Portraits are notoriously difficult to get right, but when done properly they can be extremely striking. We’ve put together the top 10 simple tips that we think will help you take better portraits. Just use the sliders to see the difference these little changes make.
1. Use a shallow depth of field to emphasise your subject.
If you can select a large Aperture (small f stop number) use this to make your subject stand out from a distracting background. If you can’t manually set your aperture, try getting your subject as far as possible from your background.
2. Focus on your subject’s eyes
Always make sure you focus on your subjects eyes, especially the one nearest the camera if the subject’s face is angled. It is the most important part of a portrait and establishes a connection with your subject. Be especially carefully if using a small aperture here.
3. Choose an un-cluttered background
Unless you want to include items for context, choose an un-cluttered background to avoid it distracting a viewer from your subject. Especially avoid objects interfering with the outline of your subject. This will give a nice, clean image and your subject will stand out.
4. Avoid bright, direct sunlight
Bright, direct sunlight gives harsh shadows and too much contrast, washing out delicate skin tones. It also makes a subject squint. Place your subject in the shade instead, or hold something (a sheet, a piece of card, etc) up nearby to shade them where they are.
5. Use natural light instead of artificial light
Unless it is proper studio lighting, artificial light can give an unwanted colour cast to an image. It can also give unwanted shadows if not in the correct position. Direct flash can also do this and can be harsh. Diffused natural light is softer, more even and more flattering
6. Compose your shot carefully
Unless you specifically want a tight crop, avoid chopping parts of your subject off – you can always do this afterwards. Try to get the eyes along a line around one – third of the height from the top of the image. This gives a balanced feel to the shot.
7. Keep your horizon level
If your portrait shows a horizon in the background, try to keep it level, unless you really want to suggest a slope. This gives a more natural feel to your shot. If in doubt, leave plenty of space so you can rotate the image a little afterwards.
8. Put your subject at ease
Unless they are a professional model, your subject may initially feel uncomfortable in front of the camera. Talk to them, look at them directly sometimes – not just through the camera. Play with positions and gestures – even if only to make them laugh!
9. Use a slight portrait/telephoto lens
Using wide-angle lens can distort your subject’s face – especially when close up. Try to use a lens with a focal length of at least 50mm – more if possible. Stand a reasonable distance away, whilst still filling the frame with your subject’s face, shoulders etc.
10. Shoot from slightly above
Shooting from below your subject tends to be less flattering, making chins and necks look bigger than usual. Shooting from above often reduces this – it can emphasise eyes and is generally more flattering.