How To Take Portrait Photos

Portrait photography has the power to tell amazing stories through images. Great portrait photos will often be cherished for decades and speak to us on a very foundational level. To achieve amazing portrait photography results you must know how to take images that are more than just a snapshot.

In this article you will learn how to take amazing portrait photos every time you pick up your camera.

woman standing in autumn woods

What Makes A Good Portrait [Explained]

The most important thing about a portrait is the subject captured. This is true no matter if you are shooting a close-up head shot or a full body portrait with environmental elements in the scene. Every shot is all about the person in it.

Now what exactly is it that makes a portrait good?

The best portrait images draw the viewers eyes to the person photographed. Skilled photographers will utilize numerous aspects to achieve this.

This includes composition, color of subject and scene, lighting, and a shallow depth of field. When all these parts are brought together with skill the viewer will be instantly drawn to your subject.

Portrait Photography Composition Tips

Another thing all amazing portrait shots share in common is that they bring the subject to life. This is accomplished when the subjects personality shines through the image. Everyone has seen a drivers license or passport photo and I bet you have never been moved by the image. That is largely due to these portraits strip out the personality of the subject.

And this is exactly what you must avoid if you want to take good portrait photos. The best portraits tell a complete story and this is your goal every time you shoot a subject.

If you keep these two keys in mind you have the foundation for amazing portrait photography. Outside of these two points you can and should let your creativity shine.

woman standing with arms upstretched in woods

Technical Portrait Photography Tips

Find the recommendations for the best portrait photography cameras

You can use about any camera for portrait photography but there are some that perform better than others. You can read my recommendations above but use what you have if you are not ready to invest in a new camera.

The lens you use is a HUGE aspect of how your portraits will turn out. There are lenses that are designed with the needs of portrait photography in mind. They provide a wide aperture which is at least f/2.0 with a focal length that usually is around 50mm to 100mm. These specs will allow you to achieve a focal length that will keep distortion to a minimum while also achieving a bokeh effect.

Because the lens is such an important part of the ultimate quality of your portrait photos I highly recommend you invest in lenses that will provide you with the specs you need. Read the articles below for the lenses to get.

When you are shooting portraits you will want to set your lens to aperture priority mode with a wide open aperture of f/1.8 or f/2.8. Some lenses will not offer that wide of an aperture, in this case set it as wide as possible until you can get a new lens.

Next, set your shutter speed to 1/100th of a second. You can go a bit faster but too much and your ISO will too high.

These basic settings will have you ready to start capturing stunning portrait photos.

woman with red umbrella standing in fall woods

Portrait Photography Tips For Success

  1. Always remember that when shooting portraits of someone the goal is to capture flattering images that they will love (unless shooting surreal portraits which breaks a lot of these rules).
  2. When first starting out attempt to keep your camera level with your subject or slightly above them. This will often provide the most flattering angle for a head shot. But as you get comfortable you will begin to play with angles and perspective. First get the camera level and perfect that shot then start experimenting.
  3. The primary compositions to master are the head shot (head and shoulders of subject are framed) and the waist up portrait shot. When shooting these compositions ensure your subject is filling the scene by avoiding capturing unneeded background.
  4. When framing your scene be sure to pose your subject at a pleasing angle. Find more on this in our composition guide.
  5. When framing your subject be certain not to accidently cut out any arms or hands from the shot.
  6. Get your lighting right and your image quality will be amazing every shot. Whether shooting indoor or outdoor you should invest in a flash, softbox and other lighting equipment. You will find articles to help you pick the best lighting gear below.
  7. The best portrait photographers know how to engage their subjects. You will want to get comfortable bantering with your subject and reading when they are uncomfortable. Practice your interactions with your subject and you will be able to bring their personality out in all your portrait photos.
  8. Capture real emotions. The better you get at bringing out your subjects personality the more often you will see real life emotions being expressed. You want to capture these moments as they will be your most powerful images.

Conclusion

I’ve been shooting portrait photography for decades and I still love it. There is no better feeling in photography than capturing images that people will cherish for a lifetime. Telling stories through portraits is something that has never gotten old and if you keep these tips in mind you will be well on your way to loving portrait photography too.