How To Take Portrait Photographs

Even if you are taking photos of a family picnic, or a birthday of one of your friends, you can take amazing photos whether you're indoors or outdoors. Portrait photography may be a mystery to many, and many of us who go have our portraits taken at studios are awed by the well-lit, beautiful self we see in the printed products we paid for. There is no need to be daunted by the thought of taking a portrait. You too can make decisions about this type of photograph, and design an image which gathers a lot of positive feedback. In this short article, we will learn about camera settings, lighting, framing and composition, and posing subjects.

Step 1

Professional photographers use the standard f8 aperture to take the photographs you see in fashion magazines. Many studio photographers also use f8 as their standard aperture. The reason why is that this aperture captures enough detail of the person and the clothes they are wearing so the image is all sharp. However, if you want to create artistic shots, you can use wider apertures such as 5.6f. Some other photographers use 2.8f especially for closeups, to blur everything else but the eyes in their photograph. Wider apertures blur the background and create a soft portrait, with a certain kind of mood. For family group portraits, it is wise to use at least 4.5f so that everyone's eyes are sharp. If the group's faces are all in the same plane, their eyes will all be sharp with this minimum aperture. Because you are making decisions about aperture more than other settings in the camera, you need to be in Aperture Mode. This is represented by the big A in the mode dial or mode indicator on the camera function screen.

Step 2

If you are in aperture 2.8f, you need only a little light to take the photograph, since the camera lens is allowing a lot of light through the wide aperture. However, if you want to take sharp photos of a person and his or her clothes too, then you need more light to allow for a smaller aperture, either 5.6f or 8f and above. Window light can be a beautiful light for the portrait. Position the subject perpendicular to the window frame, and you get side-lighting. The light hits the face from one side and gradually becomes darker and darker. This sort of lighting is dynamic; so many master painters throughout history have used this type of lighting in their paintings. You can also increase ISO indoors, to allow the sensor of your camera to record more light.

If you have a tripod, you could set your aperture at a wide value in a fast lens, such as the 85mm 1.4f lens by Nikon or the 50mm 1.2f by Canon, and allow the camera to take a long exposure. This means setting the camera to fire and record light slowly, so more detail is recorded. To set the camera to fire slowly, you need to look at your shutter speed. Shutter speed close to 1/30 of a second requires stability to be sharp, but if you can manage it, the portrait will be sharp.

Another way you can light your subject is to shoot outside. If you are shooting early in the morning, you get soft, beautiful warm light.

Step 3

Framing a portrait can be an artful skill. A portrait placed in the center of the frame usually does not elicit a positive response from a viewer, unless the mood or subject of the photo is compelling, such as a gothic theme or a dynamically arranged group shot of a boy band. 

The usual Rule of Thirds makes for a dynamic composition. If you divide your viewfinder into a grid that is 3 x 3, the intersections of the lines form "hotspots" because the eye responds enthusiastically to these positions, and the brain perceives them as attractive positions. So you can place the eye of a tight portrait in one of these hotspots, or place the head of the subject in a wider composition in one as you compose, then fire the shot. Always try to compose in camera, so you can enjoy the high resolution of the photos versus the low-resolution of a cropped image.

Step 4

Positioning the subject can help the "interestingness" of your photograph. This means the quality of your image that makes people say, "Wow." Poses can be awkward, such as in fashion magazines, to create interesting graphic quality in an image. However, for family portraits, everyday poses can be beautiful, such as sitting framed by the white walls of the laundry room, sitting on the washer, or framed by strips of laundry. Or a child inside a basket or bucket, smiling. The list can be endless. You can take compelling photos inside your own house. In some cases, such as in fashion shots, some photographers do not care if arms or legs are cropped; only that the composition is dynamic and balanced. However, if you are taking photos of your sibling's wedding, try to make sure the bride and groom and family members have all their appendages in the frame.

Portraiture photography is something you can do. Whether you are taking photos of models or loved ones, you can gain skills for composition, lighting, posing, and camera control, and make beautiful and compelling portraits. If you follow some of the tips discussed above, you can transform portraits from snapshots to art!


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