Portraiture is one of the most widely used specialties in photography but it remains far from easy for most beginning photographers.
In this article, I will give you the basic techniques in portrait photography so that you can make a success of your images.
Choosing the right focal length for portraits
Before you want to make a portrait, you should know that you must use a focal length that does not distort the subject.
Because of the distortion they cause, you should avoid taking pictures with short focal lengths but rather use a lens with a focal length of at least 50mm.
To put it plainly, the use of a wide-angle lens is generally prohibited in portrait photography, unless your goal is to deliberately distort your subject.
Also note that getting closer to him accentuates the distortion effect.
To get a good start in portrait photography, I recommend you to use a zoom lens (preferably wide aperture) from the 50mm focal length or a fixed focal length lens.
If I talk about large aperture, it is because the shallow depth of field it creates is important in portrait photography.
Indeed, if your subject is to be sharp, it must stand out from the background in a blurred background.
To get a nice blur, I advise you to mount a fixed focal length lens on your camera such as a 50mm or 85mm to name a few.
For more information on this subject, I refer you to the article “Which lens to use for the portrait”.
Just remember that these portrait lenses are perfect for isolating the subject from the background.
As we have just seen, in portrait photography, it is essential to avoid the phenomenon of facial deformation caused by the use of a short focal length.
In order to further compress the perspectives, it is best to use a telephoto lens with a focal length greater than 100mm.
This type of focal length gives you a certain amount of distance, perfect for close-up photography and ideal for portrait photography with natural expressions.
Take care of the framing and the composition in order to succeed in your portrait photos
Photographing a portrait is above all knowing a few basic rules, especially the notions of framing and composition.
To begin with, I suggest you use the rule of thirds, so you don’t get confused with the golden ratio.
I prefer to devote a full article to the latter.
This simple framing rule provides a good basis for making your images more harmonious.
It’s up to you to respect it or not Knowing that in portrait photography, the important thing is above all to capture the look and facial expressions of the model.
This is where the difficulty lies in getting a beautiful portrait.
Remember that the subject must catch your attention at all times to take a picture at the right moment.
To do this, do not hesitate to frame tightly by focusing on the model’s gaze first.
Well, in that case, you can afford to cut off the upper part of the face by placing your eyes on the top third of the image.
Finally, remember to leave room in front of the subject according to the direction of the gaze.
Make sure that it does not hit the picture frame.
The different framing shots that work in portrait photography
In order to help you frame your portrait photos properly, I recommend that you take inspiration from the framing shots used in movies.
The very close-up
This is the perfect type of framing for photographing details of the face, such as eyes or mouth.
For this, I recommend using a macro lens with a focal length of 90mm minimum.
Also make sure to focus properly for this type of shooting.
The close-up shot
As for him, it allows to photograph wider by revealing the top of the model’s shoulders.
For these two types of framing, the interest is to draw the reader’s attention to the subject’s gaze as well as to the features and expressions of the face.
Perfect for conveying the emotions of the subject’s face.
In order to better identify a photographic portrait, I advise you to favour the wider of the two framing.
But remember that when shooting this type of close-up, you need to be careful about the focal length you are going to use to avoid distortion of the subject.
In this case, prefer to use a lens with a focal length of at least 100mm.
The chest Crop
It is the most widely used framing in photography because it is so simple to use.
Because of its name, it allows you to photograph at the level of the subject’s chest, respecting well to cut the arms.
The interest of this type of framing is not only to show the subject’s face but also the upper part of his body.
It is in your best interest to use the chest plane to highlight the subject’s clothing, to highlight a distinctive sign such as a tattoo or to reveal their shapes.
This type of close-up shot is ideal for showing the general attitude of the model while preserving the portrait aspect.
Since the chest shot is wider than the previous framing shots, the background is obviously more present.
Keep it simple and don’t overload it.
To do this, choose a shallow depth of field to drown out the background in a nice blur.
The American crop or 3/4 crop
Of American origin, this way of framing was used a lot in Western films so that the director could see the gun on the actors’ belts during duels in particular.
That is why the American plan allows for a mid-thigh frame.
The interest of this framing is to reveal more about the subject.
You should know that there was also the Italian plan, which consisted of framing up to the knees or even to the calves, but which was abandoned in favour of the American plan.
On the other hand, the latter is still very much used nowadays in cinema as well as in photography.
The Mid – Crop
Commonly known as a full-length portrait, it is the framing that fully integrates one or more people in an image.
Framed from head to toe, this shot generally makes it possible to distinguish the subject in his environment by focusing mainly on him, his gait or his physical appearance.
As the background is only secondary with this full frame, it must still be free of disturbing elements.
Be careful to choose your focal length for this type of framing so as not to suffer the harmful effects of distortion.
I will finish with the environmental portrait, which, thanks to the above plans, allows you to know who your subject is in relation to his environment.
The elements of the decor are very important here and must be in harmony with the subject.
For example, representing the subject’s work in his or her environment.
Remember that the environmental portrait should remain a portrait photo, simply in relation to its environment and should not become a landscape photo.
Adopt the right settings for successful portrait photography
In order to make successful portraits, it is imperative that you know the basic settings to be made on your camera.
The exposure mode is one of the first to be set.
In order to be able to control the depth of field, I recommend using Aperture Priority Mode or Manual Mode.
Forget about automatic mode because you won’t have control over any shooting settings.
When using Aperture Priority Mode, choose a large aperture on your lens to isolate the subject from the background but adjust it according to the level of sharpness you want to achieve on the face if it is a close-up shot.
Just keep in mind that when using a large aperture, focusing must be accurate because of the shallow depth of field.
As we have seen above, the gaze is of paramount importance for a portrait, so it is essential to focus on the eyes or the one closest to the lens.
On top of that, I advise you to ask your model to lower her head slightly in order to get a piercing look.
As said before, the success of a portrait photo is above all to be able to photograph the right facial expressions.
Of course, you can use your camera’s burst mode to do this, but frankly, I don’t recommend it.
The best solution is to forge your photographer’s eye to know when to capture the right moment.
Returning to the settings, be sure to check the shutter speed, which depending on the available light, should remain high enough to achieve perfect sharpness.
As a reminder, remember to use the inverse focal length rule.
For example, when shooting with a 50mm lens, avoid shooting below 1/50th of a second to avoid motion blur.
Always make sure you have a good safety margin, as you are not immune to movements caused by you or your model.
Always use the lowest sensitivity on your camera to maintain the best possible quality in your portrait photos.
Also take care to achieve a good white balance according to the light source that illuminates your subject in order to preserve skin tones.
Taking a portrait photo in the right light
Knowing how to manage light is the basis for all types of photography.
In portrait photography, good light management will depend mainly on the weather and the time of day.
So, when you decide to photograph outdoors, prefer the morning or the end of the day to take advantage of the beautiful soft and warm natural light.
On the other hand, I advise you not to do your portrait session in full sun, because at this time of the day, the light causes very hard shadows that are not very flattering for the model’s face, especially because of the marked shadows under the eyes.
If you don’t have a choice, there are solutions, of course, but they require additional equipment to be transported and set up.
I am referring in particular to reflectors and diffusers.
If you’re a beginner, I’ll give you recommends experimenting before you want to photograph your first model in the sun, as it’s not that easy.
If you don’t have a reflector or diffuser, then the best solution for you is to find a shady place with enough light to work in good conditions.
However, if you still want to play with light, then you will need a reflector or even a diffuser.
You can very well make one yourself, to allow you to uncover the shadows and bring a complementary light to the subject.
But if you don’t want to bother, I advise you to opt for a 5 in 1 Reflector Kit.
In addition to being affordable, these reflectors are perfect for photography in natural light.
They are also very handy when you want to take pictures against the light, as they allow you to reflect the light back to the subject very easily.
With this type of photo accessory, you control the amount of light and its quality.
5 in 1 Reflector 110cm, Transparent, White, Black, Silver, Gold
- Ideal for controlling natural and flash light.
- This kit includes a gold reflector to warm the light, a silver reflector to reflect the light, a white reflector and a translucent reflector to diffuse the light.
- As for the black part, it is useful to block out the light.
- With a comfortable diameter of 110cm, the 5-in-1 reflector kit is perfect for obtaining quality portraits in controlled light.
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Reflector support extendable from 60cm to 120cm for lighting stand
- Attaches to any 5/8″ light stand.
- Extendable arm from 60cm (23.6 inches) to 1.2 meters (47.2 inches).
- Tilts in all directions for proper reflector orientation.
- Solid due to its aluminium alloy construction.
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Generally speaking, domestic lights are not very powerful, of low quality, but above all, they are poorly lit.
positioned for portrait photography.
Again, you can get away with reflectors but it’s not that simple, because it all depends on lighting power and quality of light.
So the idea is simply to bring natural light into the room during the day in good weather.
For example, you place your subject close to a window so that it can let in diffuse but not direct light.
If this is the case, try to diffuse this light using a white sheet or a curtain for example.
The other solution is of course to use an external flash.
Finally, to conclude this article, know that during your first portrait photo session, you must be able to put your model at ease to make her forget about the camera.
Make it as casual as possible so that the poses are more natural.
I’m not going to dwell on this, but you should know that modeling is an art.
I hope these basic tips will help you improve your portrait photos.
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