Portrait Photography Tips and Tricks
Portrait Photography Tips and Tricks. Of course, portrait photography is extremely popular these days, especially when they combined the mobile phone with a front and rear camera. This post is more about taking portraits with a DSLR but there are aspects of portrait photography that applies to the smartphone user as well. It’s important to understand that we are talking about general portraiture in this post and we will be covering the various other types of portraiture in the near future. Let’s learn how to take an amazing photo of your nearest and dearest!
What Will I Need to Take a Portrait Photo?
Portrait Photography Tips and Tricks
Find a Suitable Location
Firstly, find a suitable location. In fact, find an amazing location! North Yorkshire is blessed with some outstanding scenery, but even in your own city, town or village there can be various scenes of particular interest which will make a pleasant and/or interesting backdrop. Of course, we are talking about outdoor photography here, but the same rule applies with indoor to an extent too. For one thing, you don’t really want to take a photo of someone stood next to a sofa full of kids toys and clothes as it will spoil your shot. Find somewhere suitable, pleasing to the eye and if it is well lit then this is even better. However, you may decide to take a portrait of someone who is engaged in their favourite activity such as cooking, on a sports field or court, working at their occupation for your photo to tell a story about your subject. Think creative!
If you are determined to take an outdoor shot of your subject, you can walk to your nearest wood, an historic building or somewhere else that will bring life and art to your portrait. You should probably discuss this with your subject as it is only fair for him or her to have a say! Wherever it is, should be fitting to your subjects personality!
Wearing the Right Clothes
The last thing you want to do is offend your subject by telling them to wear something smart and to tell him or her to have a shave before engaging in having their portrait taken. Still, in a genuine and tactful manner, you should encourage your subject to look smart and that means combing their hair too! If you are taking portraits with the intention of demonstrating and promoting items of clothing obviously he or she should wear these. However, it makes a huge difference when you take a photo of someone when they are unkempt to when they are looking the bees knees! This doesn’t necessarily mean putting on a suit and tie or a tux, but it does mean dressing smart to create a better photograph as well as create the best image of the person within it!
Other than your DSLR or alternative camera, a lens between 85mm and 100mm is perfect but just your wide angle lens will work well. You can use a long lens if you want to zoom into the subject above the shoulders and blur the background.
As you are going to be using a fast shutter you don’t need a tripod, but there may be situations such as low light when you require one. The faster the shutter speed the better with portraits because humans as well as pets move constantly and slow shutter speeds will return motion blur.
If you have one, bring an external flash. External flash units tend to be more effective than built in flash systems although the latter are very useful in portraiture. When we talk about flash we are not just talking about indoor scenes but outdoor scenes too.
Steps to Take When Shooting Portaits
Portrait Photography Tips and Tricks
Aperture or Shutter Priority?
It would be all too easy to say shoot in Aperture Priority and much of the time you would use this feature, but it all depends on the subject you are shooting. If you are shooting a animal or bird which move constantly you might want to use Shutter Priority instead because a slow shutter speed will return motion blur in your photos, so a high shutter speed is required instead. If your subject is human and engaged in some activity then the same will apply.
On the other hand, if your subject is stood still and posing for a shot, you can use aperture value instead. Again, depending on the scene and circumstances, you can either capture the subject using a shallow depth of field (blurring the background) or a deep depth of field (everything in sharp focus throughout). If you are taking a portrait of someone on holiday in North Yorkshire for example, you would want to capture some of the scenery they are situated in by using a deep depth of field such as F/11 and above. If you are in a situation where you want to blur the background then you want to use a low F-stop instead. Do not go too low as you will reduce the focus area too much and blur part of your subject. Extending your lens right out also helps to blur the background especially if you are taking a portrait from shoulders upward.
ISO should never be forgotten about, and this is easy to do. Ensure that your ISO is set around 100 to 200. Keep it as low as possible because otherwise you will return noise especially in low lit scenarios. It’s often too easy to use auto mode when it comes to ISO but this is a definite no no for all photographers. It is best to get well acquainted with your cameras abilities when it comes to ISO. The rule of thumb, although generalised, is high ISO for a really fast shutter, very low for a slow shutter. Granted, if you are using a high shutter speed when taking your portrait, instead of bumping up the ISO try using the flash or lamp to inject plenty of light into your scene. You can also adjust the exposure compensation too to receive the correct brightness and contrast.
Lighting Up Your Subject
If you are indoors then using the flash is a great idea, but if you can, it is much better to place your subject facing a light source such as a large window. If you place your subject with their back to a window then you have no choice but to use a flash because if you don’t, your subject will be dark against a glowing, hazy-white window. The flash will light up your subjects face and at the same time reveal what is outside the window itself. Specifically for portraiture, you can purchase a bright lamp with a shade to soften the light and reduce shadows. This is often the best way to light up your subject. You can also purchase a white screen or backdrop very cheaply these days. One word of warning however, is that there are a couple of issues with using a flash. Flash can oftentimes make the photo look flat. Additionally, red-eye can occur in your subject in low light. This is because (like the aperture in your camera) the pupil will enlarge and the flash brings out the red blood vessels in your subjects eyes. Many cameras have a pre-flash or an anti-red eye flash which fires an initial flash to reduce the pupils then fire a further flash when taking the shot. Although inbuilt and external flash can work exceptionally well in portraiture, I personally find a bright purpose built lamp or natural daylight works the best. You have probably seen these lamps that often have an umbrella behind the bulb or sometimes a white cover to reduce shadows.
Aforementioned, flash is not solely for indoor use. No, the flash is just as useful outdoors too especially so with portraiture. Why? Well, its very simple. Your subject may be situated in a shady area such as beside a wall on a bright day, or even such as a tree or other structure. To eliminate shadows and to lighten the subjects face, the flash will assist greatly.
Focusing on Your Subject
Focusing on your subject is particularly important because you certainly don’t want to receive an image of your nearest and dearest out of focus, even if they may look that way in real life! The best place to focus is on the eyes. Your camera has many focusing modes and it is beneficial to use the correct mode for the scene.
If you’re taking a photo of someone stood still and posing for the photo, then One Shot/Single Servo is often the best. You would focus on the eye area of your subject, acquire a focus lock on your subject by pressing the shutter button half way, then re-compose the shot and then pressing the button all the way. However, what if your subject is engaged in some activity and is constantly moving?
If you are taking a portrait of someone engaged in an activity such as dancing, their favourite sport they excel in, or even in their occupation, you will need to use AI Servo or Auto Servo. Check your camera’s manual for the specific setting. Again, you should focus on the eyes if you are shooting close up. However, the AI Servo setting will automatically adjust the focusing to keep your moving subject in focus, and once a lock is acquired you can take the shot. In these circumstances, you will most likely need to use a high shutter speed as well as a high ISO to compensate. If you are wanting to blur the background then extend your lens right out and focus on the eyes, framing from shoulders upward.
You can be creative by giving your moving subject a blur effect. To do this set your shutter speed to 0.5/0.6th of a second and mount your camera on a tripod. Don’t forget to use a short self timer of 2 seconds or a shutter release cable/Smartphone app so that your tripod does not shake. Half a second duration will return motion blur, but not too much that your subject will be just a blur. If you are taking a photo in a busy street or railway station for example, then you should use the same shutter speed to create this effect.
Certainly, taking photos of people, regardless if they are your nearest and dearest, work colleagues, or others, can be very rewarding and you can be extremely creative. There is much more about portraiture we can cover, and we will do so in future posts!
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