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Quick Tips for Shooting Better Portraits

Before we get to the challenges for this chapter, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss some tips that don’t necessarily have anything specific to do with your camera. There are entire books that cover things like portrait lighting, posing, and so on. But here are a few pointers that will make your people photos look a lot better.

Avoid the Center of the Frame

This falls under the category of composition. Place your subject to the side of the frame (Figure 4.16)—it just looks more interesting than plunking them smack dab in the middle.

Figure 4.16

Figure 4.16 An off-center image creates a pleasing composition.

ISO 100 • 1/125 sec. • f/4 • 70–200mm lens

Choose the Right Lens

Choosing the correct lens can make a huge impact on your portraits. A wide-angle lens can distort the features of your subject, which can lead to an unflattering portrait. Try to use a standard or long focal length, such as 50mm to 200mm, if you want to photograph a head-and-shoulders portrait (Figure 4.17).

Figure 4.17

Figure 4.17 I used a standard focal length to minimize the distortion in this photograph.

ISO 100 • 1/250 sec. • f/2.8 • 50mm lens

Use Your Surroundings

Close-up portraits are always nice, but don’t forget about what’s all around you! Including a person’s surroundings and environment can add a lot to a portrait image, and even tell a story or help portray a person’s personality (Figure 4.18).

Figure 4.18

Figure 4.18 My niece was so excited to see sparklers set up in the lawn, so I included them in the shot to give a better explanation for her expression.

ISO 160 • 1/125 sec. • f/2.8 • 40mm lens

Sunblock for Portraits

The midday sun can be harsh and can do unflattering things to people’s faces. If you can, find a shady spot out of the direct sunlight (Figure 4.19). You will get softer shadows, smoother skin tones, and better detail. This holds true for overcast skies as well. Just be sure to adjust your white balance accordingly.

Figure 4.19

Figure 4.19 A shady area will give you beautiful, diffused lighting for portraits.

ISO 100 • 1/180 sec. • f/6.7 • 40mm lens

Keep an Eye on Your Background

Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in taking a great shot that you forget about the smaller details. Try to keep an eye on what is going on behind your subject so they don’t end up with things popping out of their heads. You can also use a wide aperture to blur the background, which will help eliminate distractions (Figure 4.20).

Figure 4.20

Figure 4.20 The background in this image was very busy, so I used a wide aperture to help blur it and keep the image distraction-free.

ISO 100 • 1/125 sec. • f/2.8 • 50mm lens

More Than Just a Pretty Face

Most people think of a portrait as a photo of someone’s face. Don’t ignore other aspects of your subject that reflect their personality—hands, especially, can go a long way toward describing someone (Figure 4.21).

Figure 4.21

Figure 4.21 A person’s hands can tell a story all on their own, just like the hands of this potter in Vietnam.

ISO 800 • 1/40 sec. • f/5.6 • 70–200mm lens

Get Down on Their Level

If you want better pictures of children, don’t shoot from an adult’s eye level. Getting the camera down to the child’s level will make your images look more personal (Figure 4.22).

Figure 4.22

Figure 4.22 Children look their best when photographed from their level.

ISO 100 • 1/30 sec. • f/13 • 14mm lens

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Close

When you are taking someone’s picture, don’t be afraid of getting close and filling the frame (Figure 4.23). This doesn’t mean you have to shoot from a foot away; try zooming in and capturing the details.

Figure 4.23

Figure 4.23 Fill the frame to focus the attention on the person rather than their surroundings.

ISO 100 • 1/500 sec. • f/2.8 • 50mm lens

Find Candid Moments

Sometimes the best images are the ones that aren’t posed. Find moments when people are just being themselves (Figure 4.24) and use a faster shutter speed to capture expressions that happen quickly (Figure 4.25).

Figure 4.24

Figure 4.24 Sometimes the best photos are the ones that weren’t planned—find these moments in your models and you can capture their true selves.

ISO 100 • 1/60 sec. • f/4 • 70–200mm lens

Figure 4.25

Figure 4.25 Be sure to create photographs of moments that are spontaneous!

ISO 100 • 1/80 sec. • f/2.8 • 24–70mm lens

Find Different Angles and Perspectives

Portraits don’t always need to be photographed at eye level. Try moving up, down, and all around to find unique ways to photograph people (Figures 4.26 and 4.27).

Figure 4.26

Figure 4.26 Try photographing portraits from different angles and perspectives.

ISO 100 • 1/30 sec. • f/13 • 14mm lens

Figure 4.27

Figure 4.27 Unique points of view can make a photograph fun and exciting.

ISO 100 • 1/1000 sec. • f/4.5 • 18–50mm lens

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