Portraits are a way to tell stories about people but also about time, culture, and experience. If you are taking photos of family members or friends for casual purposes, or if you want to set up a professional photo shoot, such as a headshot, then there are some basic portrait photography techniques and tips that will help ensure a successful experience.
What is Portrait Photography?
Portrait photography is the art of photographing human subjects. Portrait photography dates back to the beginning of photography when Louis Daguerre created the daguerreotype. In 1839, Robert Cornelius took the first-ever self-portrait photograph.
Portrait, cheap, portable, and fast photography soon replaced traditional hand-painted portraiture. This allowed amateurs and professionals to document human life more freely.
What equipment do I need for portrait photography?
You’ll need these tools to take good portraits:
- Camera. Theoretically, any camera is suitable for digital or DSLR portraiture. DSLRs or mirrorless cameras are ideal because they have manual settings. This allows photographers to adjust exposure, ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.
- Lenses. Beginners should start with an 85mm to 135mm lens before moving on to zoom or longer lenses for close-up photos. We’ll go into more detail about lenses below.
- Tripod. With a sturdy tripod, you can set up your portrait and bring your model into sharp focus. You can then focus on your subject and capture different expressions.
- Lighting. You’ll need a flash or speedlight attachment to your digital camera at a minimum for studio and interior work. There are also other lighting options for portrait photography. Below you will find a more detailed look at portrait lighting.
- Backdrop. You’ll need a simple background for taking portrait photos in a studio. For 3/4-length portraits, choose a location at least six feet long. For full-height images, go for a backdrop of 10 feet. Photographic scenes are available in various materials, including vinyl, canvas, and muslin.
What Camera Settings to Use for Portrait Photography
There is no perfect camera setting due to the dynamic nature of the subject and the wide variety of environments, from studios to outdoor locations. It is more important to consider the relationship between your camera, topic, and background. The brightness of an image is determined by shutter speed, ISO, aperture, and ISO.
Your portrait camera settings depend on whether or not you are using a tripod or if you are holding the camera by yourself.
- Tripod. Shoot in Manual Mode when using your tripod. You can customize your photos to the fullest extent. With tripod photography, a camera shake is less of an issue. You can therefore slow down your shutter speed to make the most of available light. Use a low ISO of 100-400 when slowing down your shutter speed.
- Handheld. Aperture Priority is the best mode for shooting portraits using a handheld camera. You can adjust the amount of light that enters the camera by changing the aperture. This allows you to compensate for lighting and angles. Increase your shutter speed to 1/200th, or even higher, and raise the ISO.
What are the best lenses for portrait photography?
For photographers with experience, the lens choice comes down to personal preference. However, fixed or prime lenses between 85 and 135 mm for portraits are ideal because they produce the sharpest results without enlarging or flattening your subject. The longer lenses will also slightly compress the facial features, creating a flattering portrait.
Portrait lenses allow you to blur your background. This effect is known as shallow depth of focus. You can achieve it by using a large aperture and increasing the distance between the subject and the intended blur.
Wide-angle lenses can cause your subject to look unflattering, and they will create an unnatural photograph.
What are the best photoshoot environments for portrait photography?
Your camera settings are influenced by the environment in which you shoot. Indoors and outdoors are the two main categories of environment.
- Indoor. Portraits, including homes, offices, and professional photography studios, can be taken indoors. These include backdrops, lighting (flash included), and props.
- Outdoor. Outdoor portrait settings can range from sophisticated, such as city streets, to natural, such as gardens and parks.
What Lighting to Use for Portrait Photography
There are many options available when it comes to portrait lighting equipment.
- Use flashes and strobes for a burst of light to fill in any gaps.
- Reflectors and bounces are used to redirect or absorb ambient lighting.
- Remote Flash Triggers allow you to trigger multiple flashes on the fly in specific combinations.
- Softboxes and diffusers can soften artificial lighting and reduce studio portraits’ “staged” appearance.