Portrait photography is definitely the most popular photographic genre. At the beginning of photography, it was probably the only one. When cameras were expensive and families use to have only one camera to record precious memories, portrait photography was the only reason to spend money for buying film and develop and print the pictures. Now, with digital photography and mobile phones, portraits and self-portraits (selfies) are still exceptionally popular.
To be able to get better portrait pictures, you’ll need to pay attention to a few simple things. Here’s a list of practical suggestion you should keep in mind, to take portraits knowingly.
Shoot at face level
Unless you are experimenting some particular unusual pose, a portrait is usually shot with your subject looking straight to the camera, or at least with his face turned 45° on a side. In this case, remember to crunch or bet up a bit to put yourself and your camera at the at the same height of your subject. Standing higher than you subject will represent him as smaller than it really is. You’ll have the opposite problem while staying at a lower level
Use spot metering and manual exposure
When starting doing portrait photography, one of the most common mistakes it to focus and metering on the same point, usually the eye. But metering on the eye can potentially throw off the exposure. Also, using multi or average metering, the camera evaluate the whole scene, potentially neglecting your subject. Using spot metering you can be more accurate: measure the light on the skin, then in M mode adjust the exposure. Once done, focus on the eye and shoot.
Use a dedicated lens
Dedicated portrait lenses are generally expensive, but if you can afford it, you can get far better results than using your kit one. Portrait lenses are usually sharp and with a good focal length to help you achieve a narrow depth of field. The ideal focal length is from 75mm to 100mm. If for some reason you can’t use a dedicated portrait lens, your zoom kit lens one can do the job pretty well. A good zoom lens for portrait should be able to open to f4 at the longest focal length.
Check your shutter speed
When shooting a portrait, we usually want to use a narrow depth of field. A medium telephoto lens can help to achieve this, the longer the focal length, the shorter the depth of field. But long focal length lenses also means the camera is more susceptible of involuntary movements. If for some reason you can’t use a tripod, check the shooter speed and make sure this is higher than your focal length. For example, if the focal length is 90mm, the shooter speed shouldn’t be less than 1/90.
Use automatic ISO
Especially if you are shooting outdoor, light conditions can vary suddenly. Now that you spent time adjusting all your parameters in M mode and you started to shoot, you don’t want a cloud flying in front of the sun alter your exposition. Using the Auto ISO function of your camera can help to automatically compensate changes of the exposure. This is just an emergency shrewdness meant not to miss some unrepeatable shoot, and you shouldn’t completely rely on this. If you notice the light is changing, adjust the exposure immediately. In a previous article we already discussed about using the Automatic ISO Function.
Connect with your subject
To get better portrait you need to emotionally involve you subject. Even more if you are shooting with a non professional model. Give the necessary indications to your model without touching him or her. Direct contact can be sometimes embarrassing, if model and photographer are not in confidence to each other. If you are shooting digital, every few shots you should show the pictures to your model, to ask him or her opinion and to suggest changes for the next ones. This process will help the model to get confidence and appear more relaxed.
That’s our suggestion to get some better portrait shoots, especially if you are starting practising this photographic genre. What’s yours? Use the comment form below to let us know your thoughts.
Portrait Photography Resources
- Spot Meter A Portrait For the Skin, Focus on the Eyes
- Mastering Portrait Photography
- Portrait Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots
- Portrait Photography: Art and Techniques