Photo by Joshua Waller
1. Start with the basics
Once you take your camera out of its bag, it’s easy to keep clicking the shutter button and forget that you need to check backgrounds, subject position, etc. Always look for shooting locations where the background is not full of distracting objects cluttering the scene and where possible, put some distance between your subject and the background. This will not only add depth, but also make it easier to focus the background. If you are using a compact, this can be done via Portrait mode. For those with more advanced cameras, that means choosing a wider aperture. It is also important to focus on your subject’s eyes and even if you are photographing a friend or family member, remember to keep giving directions.
2. Natural light is free
Whenever possible, it’s best to avoid using your camera’s built-in flash for portraits, as most of the time the results won’t look very professional. Instead, make the most of window light which will help you create portraits you’ll be proud of. North-facing windows are great, but you can use the ones that aren’t in direct sunlight. Cloudy days are great for this as the light is naturally diffused, but you can achieve a similar effect by hanging a veil or something similar.
If your house lights are on, turn them off and clean the window before you start!
A reflector will be useful for adding light to the side of your model’s face and not next to the window, thus balancing the exposure. You can buy reflectors, but they can just as easily be created from a piece of white cardboard, foil, etc.
Try spot metering on your model’s face, then have fun experimenting with the makeup. Tight cropping on the face works well, but try using the window to help frame a few of your shots.
3. Want more impact?
Full-length portraits work well, but for something that has more of a “pow” behind it, get in close. If you and your subject are comfortable doing this, it could mean a physical closeness or a longer zoom lens if your model feels more comfortable with a wider working distance. Something around the 85-135mm mark is a popular choice for headshots, but be careful with your shutter speeds when using longer lenses if you’re working handheld.
Photo by Joshua Waller
4. Don’t want to give so many directions?
The simple answer is to try a straightforward approach and shoot often so you don’t miss a moment.
Try using a wider lens when working outdoors or at busy events such as a wedding, as people won’t think you are taking their photo if the lens is not pointed directly at. them, they will remain relaxed. Longer lenses will keep you out of sight while giving you the flexibility to focus on one or two people. For compact users, why not switch to P mode so you can focus on shooting rather than the settings you need.
If you are working with children, you can give them a task like building a tower with bricks or kicking a ball outside to give you the opportunity to take fun, instant photos that they won’t even do. notice you do as they will be too distracted with the task at hand.
5. Be creative
Whether it’s adding fun accessories, creating interesting backgrounds with bokeh, or using artistic filters and frames, there are plenty of ways to get creative with your portraits. Many cameras are equipped with artistic filters that will give a touch of originality to your portraits. This could be adding a vignette, changing the images to black and white, or just adding a sepia tone and grain to give it a vintage feel.
For fun with the bokeh, you can go out at night or use colorful string lights (the type you take out of the loft at Christmas) and drape them against a dark background. Then put a few meters between the background and your subject to increase the bokeh effect.
You need to use your lens at its widest point and focus on your subject. A small portable light is handy for illuminating the front of your subject, but be careful with the positioning of the light as you don’t want the light to shine on the background. Watch your white balance, then experiment with framing to change the pattern created by the lights in the background.
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