LESSON SIX: PORTRAITURE

Want to learn how to snap stunning portraits? It’s easier than you think! All you need is your DSLR, lens, and some natural light.

Photo by Izla Photography

Though using a 35-85mm (or similar) lens is your best bet, great portraits can be taken with almost any lens. If you’re in the market for a lens specifically for portraiture, look for one with a large starting aperture (f/1.4), which will allow for the greatest amount of light and for the most flattering portraits.

When photographing someone’s portrait, it’s easiest to shoot in aperture priority mode. Aperture size will be the single most important factor in determining the final look of the portrait.

A large aperture (f/1.4 to f/4) will create a shallow depth of focus, bringing the attention to your subject’s face and blurring the background slightly.

Photo by Andrew Kearns

This is a more traditional portrait shot, but if you’d prefer that your subject’s background also be in focus, shoot with a smaller aperture (f/8 to f/22).

Photo by Shayna Pitch

For a shallow depth of field and a blurred background, you’ll want to open your lens to one of the largest f/stops (think f/1.4 to f/3) and focus on your subject’s face. The Single-Shot Auto Focus function (found on most cameras) is great for portraits because it allows you to take multiple snaps without having to refocus on your subject everytime you shoot.

Photo by Marcus Danielsson

A general rule of thumb for portraiture is that focusing on your subject’s eyes is the best practice.

You’ll also want to shoot on a day with plenty of natural light. Believe it or not, slightly overcast days are actually best for portrait photography because the lack of sun rules out the possibility of harsh shadows on your subject’s face.

If you’re photographing in aperture priority mode, you’ll find that your exposure settings are largely taken care of, but if you notice that some elements of the photograph are too bright (blown out), switch to manual mode and underexpose the image (by choosing a smaller aperture) so that the parts of the image that were too bright now look dark on the camera’s review screen. You’ll be able to lighten it in post, while also ensuring that you captured details from the brighter sections of the scene.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Decide if you want your portrait to have a shallow or deep depth of field.
    • For shallow depth of field, open the aperture (f/1.4 to f/4).
    • For deep depth of field, close the aperture (f/8 to f/22).
  • Try to shoot on slightly overcast (not sunny) days, and choose a setting with plenty of natural light.
  • When in doubt, focus on your subject’s eyes.
  • Use aperture priority mode, but switch to manual mode if you find that your image is too bright.
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Camille Danielich
Camille is a writer, traveler, and visual storyteller from New Jersey. She has lived in the Czech Republic, Thailand and in New York. She's always looking forward to her next adventure and probably won't stop instagramming her food anytime soon. Follow along on instagram