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14 portrait photography tips you’ll never want to forget

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Tips for portrait photography can range from tweaking your camera settings to attempting to get children to remain still to difficult tasks like getting them to stop moving.

Many photographers buy a good DSLR or a high-quality mirrorless camera to have more control over their family portraits and friends pictures, but it is still difficult to get great photos of people.

There can be a huge difference between professional and amateur portraits. We’ve compiled this list with 14 essential portrait photography tips that every photographer should know.

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We will start with basics about aperture, shutter speed, and lens choice. Next, we’ll move onto focusing and composition techniques. Finally, we’ll show you how to use natural lighting and reflectors to greatly improve your results.


These tips will help you to become a better portrait photographer.

Then, we’ll discuss advanced portrait photography tips such as how to use flashguns and other accessories for portraits.

This helpful advice will help you to become a better portrait photographer, whether you are taking portraits of friends or family members.

1. Exposure Compensation: When should it be used?


The camera took a balanced reading of the scene but the model is too dark in the frame.

It has successfully exposed the face correctly using an exposure compensation of +2.3 stop, but some background details have been blown out. It’s okay, but we can’t have both.

The metering system in your camera plays an important role in photograph-taking. It determines how much light is needed to expose the camera. Although it is very smart, it is not foolproof. Multi-zone metering systems have a problem. They take an average reading. This reading is presumed to be a middle tone, which is halfway between black and white.

This assumption is most often correct, but a metering device can have trouble if a frame contains areas of extreme brightness and darkness.

Portraits can be easily underexposed if you have light skin tones. This is especially noticeable when you are taking full-face photos, or when there’s a lot of white in the scene. Brides at weddings are an example.

This can be easily corrected using your camera’s Exposure compensation controls. To lighten people’s faces, dial in up to +1 Stop of positive Exposure compensation. If you feel that your photos need to be brightened up further, you can increase the exposure compensation.

  • Learn More: A Guide to Photography: Exposure Compensation

2. Advice on aperture


Portraits are best done with fast lenses. A focal length of f/1.4 blurred the background nicely and isolated our subject…

…while an aperture of f/13 has brought the background into sharp focus

Portraits should be shot at a wide aperture (f/2.8 to f/5.6). This will allow for a shallow depth-of-field and allows your subject to stand out more.

To control depth of field, shoot in Aperture Priority mode. Your DSLR will help you set the shutter speed to ensure a perfect exposure.

To blur background further, specialist portrait lenses have wider maximum apertures (f/1.4 tof/2.8).

  • Learn More: Aperture

3. Setting the shutter speed

If you want to adjust shutter speed, consider the focal length of your lens. Camera shake (and blurred results!) can be a problem.

Your effective focal length should be greater than your shutter speed. At 200mm, use a shutter speed of 1/250 sec or faster.

You can also use slower shutter speeds with wide-angle lenses, such as 1/20 sec with an 18mm focal length.

It won’t work if your subject moves quickly so make sure to turn on the anti-shake feature. Some camera systems include this feature built into the sensor. However, many prefer to have it in the lens. This allows you to see the effects in the viewfinder.

This technology will not be available on all lenses, but it is possible to use it. This technology allows you to take handheld photos at lower shutter speeds than normal and still get pin-sharp images.

  • Learn More: A Guide to Photography: Focal length
  • Learn More: A Guide to Photography: Shutter speed

4. Your ISO can be increased

Photographers often see people moving around as they take photos.

You will need to use fast shutter speeds to avoid these issues and prevent motion blur.

This will ensure sharp photos and minimize camera shake, as portraits are often taken handheld.

If you are in Aperture Priority mode, and keeping a large aperture, increase your ISO to increase the shutter speed.

Low light indoors or outdoors may require you to increase the ISO to ISO1,600, ISO3,200, or even 6,400. A blurry or useless photo is infinitely better that one with a little grain.

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