- Easy Natural Light Portrait Photography Tips
- Portrait Lighting Tip: How to Use a Table Lamp to Light Your Portraits
- A Beginner's Guide to Aperture Priority Mode and Exposure Compensation
- Understanding Manual Mode of a DSLR
Grabbing your camera and taking your first portraits can be a daunting task.
After all, there's a lot of technical and artistic elements that you have to worry about.
And, unlike something like landscape photography, you have a real, live subject in front of you that you have to communicate with, direct, and make feel comfortable in front of your camera.
But despite all that, there's no reason why you can't create gorgeous portraits. All it takes is a commitment to building the skills needed to do so.
Here's a few tips to help you get started.
Editor's Tip: Taking better portraits isn't just about building skills, it's about having the right tools, too. Get what you need for portraits.
Think About the Direction of Light
I could go on for days about the importance of light - it's that essential for a good portrait (or any photo, for that matter).
On the one hand, if the light you use for your portraits is too bright, it'll be harsh with deep shadows and bright highlights.
On top of that, bright light can wash out your subject, making them look like they've just seen a ghost.
On the other hand, light that's too dim means you lose details in the photo, making things like the person's eyes difficult to see.
The directionality of the light is important, too.
As a good rule of thumb, have your model facing the light source, whether that's the sun or an external flash you've got mounted to a light stand.
By facing the light source, you help minimize shadowing on the model's face, thus giving you the most even lighting on the most important part of the shot.
And I know what you're thinking...what if the model squints when looking at the light source?
The easy answer is to have them shut their eyes and then on the count of three, have them open their eyes just as you fire the shutter.
The more difficult answer is to utilize lighting that's soft and diffuse, like outside during Golden Hour or inside using a flash with a softbox.
Diffuse light won't make your model squint, so not only will you get better light on their face, but you won't blind them with overpowering light, either!
Learn how to shoot outdoor portraits using natural light in the video above by Jana Williams.
You Need a Good Backdrop
Something that kills a lot of beginner portraits isn't the lighting or the way the model's posed, but is instead the background of the portrait.
Though the primary subject is your model, if there's something distracting in the background or if the background is just plain ugly, it'll diminish the quality of the portraits you create.
That's where a good backdrop comes in...
With a beautiful portrait backdrop, you don't have to worry about hunting around for the ideal spot to take your photos.
Instead, you set up your backdrop, bring the model in, and start shooting!
Not all backdrops are alike, though, so you want something that not only looks great and fits in with your particular aesthetic, but you also want something that's well built to stand up over time.
Some backdrops only have a few points from which to hang them, which can lead to folds and wrinkles that are obvious in the background of your portraits.
Others, though, have reinforced grommets every foot or so, that way you not only have plenty of hanging points to get a nice, flat look, but their reinforced construction means you don't have to worry about rips and tears down the road.
What's more, with a solid portrait backdrop, you can spend more time working with the model, perfecting his or her posing, and building a relationship with them that will lead to better shots.
You can also work on building an effective lighting scheme, composing the shot, and framing it such that you get a better result, too.
In other words, don't spend all your time and effort hunting for a great place to take a portrait when you can get a high-quality portrait background without spending tons of money.
Editor's Tip: See what your portraits would look like with these creative backdrops.
Try Aperture Priority Mode
Something that can be a little overwhelming when taking portraits is being responsible for all the different camera settings when shooting in manual mode.
But if you aren't quite ready to go to full manual, aperture priority mode (A or Av on your camera's dial) is an excellent bridge from full auto to full manual.
That's because in aperture priority mode, you control the aperture (and the ISO, if you want) and the camera controls the shutter speed.
So, whatever aperture you select, the camera will choose a shutter speed to match, resulting in a good exposure, assuming that there's good light.
In other words, by making one adjustment - the aperture - you can assume much more control over how your images look. Learn how to do that in the video below by CamCrunch:
Controlling the aperture is beneficial for portraiture because the aperture is one of the factors that influence depth of field.
If you want a beautifully blurred background, you can open the aperture to something like f/1.8 or f/2.
Conversely, if you want the background sharply in focus (which is rare for portraits, but you never know!), you can close down the aperture to f/11 or f/16 and get a larger depth of field.
Basically, aperture priority mode makes it easier on you to perfect the portraits you take, but without the stress of being responsible for every camera setting.
It's a great way to learn more about your camera, learn more about taking portraits, and gaining the confidence you need to take better photos.