- 3 Portrait Photography Tips for Beginners You Don’t Want to Miss
- How to Improve Your Portraits in Just Five Minutes
Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash
Taking a portrait of someone might seem as simple as aiming the camera at their face and taking a photo, but it’s a little more involved than that.
When you think about it, a portrait is really a story about the person. Your job is to figure out how to tell the most compelling story you can in the images you create.
With these simple beginner portrait photography tips, you’ll be better equipped to create portraits that are flattering for your subject (and make you look like a rockstar photographer too!).
Portrait Photography Gear Tip: Use the Right Lens
Photo by Kal Visuals on Unsplash
Using the right lens for portraits is a crucial element of capturing an image that flatters the subject.
If you use a wide-angle lens for a close-up portrait, you’ll end up with a photograph in which the subject’s face looks distorted. That’s not an especially good look.
Instead, many portrait photographers use longer lenses like a 50mm or 85mm because they offer a narrower angle of view and compress the scene for a more flattering and natural-looking portrait.
This isn’t to say that you should never use a wide-angle lens - they come in handy for environmental portraits, full body portraits, and group photos. But for close-ups, a longer lens will help you get better results.
Quick Tip: If you shoot with a crop sensor camera, you have to think about the effective focal length of the lens you use. There’s a detailed tutorial on this subject right here.
Beginner Portrait Photography Tip: The Background Matters
Photo by Philip Martin on Unsplash
A common beginner portrait photography mistake is neglecting the background in the portrait.
Though the subject should clearly be the focus of attention in a portrait, if the background is distracting, ugly, or a combination thereof, it’s hard for people to focus on the person in the shot.
So, when you frame up a portrait, do so with the background in mind. There are a few elements to doing this.
Photo by Kal Visuals on Unsplash
First, if you’re taking the portrait outside, pay attention to things like tree branches that appear to be protruding from the subject’s head or ugly features like trash cans that could distract the viewer’s eye.
Second, try to increase the background blur by minimizing the depth of field. You can explore how to do that here, but in short, use a large aperture, get close to your subject, and increase the distance between the subject and background to create the most background blur.
A third option is to set up a space indoors to create portraits.
You don’t need a lot to have a portrait space, either.
In fact, aside from the requisite photography gear like a camera, a lens, and a tripod, you really only need lighting and a backdrop.
The lighting issue can be resolved by using natural light coming through a window. Alternatively, you can pick up a strip box light and do all kinds of awesome things with it.
For the background, a simple solution is to buy a backdrop that you can use over and over again.
For example, Click Props Backdrops has a huge selection of vinyl backdrops that can take a beating and still look awesome.
You can use them as backdrops, throw them on the floor to use as floorgrounds, walk on them, get them dirty, and they’ll take it all and look like a million bucks with a quick wipedown with a wet rag.
Better still, using a backdrop means you don’t have to hunt around for the ideal background - you have one ready-made to make your portraits rock.
If you’ve never used a backdrop, they’re simple to set up and take down.
The backdrop used in the photo above, for example, either comes with reinforced grommets or a magnet system that makes it super easy to hang. There’s roller system options available as well for fast scene changes as your collection of backdrops grows.
What sets professional-looking portraits apart from amateur portraits is often the little details.
In this case, the background is one of those little details that isn’t the star of the shot, but can certainly make or break the quality of the portrait.
If you want your portraits to have maximum visual appeal, get an awesome backdrop!
Camera Settings for Portraits: Use Single-Point Autofocus
Photo by Roksolana Zasiadko on Unsplash
Most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras default their autofocus mode to zone or multiple point autofocus.
The problem with these focus modes for portraiture is that they can get the focus wrong.
The eyes are what you want to focus on in portraits, and to nail the focus, single-point autofocus gets the best results.
Different cameras utilize different methods for switching autofocus modes, so check your user’s manual for instructions on that front. You can learn more about camera autofocus modes in this article as well.
Quick Tip: When focusing, place the autofocus point on the eye nearest to you for the sharpest results.
Portrait Photography Tips for New Photographers: Don’t Spray and Pray
Photo by AP x 90 on Unsplash
When taking portraits, it can be tempting to set your camera to burst mode and fire off multiple shots per second.
While that can be beneficial when photographing action portraits, if the subject is stationary, all those shots won’t really help.
Instead, set your camera’s drive mode to single-shot so you take a single photo with each press of the shutter button.
Photo by Nicole Harrington on Unsplash
This will help you be more intentional with your portraits. Rather than producing hundreds of shots in which the subject’s eyes are closed or they have a weird facial expression, you’ll get fewer and better shots in which the subject was actually ready for the photo to be taken.
There are plenty of other things you can do to improve your portrait photography, but these quick tips will certainly help you get going in the right direction.
Now it’s time to put these tips to the test and start rocking out better portraits!