How to Take Great Portraits

There are a few specific ways to learn how to take portraits of people, and I’m going to share some of those tips with you today. Lighting, composition, digital camera settings and your lens are the right places to start when you begin to take portraits of people. Lighting and lens quality are the first two considerations.

Without good lighting and a specific portrait lens, your portrait photography can become less than beautiful. It is best that you take note of this list I am about to give you so that your portrait photography lasts forever.

Photographing the eyes, skin tone and facial expression are the important elements that make up a good portrait of family and friends. The beauty about portrait photography is that you can do it as a candid photo as opposed to a portrait in a professional photography studio. Someone’s happy facial expression combined with good quality lighting and a good lens can be a significant ingredient in successful portrait shots.

You do not always require a professional photography studio to take good quality portrait photography. You can shoot portraits outside, or inside even if you do not have a professional photography studio. I have taken many photos of clients in many diverse situations. They have all been a little different portraiture photographs but they are still portrait photography. A different place doesn’t indicate they are not portraits.

So what are these different locations and situations? I have photographed photos of people on the stage, collecting their citizenship certificates from the mayor, relaxing beneath a tree beside a lake, celebrating their birthday, getting married and smiling at their loved one when they didn’t think they were being photographed. All these different situations structure portrait photography. So let’s get started…

The best lighting for Portrait Photos

Let’s start with the most important thing in portrait photography. If you want to discover how to take good portraits then this is where you start. Lighting will either make or fracture your portrait photograph. You need just the right amount of lighting to accentuate the person you’re creating photos of.

Lighting also has an influence on mood and feeling. When you opt for lighting that is soft and dim this may possibly create a more romantic sentiment. When you go for lighting that is very bright and high in contrast, this is perfect for things like sports portrait photography. If you want to create a gentle sentiment in your portrait photography then think about softening your lighting. Creating gentle light can make portrait photography more interesting.

Choose the lighting that is well-matched to the situation. Wedding photography that has filtered lighting can work perfectly. However if you are photographing some kids in the park, then you may want to choose a vivid and colourful lighting effect. Something that is vivid and vibrant can represent happiness and liveliness. A sense of enjoyment can be enhanced by the right lighting.

So what about situations where lighting is poor? I have been in many situations before where it has been almost no lighting and I have not been able to use the flash. In this situation you may want to turn your ISO up to the maximum setting. If you can use your flash then by all means, do so.

Don’t stand too close to the person you’re photographing and fire the flash as well. Depending on what flash you have you may be able to have distinct intensities of flash light being fired. Or if you have an inbuilt flash you might not be able to change the intensity of the light. This depends on the camera on the type of flash you have. If you stand too near to the person you are going to overexpose the features on their face, create small, bright areas of light on their cheekbones and nose. No matter how hard you try you may not be able to remove it easily in Photoshop.

If you are photographing your friend at a party at night-time, and the flash is the only source of light you have, then make sure you stand back from the person. Any closer than 3 meters may overexpose the person. You also don’t want to blast them with an eye full of intense, bright light. I prefer to use a long telephoto lens and use the flash simultaneously. I like to stand back and zoom in, and increase my flash up to the maximum intensity. Whenever I’ve done this I have found that I have a nice light over the persons features.

Bouncing the flash is a great method for portrait photography. When you bounce the flash you simply twist the head of the flash up to the top of the ceiling, or towards a wall, and allow the light to bounce from that source back to the person. Bounced light is softer and a lot better for photos of people. It is a wonderful way to get better portraits at wedding ceremonies, birthdays and celebrations.

Always remember that your lighting must be well balanced. You need soft lighting over your person’s face to create an interesting portrait photo. Even if you have the best lens and camera in the world, it won’t make any difference at all unless you have the light spread evenly across the persons features. This emphasizes the eyes and smile.

Colour Enhancement for Portrait Photography

Colour portrait photography covers many things. Wedding photography is a traditional example of this. As I have spoken about your lighting and things that you can do with your lighting, I will now cover colour.

The tips to colour portrait photography are of course your light but is also colour matching. For example, if you want to create a beautiful colour portrait then you would not only expose the light suitably, but you would make sure that the colours complement. This is a big secret that us photographers have up our sleeve. Let me elaborate.

Colour portrait photography is successful when all the colours complement each other within the single shot. If you want to create a colour portrait that stands out then select colours that go well with the person’s skin tone. Let’s take the example of a woman with light-colored hair, light skin and green eyes. If you were to dress her in black it would not look good on her at all. However earthy Greens, light pink, cobalt and purple, will suit her complexion.

Someone who has black hair, brown skin and brown eyes may be suited to other colours. They may look brilliant in white, black or other contrasting tones. The secret that portrait photographers use when creating beautiful portraits are colour matching methods.

If you’re photographing multiple people in your portrait photography then it always looks nice to dress people in either the same or very similar colours. A family photographed on the seashore might look nice all dressed in white, blue and yellow. It doesn’t have to be the same white, blue and yellow, but if you keep with the similar colour theme then you will make a start to create stunning portraits.

Camera Settings for Portraits

The Accurate Camera Settings For Portraits Is dependent On Your Light. It is rather tough to tell you what the ideal camera settings for portraits actually are. You see dslr settings are the way they are because of the lighting that you have to work with. If I advise you that F-16 and a shutter of 125 is the best setting then your portrait shot could be very inaccurate if you are photographing people at night time with the flash for example.

However I can tell you that your aperture can be a big impact on your portrait photography. If you are photographing someone up close and want to blur the background then I would support you to examine a large aperture. F 4 might be a better place to start. When you zoom into someone’s face and you use a large aperture, you may see that the background is totally out of focus. This works very well when there are distracting things in the background that you want to eliminate. It works very well when you just want to focus on the person’s eyes.

So what about shutter speed? Again it depends on the lighting you have to work with. It also depends on if you are taking candid portraits or whether you are photographing posed portraits. The difference will be the amount of speed and movement. Candid portraiture can at times be tricky in almost no light and this can create trouble in finding the right shutter speed. The camera may be telling you that it wants you to slow down the shutter speed. However, you know that if you do, you will completely blur the person. And that may not be ideal for the setting.

If you are photographing your portrait photo in studio lighting then these things are not going to be a big setback. You will however still need to watch your shutter speed because even the slightest motion at a slow shutter speed can create blurry photos. Decide on the shutter speed that is fairly fast so that you will not have to worry about blur from any movement.

So as you can see camera settings of portraits is not a black-and-white topic, excuse the pun. You need to work out the right camera settings to your portraits based on the lights but you have to work with. As I mentioned portrait photography covers a broad range of areas and conditions so it is important that everything is correctly exposed and that you have the precise shutter speed to go with the movement.

What Is the Right Lens for Portrait Photography?

Being a pro photographer means I have many lenses to choose from. I have many lenses because it gives me the ability to be accommodating in each situation. This does not mean that you have to hurry out and purchase different lenses yourself. I suggest trying out portraits with one lens so that you get comfortable with how your lens works with people shots.

Different lenses give different effects. A 50 mm fixed focal length lens is a nice focal length for portrait photography. You can get up close to someone without making their nose look too large as a wide angle can sometimes does. In fact, I suggest staying away from wide-angle lenses for your portrait photography. You have to to be able to get a good head and shoulders shot, middle crop or nice vertical length shot. You can achieve this using a couple of lenses.

I think I would have to say that my favourite portrait lens is the 70 to 200 mm cannon telephoto lens. I am a Canon user however I have used Nikon in the past and found both of them brilliant. Nikon also has a 70 to 200 mm telephoto lens that I found very good . At this focal length you can take great candid portraits and you can also use this lens to take beautiful studio shots too. You probably don’t need a focal length that is so long if you are working in the studio. Your 50 to 70 mm range will probably do quite fine.

Why do I love 70 to 200 mm? Simply because it gives me the versatility of zooming in quite close to someone and it also gives me the flexibility to take candid shots in communal conditions. I find the flexibility and adaptability of this focal range very handy indeed. I see photographers that take a couple of cameras to a wedding because they have numerous lenses that they want to shoot with. I find the 70 to 200 mm range does the job just fine.

These are luxurious lenses. This is a specialized capability lens so I propose becoming very familiar with the lens you have before buying something like this. I also have a 24 to 105 mm lens that works very nicely for portrait photography too. I only prefer to use the 70 to 200 mm as many times I do candid portraiture. Having that additional focal length of 200 mm lets me to get a little bit closer than I could with a 105 mm.

I have also photographed photos of people with the 50 mm lens that have worked fantastically. However I can’t really do this in a candid situation. I simply can’t get in close enough without being noticed. When I have done animal portraits and normal human portraits, I found that the 50 mm prime lens was a clear lens to use. If someone knows they’re going to have their picture taken then they will certainly sit still for you. The 50 mm prime lens is sharp and clear for posed portraits up close.

In a nutshell I guess I would have to say that it depends on the sort of portrait photography that you are doing, as to what lens to use. Try and acquire a lens that works well for the type of portraits you photograph.

Creative Portrait Photography Ideas You Can Use Today

There are lots of creative portrait photography ideas that you can use easily and quickly. Here are a few ideas that you can use. I use them in my portrait photography so please feel free to use them too.

Candid portraiture ideas

Two or more family and friends talking together and joking

Somebody playing their instrument

Playing with the dog in the park, For example throwing the Ball

Reading their favourite mag or book

Sitting on the bank with a fishing rod

Doing an activity they like, like perhaps drawing, playing Cricket, etc

Posed portrait photography ideas:

Leaning up against a tree and looking directly at the camera

Sitting on a park bench with gorgeous plants behind them

Being photographed, tightly cropped, with flowers all-around them

Relaxing on the beach with the waves in the background

Remember too combine black and white as well. Black and white portraits can provide a striking, timeless look to your photographs. And, in a fundamental sense, everybody looks lovely being photographed in black and white. When you come to your post editing, decrease a little of the mid tones, amplify your contrast and you will have a lovely black and white photo.

These are just some ideas that you can use to produce stunning, creative portraiture. You will find the more you do it the more creative ideas come. It really is just a matter of practice and application. You will be successful in no time.

The key to taking better portraits is good lighting, understanding how to use your camera, knowing the camera settings for the light and being adept to work very well with people. You do need to be a people person when you specialise in portrait photography. It really will benefit both you and the client in the long term.

Amy Renfrey is a professional photography teacher. She shows you how to take stunning photos every single time you press the shutter, even if you have never used a digital camera before. To discover how to take good photos/ better than ever before visit her website today.

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