How to photograph a portrait: 12 helpful tips

How To Photograph A Portrait 12 Helpful Tips.jpg


Everyone wants to look amazing in photography, but not every photographer has the skills to take good portraits. We present to your attention a selection of 12 recommendations, covering various aspects of shooting from lighting to lenses, thanks to which you will get high quality and interesting portrait photos.

Use natural light

Use natural light

When shooting indoors, sit near a large window. Diffuse light minimizes harsh shadows and produces a more attractive image (unless, of course, the sun is shining directly into the window). Ask the subject to face the light so that the face is not in shadow. Be sure to turn off the interior lighting, otherwise the photo will take on a yellow tint.

Do not shoot in bright sunlight

12 helpful tips for shooting portraits

Bright sunlight is very difficult to work with. The model in the photo will not only constantly squint from the light, but also ugly shadows will appear on her face (as seen in the photo). Shooting outdoors is best done on a cloudy day or when the sun is not so high in the sky. If you do decide to shoot on a sunny day, choose a location in the shade.

Control hard light

If you are shooting on a bright sunny day and there is no shadow source nearby, use diffusers (diffusers) to soften the lighting. Diffusers are made of transparent material and come in various shapes and sizes.

Collapsible oval diffusers are the best choice as they are more portable and easier to install. In the photo on the left, the diffuser is placed at an angle above the model’s head. You can also make your own diffuser using white cloth or other transparent material.

12 helpful tips for shooting portraits

Use a low exposure

12 helpful tips for shooting portraits

When shooting portraits, we recommend using a low exposure to blur the background and make the subject stand out in the photo. Many DSLRs and mirrorless cameras allow you to manually adjust the f-stop (also called f-stop). A lower f-number corresponds to a larger aperture, which allows more light to hit the sensor, while a higher f-number means a narrower aperture (less light).

A similar effect can be achieved using the portrait mode in modern smartphones.

Avoid wide angle lenses

12 helpful tips for shooting portraits

Shooting with a wide-angle lens may distort the subject in the photo and make it look strange. Therefore, if you want a photo without a surreal effect, it is better to use lenses with a focal length of no more than 50mm, except when shooting from a distance of several meters (this will help to minimize distortion).

Use a reflector

diffuser for photographer

Using a reflector will improve your photography when shooting in natural light. Just like diffusers, reflectors come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are inexpensive and easy to transport. If you don’t want to buy a reflector, you can alternatively use a whiteboard or aluminum foil.

12 helpful tips for shooting portraits

In the photo on the left, the photographer softened the shadows on the subject’s face with a reflector placed at an angle above the girl’s head. Notice how the light reflected from the reflector adds a sparkle to the subject’s eyes.

Use a telephoto lens

12 helpful tips for shooting portraits

If you shoot with a low exposure, but the background is still sharp and not blurry, it most likely means that the focal length is too short. Telephoto lenses are ideal for portrait photography, as they tend to compress space and intensify the background blur effect. The longer the focal length, the more blurry the background will be.

Shoot with bounced flash light

12 helpful tips for shooting portraits

Using the built-in flash when taking portrait photos is not the best solution. The flash gives off harsh direct light, which makes photos look flat and uninteresting. If you want to use artificial lighting, buy a removable flash that can be used separately from the camera. Most DSLR cameras have a detachable flash connection that can be used from a distance that the length of the cord allows.

There is another option – do not disconnect the flash from the camera, but aim it not at the object, but at the wall or ceiling. The light bouncing off the walls will be softer and more suitable for photography.

Consider the environment around your subject

12 helpful tips for shooting portraits

Placing a model in an interesting location is a great way to add depth to a portrait, both literally and figuratively. Before you start shooting, think about which environment best suits the character of the person in the photo. A graffiti wall is suitable for a street artist, while a natural landscape is appropriate for outdoor enthusiasts. Before shooting, make sure that no electrical wires or other unwanted objects are caught in the frame.

Help your model relax

12 helpful tips for shooting portraits

Most people feel uncomfortable in front of the camera. Your job as a photographer is to help the model feel more at ease. Joke, play music, or offer a drink to help you relax.

Shoot outdoors

12 helpful tips for shooting portraits

The best and most interesting portraits are obtained when people are in their natural “habitat” and are caught at various points in their daily life. It was these portraits that brought fame to Stephen McCurry, Mary Ellen Mark and Lauren Greenfield. Instead of organizing staged photos, ask people around you to pose. You can also take pictures of people at home or when they are doing what they love.

Choose interesting models for shooting

12 helpful tips for shooting portraits

Agree, when shooting boring people, the photos turn out to be just as boring. If you want to build your portfolio, ask your photogenic friends, acquaintances or relatives to become your models, and if you are more interested in documentary filmmaking, pay attention to interesting characters that you meet on the street or while traveling.