misleading. If you have more space or you are outside, just take a few steps back with your current lens. A 70-200mm zoom or a 85mm prime lens would work great in an outdoor setting. If you are in a house however, you will want to use a shorter focal length such as a 35mm or a 50mm.
A Nikon 35mm f/1.8g is a great starting lens for newer portrait photographers who have a Nikon body. It’s not overly expensive and captures a great shot. If you have a Canon, try out the Cannon 50mm f/1.4. Again, it won’t break the bank, and will give you a good feel for portrait photography.
For those, with a different camera body, have a look at lenses that are 35mm or 50mm with a wide depth of field. Sigma and Tamron make some great lenses that are generally interchangeable with camera bodies. Just remember to double-check your camera specs before purchasing anything. The last thing you want is accidently buying a lens that isn’t compatible with your camera.
Focus on the eyes
When taking photos of people or animals, always focus on the subject’s eyes. Your subject’s eyes may be the most important part of the image. An audience can connect with the subject through the eyes and you’ll be amazed how well lit, focused eyes in a picture can give it that extra WOW factor!
Connect with Your Model
Take some time to get to know your clients before you begin the photo shoot. Sit down with them over a coffee and discuss the type of image you are trying to get and also the type of image they are hoping for.
You don’t want to just silently start snapping away and have your client feeling awkward and uncomfortable. Talk your client through the shoot and ask them for their input as well. If a photo looks good in the viewfinder, show them as well. This will boost your client’s confidence.
Don’t show them just any photo though. You know you will edit the images to look great, but they might not understand that at the time. You don’t want to risk having them feel like the photos aren’t going to turn out well during the shoot if you show them a ‘dull’ image, as this might show in the rest of the shoot. Have fun with them to encourage some natural smiles, so the shoot doesn’t look too posed.
Use a Reflector
Reflectors can be great to assist with photography when your environments lighting isn’t ideal. A great tip is to position your reflector on the opposite side of your model, from where the main light source is. For example, if you are outside and the sun is coming in from the left, position your reflector from the right. This will allow the light to bounce from the reflector, onto your model and correctly expose their right side. You can also position your reflector underneath your model to soften any shadows under their eyes.
You do not need to go out and purchase an expensive reflector either! If you’re on a budget, make your own by wrapping some foil around a large piece of cardboard. This will work just as well.
Experiment with Different Poses
Be creative! Some clients may want just a standard pose, but I bet most will want more of a WOW factor in their images. Have a look at your surroundings and see what you can use. It might be a brick wall that you pose your clients against or strong tree that they can climb (if they’re feeling up for it of course!). Ask your clients to position their arms or legs in different ways to see what works. Not all poses will work, so be flexible. It’s better to try out more and only like a few, rather than not try enough.
Now it’s your turn! Take these tips into consideration and try them out. Post your pics on the pRIOnts Facebook page, I’d love to see them!