How to Shoot a Portrait

Taking a portrait shot can be tough when you factor in squiggly kids, unpredictable lighting, rouge bystanders photo bombing your shot, and all the other uncontrollable things that can happen in the millisecond it takes to snap a shot.  Here are some tips to capture some great portraits.

Disclosure:  I’m not a professional photographer nor do I aspire to be one.  This is purely a hobby and I love doing it and the purpose of these posts are to share some knowledge I picked up along the way.  I do not use post processing, the pictures above and below are not altered in any way with Photoshop or any other creative program.  I think that Photoshop is a cool program but If I’m going to alter a photo that much I might as well start with paint and a brush.  If you learn your camera you can get some spectacular shots without spending hours in post processing.  Less time in front of your computer equals more time outside enjoying life with your camera.


As always gear doesn’t matter but I prefer having a tripod to hold up my camera especially if your shooting in low light or indoors.  Do you have to have a tripod?  Not at all, just a preference.  Do you need a fancy flash?  No, and if you have a tripod you can shoot in lower light situations by slowing your shutter speed down and getting some cool effects like light streaks as cars drive behind you and what not.  Don’t be afraid to be creative.


Here is the tough decision.  Do you blur the background to pull all the focus towards your subject or leave the background nice and focused to add context to your photo?  Fun fact:  Blurring the background of your photo while keeping the subject in focus is actually called bokeh effect.  There is considered to be good and bad bokeh depending on how your lens blurs the out of focus area.  It’s basically defined as good = pleasing to the eye and bad = not pleasing to the eye.  If you want to blur your photos background just zoom about half way in to your subject and open your aperture all the way up (lower f-number).  Also, it helps to set your subject ten or more feet from the background your using.  Again, it’s not a must to blur the background but it can be pleasing to the eye to do so once in a while.  Note:  If you are photographing someone in a distracting area where there are bright colors in the background then blurring may be your only choice.


You have a couple of different camps when it comes to lighting.  The super professional photographer likes to use eight different lights with the power of the sun to shine down on you and eliminate any trace of a shadow and make you freaking glow.  Then there is the more natural photographer that may or may not use the flash but really tries to use the natural light to do most of the heavy lifting.  As you might have guessed I am in the second camp.  Less is more.  The photo above was taken with all natural light and if I’d have used a flash it would have washed away any trace of the golden sun beams hitting my subject.  Sometimes you may need a flash like at the beach in the middle of the afternoon when the sun is beating down and creating shadows that are so bad they would ruin the photo.  I know it sounds nuts to use your flash during the brightest time of the day but it really helps to eliminate spots that may be blacked out in the photo by shadows.


This is a great time to test out how many frames per second your camera can shoot.  When your photographing kids who seem to be hopped up on sugar it helps to throw your camera into continuous shooting mode (the mode where when you press your shutter button it will take consecutive photos until you release the button).  Your able to catch-all their antics and if your lucky you will catch a really great photo in there where they all stop giving each other bunny fingers and smile.  If you’re photographing children you’re going to want to speed up your shutter speed so that if they move suddenly you’re not left with a blurry photo.  Typically anything over 1/100 is great but you can get away with as low as 1/60 if your lucky.

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