Want to start with Portrait Photography


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Want to start with Portrait Photography

While it is true that almost anyone that can point a camera and take a picture, can also take a portrait photo. There are a few steps which you may need to learn about when it comes to learning portrait photography, that will help you understand the basics of what makes a good portrait. Now, I am not expecting anyone to become a Professional photographer from just reading this blog post. I am hoping you will be able to learn some skills you will need as you take more photographs of people. For now, I would totally forget about the need special equipment and technical resources to take an outstanding portrait photograph. You may not be at that stage for sometime, I know I wasn’t. This post is primarily for those who “want to start with portrait photography“.

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Portraits: Where to Start

A portrait is taken to define the likeness of a person or people and even more so, it is a picture of someone’s face. However, in general the word has a deeper meaning when it is shown in a photo. Portrait photography is understood to be of good quality and not only does it capture a person’s physical look on film, but will also show a characteristic in the manner that is pleasing to the eye. A very well done portrait will at least contain one element that reveals what the subject’s personality and attitude or any other personality traits or features that is natural to the person.

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Rapport With Your Model

One of the benefits of doing portrait photography is the conversation that will take place before and during the photoshoot. Having enjoyable music on a phone, tablet or computer can help set a calming atmosphere for the photoshoot. If you are photographing your own children, then it can be easier than with people than you don’t know. It takes an understanding and skill of human nature to be able to take a good portrait. It will require engaging in a conversation with the model you are working with, find a suitable topic that will spark and interest and a reaction. Like their favourite past time, favourite movie or what they did their friends over the week, to what they maybe looking forward to that upcoming weekend. You could start with family friends, the move on from there. This is so you can begin the learning process of interaction with your model.

There are plenty of tutorials which can be found on the internet including YouTube, on how the Pro’s do their portraits/photoshoots without the need for expensive lighting or studio gear. That is how I learned, by how YouTubers used minimal gear to get great results, then practice, practice then practice some more.

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Common ground is a great way to start when building a rapport with the person, the more you know about the person you photograph, the easier it will be to take a great quality shot. It is important for the subject to be at ease with you so their natural characteristics will show through and appear natural on film. Also, the question of ‘Touch or Not to Touch’. With older models you need to talk to them first before you start the photoshoot. As them if they are comfortable or not. Even if it is just a hair out of place or a sleeve which may too low or too high. These types of touching needs to be discussed before hand. With children, you will NEED to talk to their parents before and during the photoshoot, or ask the parent to make the adjustment just incase.

Ideal Lenses for Portraits

I am a Nikon user and I do have two lenses I use for Portrait work. I normally use my 24-70mm as this is a good lens for Portraits and is an all round versatile lens. Other lenses which are fairly cheap, is the 50mm ƒ/1.8G (nicknamed the Nifty 50). This lens has a wide aperture to give soft and blurry backgrounds. I was lucky to get mine for £129 but on average they are under £200 which should not brake the bank account.

50mm-1.8g | Want to start with Portrait Photography

The Nifty 50 or the 50mm Prime is a good starting lens for portrait work. Even for Canon, Fuji or Sony DSLR camera’s, there will be a cheap option which should not break the bank account or your budget.

Expensive Lenses and Pro Primes

There are three lenses which Pro photographers use and would consider their go to lenses for Portraiture. These are the: 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, 85mm ƒ/1.4 and the 105mm ƒ/1.4E ED. The said Lenses are on the very expensive side and I know can range from £1200 to £2500, so I would recommend that you progress to a stage where your work can pay for these lenses. Secondly, if you know of a photographer who would be willing to let you use or borrow a lens. You can practice to get the desired affect you are looking for.

85mm-1.4 | Want to start with Portrait Photography

Both the 85mm and 105mm lenses have large apertures, which are awesome for what is known in the photography world as Bokeh (the softening of the background or blurring of the background). The downside to using large apertures or fully open apertures are the shutter speeds of your camera. Meaning if you have a ƒ/1.4 fully opened aperture while out in the sunshine. Your camera will seek to raise the shutter speed over and above what your camera is capable of. The 85mm and the 105mm lenses are designed to work well in low light conditions. I do have another post which talks about What is Depth of Field and how it works, while using the aperture to achieve great results on soft to sharp backgrounds.

Get of Automatic

The final thing I which also important, is to get your camera off automatic and get to know your camera settings. If I am using my prime lens outside, I will use the aperture Priority setting (A/AV depending on your camera brand). If I am inside and I will use manual mode. With Manual mode, it make take a while to learn the exposure settings you will need for indoor portraits.

Commonly I would use a shutter speed of around 1/200-250 with an aperture around ƒ/3.6, to keep the images as sharp as I could on the eyes or my model, with an ISO (light sensitivity rating) set to ISO200. Out doors, you can just play around with the aperture, however, if you want sharp images it is best to set your focus point (the black square you see in your image view finder) on the eyes. I would not really need an ISO of 200 outside. I would normally set my ISO to 64 to 100 (or just ISO100 if my camera was only able to go that low).

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John M

Have you read these posts: Fathers Day Shower kit Activity | Five Interesting Things To Do As You Visit London


  1. I love the tip of using music to calm the atmosphere. This is something I can use when capturing my children to get them with their most natural selves. I have found that automatic doesn’t lend itself to good photography. Great for a quick point and shoot but to really go up a level I agree that you need to get off automatic.

  2. I am not a photographer – I try, but I’m still stuck on automatic. It’s one of the long list of things I need to learn! I’d love to take portraits of my family one day.

  3. Sounds like you’re a great photographer. My background is performing arts and have worked with lots of photographers. You’d be surprised how many don’t ask to touch you and just use you as a prop. It feels awful and I believe the imagine turn out worse because of it! Your work looks fab though, love the natural child shots.

  4. This post is so useful, I have a dslr and a few senses but am still figuring out how to use them properly. I will try out the settings you’ve said as I also have a Nikon and see if I can get some good portraits of the kids x

  5. I have a 50mm f/1.4 and an 85mm lens for my Canon and the 50mm is the only one I use with my son. I’ve tried the 85mm but I think he’s still a bit young and flighty for me. That said it’s also in storage currently but I’m looking forward to trying it once it comes out of storage!

  6. Those photos are gorgeous! I just use my iPhone because I am not a photographer and can’t see spending any money on a real camera that I simply won’t use but I do like to fiddle around with my phone camera and experiment taking different photos. You are a great photographer!

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