Have you ever considered starting with portrait photography but don’t know how to do it? I understand this feeling because for several years I was dedicated almost exclusively to nature and landscape photography. I started shooting portraits and my learning process was mostly by trial and error. In this article, I will share with you portrait photography tips that are really helpful for me during my photo sessions.
What Is Portrait Photography?
Portrait photography or portraiture is about capturing human beings and conveying their emotions, stories, or situations. A good portrait photograph is able to illuminate the subject’s emotions and story through the use of lighting, composition, depth of field, and posing.
Taking stunning portraits is challenging and requires some practice, patience and establishing a connection with your model. For that reason, my tips are both about portrait photography settings and the relationships you establish with your model.
Portrait Photography Settings
Camera settings for portrait photography will depend on the situation of each portrait, but I will give you some general ideas that will be helpful as a starting point.
First of all, I would select autofocus instead of shooting in manual because focusing will be faster and easier with autofocus. In addition, you will not make your model feel bored while you try to focus manually.
For models who don’t move or who move slowly, I like to use the Single Area Focus Mode. When half-pressing the shutter release the camera will grab and lock the focus until you finally press it to take the photo. If the subject is moving rapidly, you can try the Continuous/AI Servo Focus Mode. In this case, the camera won’t lock the focus when half-pressing the shutter release. Instead, it will track your subject. To learn more please have a look at this camera focus guide.
Next step is choosing an ISO value. ISO determines the sensitivity of your camera to light. The darker the place, the higher the ISO number you will need (your camera will be more sensitive to light and it will take brighter images). However, keep in mind that raising the ISO means that your images will have a grainy look (also known as digital noise). You will need to evaluate if the noise is acceptable or not. If you need to raise the ISO too much you might consider using a flash or any other external light instead.
Finally, I choose the shooting mode. Using a semi-automatic mode is a good option for portraits because you will be able to react faster to any changes. The Aperture Priority mode can be handy in most portraits because it allows you to set the aperture value. You can use low aperture values such as f/1.4-f/4 to create a blurry effect in the background or higher if you prefer the background to be sharper.
Focus on Your Model’s Eyes to Get Lively Portraits
When you compose an image, you always need to decide where to focus (which part of the image will be sharp). It is an important decision because it is a way to direct your viewer’s eyes (they always put their attention on this spot). In portraits, eyes convey very strong emotions, so it is always a good idea to focus on them.
Avoid Unflattering Shadows
Depending on the position of the light source and its intensity, your model might end up with unflattering shadows in the face. If the light comes from above the subject (shooting outdoors during midday or if there is an artificial light such as a lamp or a streetlight right on top of your model) the effect is especially intense under the eyebrows, nose, and chin.