Whether you’re just starting out in portrait photography or already on an assignment somewhere exotic, here are five tips to make sure you and your images stay in focus.
Pick the Perfect Background for Your Subject
In portrait photography the background is just as important as the subject. A busy or distracting background will take attention away from the person in your photo. Usually for portrait photography you’ll want a neutral, uncluttered background that won’t distract the viewer from your portrait subject. However, you don’t have to choose a completely plain background. An interesting wall or fence could provide a wonderful pop of color or texture. Another technique is to include an object in the background to provide added interest or context. For example, an artist in front of her easel, a fisherman in front of a boat or a musician in front of her guitar.
Pose Your Portrait Subject Like a Pro
It’s unlikely your subject will know how to pose for you so you’ll need to give them constant guidance. Don’t overwhelm them with complicated requests. Just get them to make small, simple adjustments, for example, “Raise your chin a little,” “Straighten your back,” or “Now look at me.”
Some different posing techniques that you could try:
Have your subject sit down.
Have the subject lean slightly towards the camera for a more engaging pose. Or shoot slightly from above to get the same effect.
Have their body and shoulders turned slightly away from the camera for a natural feel. Or, for a more confrontational image, have their shoulders square-on to the camera.
For something a little different, shoot from an unusual perspective such as very low or very high.
Waists can look slimmer if the subject turns his or her waist away from the camera.
Introducing props is a great way to add something special to the shoot. These could include hats, party glasses, balloons, a pen, a flower or a musical instrument.
Ensure Your Subject is Well Lit
Natural daylight is the most attractive light source for portrait photography. A slightly overcast day provides a lovely soft light that will be flattering on your subject. Direct sunlight isn’t usually desirable because it creates strong, hard shadows on the subject’s face. In such conditions it’s best to find some light shade to position your subject. Alternatively, embrace the opportunity and shoot carefully into the sun, with your subject’s back to the sun. This is called backlighting and can result in a golden glow around your subject. Keep in mind that shooting into the sun does require you to provide some “fill” light to illuminate the shadows on your subject’s face. You can use the built-in flash on your Canon EOS 80D
from Beachcamera.com or an external as well. You can use natural daylight indoors too. For best results put your subject near a window, and have your subject facing slightly towards the light. You’ll get shadows on the parts of your subject which aren’t lit by the light from the window. This can add depth and a sense of drama to the image.
Blur the Background Using Aperture Priority Mode
A sure-fire way to raise your portrait photography game is to shoot with a shallow depth of field. This allows you to have your subject in sharp focus while the background appears blurred or out of focus, helping your portrait subject stand out. You can control the depth of field on your Nikon D850 DSLR
from Beachcamera.com by adjusting the lens aperture. Aperture is measured in f/stops. You’ll want to choose the largest aperture that your lens offers. F/4 is a go-to aperture for portraits as it should provide enough depth of field to have all of your subject in focus.
Focus on the Eyes
Portrait photos look best if the eyes are in sharp focus. This improves the sense of eye contact between the subject and viewer, creating a powerful and engaging photo. When shooting portraits, especially with a shallow depth of field, make sure you set your focus point carefully. Select the central AF point using the AF option in your Sony Alpha a7 mirrorless camera
, then position the central focus point directly over one of the subject’s eyes. Half-press the camera’s shutter button to lock focus. Then press the shutter button down to take the shot. To really make your subject’s eyes “pop”, ensure your light source is reflecting in your subject’s eyes. These reflections are called “catch lights” and they’re extremely effective at turning a boring portrait into something really special.
These photography techniques will help you shoot stunning portrait photos with your camera.