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12 Top Portrait Photography Tips for Photographers

Published on 13 September 13

Taking great photos of people can be really tough. At least it used to be tough. Follow these top tips for portrait photography to help you get stunning portrait shots every time.

1. Aperture settings. Shoot portraits with a wide aperture set between f/2.8 and f/5.6. Using aperture priority mode usually does a good job of automatically setting the shutter speed to get the right exposure.

2. Exposure compensation. Light skin tones in portraits tend to become under-exposed. Experiment with the exposure compensation to find the right balance. Try moving it up to +1 to lighten up faces.

3. Prevent motion blur. People moving around or blinking will result in a blurry photo. Prevent this problem by increasing the shutter speed. Keep your camera in aperture priority mode and increase the ISO, which gives a faster shutter speed.

4. Choose the right lens. With a portrait shot you want the focus to be on the person, so a lens with a narrower angle of view is more desirable. This makes a telephoto lens (70mm or more) the favourite, as it makes the portrait more prominent by knocking the background further out of focus.

5. Avoid distracting backgrounds. When taking portrait shots (studio or environmental) you want to keep the eye on the subject. A brightly coloured, distracting and hectic background will simply draw away focus from the people.

6. Donât use on-camera flash. Since the on-camera flash is directly aligned with the lens, it creates a flat light that results in a less than flattering image. If you really have to use a flash, use an externally mounted one.

7. Use your creativity. If you want cool photos then you need to experiment with different ideas. Donât get lazy and just stand back to include most of the subject in the frame. Use different angles and zoom in to create some truly inspiring compositions.

8. Portrait poses. Be sure to take a variety of poses and expressions. How someone stands and poses will dramatically change the end results. Have the subject looking in different directions (up, down or off-camera) to achieve different effects. You can later pick the best photos.

9. Using a reflector. To give your portraits a more professional feel, use a reflector to brighten up the photo. A reflector will bounce light back onto the subject and fill any unwanted shadows.

10. Never take portraits of kids from your standing height. If you are taking photos of kids or babies, go down to their level.

11. Contrasting colours. If the subject is wearing bright clothes, then put them in a muted and dull background to make them stand out. In the same manner, if the subject is wearing more muted coloured clothing, take the photo against brightly coloured setting to put the focus on them.

12. Think about the purpose of the portrait. Donât forget to consider what the photo will be used for. Depending on the application you might want to take the shot in a horizontal or vertical orientation.

For some inspiration on portrait photography check out here or see the Digital Exposure website.
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