12 Portrait Photography Tips

Tip 1: Preparation

Before you start shooting your portraits you need to do some planning, which is essential if you want the shoot to go well and get the photos you visualized. First you need to find a model, but you don’t necessarily need to pay for an expensive model, instead you could take a self portrait or get a friend to help out. Some things to consider before the shoot are the weather, which could ruin your shoot if you don’t plan ahead, also some locations you may need permission to shoot at, and you should find this out before the shoot. A few more things to consider are- do you have clothes for the model or will they be using their own, also do they have somewhere to get changed and do their make-up and hair.

Tip 2: Vision

Before you decide on a model or location you should think about the photo you’re trying to create. The first step is picking a theme for your photos, such as business, glamour, holiday, travel, nature, sports, self portrait or abstract. If you need some inspiration for a theme, you could try searching the internet or magazines for ideas.

Tip 3: Model

If you’re looking at paying a professional model to work for you, there’s many websites you can use to get in contact with one. If you’re on a budget though, you can always do a self portrait, by simply setting up your camera on a tripod and using remote shutter release or a timer. Also a good alternative is to get a friend to model for you. After you’ve got your model, on the day of the shoot you’ll need to consider the models hair and make-up. You could hire a make-up artist for this, but most models will probably be able to do a good job themselves. For the models clothes you need to think about the theme of the shoot which you should’ve decided on by now. If your theme is a business theme, appropriate clothing would be a business suit. Also you should consider any props you might want, so for a business theme a briefcase or phone would work.

Tip 4: Location

The location you choose needs to fit in with the theme of the shoot. If you’re dressing your model up in a tuxedo, shooting them sunbathing on a beach would look very strange, so you should be thinking of locations like fancy restaurants. For example if you decided on a western American theme, a good location would be somewhere arid like a desert. Before you take the model to your location to shoot, you should take a look around before hand and perhaps take some photos to get an idea of areas you want to use.

Tip 5: Taking The Shot

Once the day of the shoot arrives you should be well prepared for any eventuality, and have a plan in your mind for each shot. Don’t pick a location and take just one or two shots at the same angle, move around to new locations and try zooming in or including more of the model in the photo. Also you’ll need to think about any poses you want your model to do, because they’ll be expecting you to tell them what to do. If you’re stuck for ideas on poses, try browsing through other peoples work on photo sharing websites.

Tip 6: Camera Settings

The best modes for portrait photography are aperture priority or manual mode. Shutter priority wouldn’t be a good idea, because in this mode aperture is set automatically, and the aperture needs to be set manually for portraits. Usually portraits use a wide or the widest aperture (smaller F number), because this puts all the focus onto the model and blurs the background. Your shutter speed is also important, because a badly set shutter speed can equal a blurred and ruined photo, which you may not notice until you upload them to your computer. The shutter speed should be equal or more than the focal length of your lens, so with a focal length of 85mm you should aim for at least 1/125s shutter speed. For your ISO, use the lowest possible setting. The ISO can be increased if you need a faster shutter speed to avoid blur, but higher ISO equals a more grainy photo. If the conditions you’re shooting in are dark you should consider using a tripod so you can use a lower ISO, but then you need to take into account the model moving when using slower shutter speeds, so a higher ISO and faster shutter speed may be needed.

Tip 7: Lenses

Lens choice is an important part of portrait photography. Some lenses are more suited for portraits than others, and will give you different effects. A telephoto or zoom lens is the most common choice, because using a longer focal length gives a smaller depth of field, so they blur out the background a lot better than a wide angle lens would. If you use a wide angle lens for portraits the background will be a lot sharper and not give the nice background blur effect that a longer focal length gives. Also wide angle tends to warp photos, which is often the intended effect for landscapes or architecture photography, but for portraits this isn’t a good idea since it will warp the models face and make the closest parts of the model to the camera appear bigger, which is usually the nose.

Tip 8: Outdoors

If you’re taking your photos outdoors don’t face the subject to the sun, thinking it’s a good idea to light up the models face and avoid shadows, in reality you will end up with a dull and flat photo. Placing the sun behind or to the side of the model will have a more dramatic look, or even in the shade. If the models face appears too dark you can then overexpose the image or use some fill in flash.

Tip 9: Model Release

Make sure you get the model to sign a release, because if you don’t you won’t be able to use the photos for anything, and they’ll stay sitting on your hard drive forever.

Tip 10: Flash

Never use on camera flash for your photos, because this often creates a flat light and will probably ruin your photo. The problem with on camera flash is it shoots a flash of light from a very small area, and when this hits the subject head on it usually creates a harsh, shadowy area around them. If you’re serious about portrait photography you should think about investing in a flashgun. Flash guns are much better than on camera flash, because of the bigger light source and the use of a diffuser, which spreads the light over a much larger area and gives you a softer light. Flash is often only used in doors when the conditions are too dark, but the best time to use it is outside as a fill in, when your subject is in shadow or underexposed.

Tip 11: Focus

If you’re using a wide aperture it will be harder to get all of the face in focus, and sometimes you won’t want the whole face in focus. But if you do, it’s best to use a single AF point and then focus on the eyes. You can do this by first composing your shot and then move your camera to the eyes, then press the shutter button down halfway to focus, then while keeping the shutter half pressed down, recompose and take the photo.

Tip 12: Get To Know Your Model

Making the model feel comfortable is important, and it will benefit your photos by giving them the freedom to show their emotions and appear more natural. So get to know your model by talking and being friendly and you’ll be rewarded with better photos.

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