Contrary to what you have often been told, portrait photography isn’t so much about talent as it is about skill and motivation to learn. It is quite possible to take amazing portrait shots just by following a set of guidelines and rules. It can be quite a mind-boggling experience when you take a camera and point it at a subject for the first time. If you follow these valuable tips, you will be able to take exceed at portrait photography yourself.
Composing your photo
When it comes to composition, your main task is to catch the viewer’s attention with the most important detail – the face, particularly the eyes. Here you need to pay attention to two important rules, which are rule of thirds and depth. The rule of thirds states that the photo needs to be divided into nine equal parts. This happens via two evenly spaced horizontal and two evenly spaced vertical lines. The elements that are essential to your composition need to be placed along these lines or at the intersections.
Research has proven that the eye is most attracted to four different parts of the photo. By having these four points in mind, you will be able to frame the subject so that it looks pleasing. Since your photograph is 2-dimensional, you need to make the subject pop out of the frame. This is done by giving the image depth, using the foreground, middle ground and background properly.
Choosing the right lens
It is essential that you choose the proper focal length. Longer focal length means more flattening and a more shallow depth of field. Optimal portrait lengths are about 50mm on a cropped sensor, and about 85mm on a full frame camera. Both are optimal for capturing the background scenery with the proper distance, and by taking a few steps toward the subject, you can catch tighter portraits.
Fixed lenses such as these are fast lenses with wide apertures, and they enable you to shoot at the corresponding settings. This is important when you have distracting backgrounds that you want to get rid of. When it comes to aperture, 2 to 4 stops wider than the narrowest, which is f/22, is where the lens is the sharpest. Therefore, aperture from f/8 to f/16 is the best for portraits.
Using the light properly
Have in mind that the same way that an artificial light source is directional, natural light needs to be like this as well. When you shoot outdoors, the best lighting is achieved when the subject is facing the light. For example, if you are shooting in a narrow alley, the light that’s coming from the end of the street is where your subject should be looking toward. On the other hand, if you are shooting in an open field, the light will often come from above. In this situation, it is best if your subject tilts the face slightly upward.
When it comes to the time of day, keep in mind the golden hour. It’s the best quality of natural light that you can use for shooting, if you use it appropriately. The sky becomes a gigantic soft box an hour before sunset.
Using camera filters
If the light isn’t cooperating, and you need to alter its effects, you should use camera filters. Camera filters are placed in front of the lens, so they need to match its size. There are various filters that you can use. The simplest one is the UV filter, which is a perfectly clear filter that protects your lens. To improve your portrait photos, you can use a polarizing filter which eliminates extra glare and light reflection. Another camera filter that can save photographs from looking bleak is the warming filter. It warms up the colors in a scene, giving the skin a golden hue, like the picture was taken in soft afternoon light. Furthermore, a neutral density filter reduces the amount of light that gets into the lens.
Letting the camera do the job for you
You need to know that people aren’t interested in a technically perfect but a creative portrait. Therefore, you need to focus more on the creative aspects of your photograph and less on the settings. Every DSLR camera has an aperture priority mode. This is a setting that enables you to choose the ISO and the f-stop, while the camera picks the proper shutter speed automatically. This way you can let the camera do its job while you focus on the more important details, and it makes your job a lot easier than constantly re-adjusting the settings whenever it’s necessary.
Placing your model properly
Know that the camera adds ten pounds, so it is up to you to remove them again. Even with best gear, lighting, and proper settings, if you don’t direct your subject properly, your photos aren’t going to work. When your model stands straight into a camera, they are at their widest, so they produce a block in the picture. If the photo is of their head and shoulders, then they take the full width of the image, which is not the way to go. The best position is for the model to turn into the camera, with their shoulders at somewhat different heights. This way you remove the extra pounds and also make the photo more interesting.
With these rules in mind, know that a photographer also includes breaking some. It is up to you to be creative and experiment with settings, gear and your subject. In the end, good photography requires patience, so take your time getting acquainted with the craft.