PORTRAITURE – Hints & Tips.. | Tutorial Freak – Online Tutorials

PORTRAITURE – Hints & Tips..

Portraiture.. TutFREAK


You love photography. You’ve been taking pictures for a while
now. Maybe you’ve invested in a better camera, or more lenses,
perhaps an external flash, or, you still have that simple little
point and shoot digital you’ve had for years.
But something is pulling at you from within. You’re tired of
taking pictures of barns, fences, trees, dilapidated buildings,
bridges, etc. You find that your photographs are often void of
the most interesting subject of all – PEOPLE.
Take a moment and look at yourself in the mirror. The reason
you’re here reading this guide is because you have a desire to
grow, and the good news is that it isn’t all that hard.
Armed with some general knowledge, you can begin to create
beautiful portraits with the camera you already own and using
resources you already have around the house.

Let’s talk about some basic points to consider when you’re go
ing to photograph a portrait.
• Lighting
• Focal length of the lens (wide to zoom?)
• Focusing
• Framing – Portrait Type (head shot, 1/2 length, 3/4 length,
full length, group, large group)
• Camera shutter speed
• Lens aperture
• Background
• Clothing
• Props
If you give some consideration to each of these nine points -
you’ve already educated yourself beyond someone else who just
raises their camera and snaps the shutter.
Let’s look at each of these points individually and decide what
you might do to improve your portraiture.


We’re going to assume (at this point) that you’ve not invested
in any extra lighting equipment (other than perhaps an
external flash).
Lighting is without a doubt the most important factor in
creating successful portraits. It is also one of the most difficult
elements of photography for beginners to grasp. Light has
different qualities and these qualities change. Your ability to
control the changing qualities of light is the key to your success.
Picture this in your mind. It’s 10:00 A.M. and you’re staring at
a person twenty feet in front of you. The sun is directly behind
that person. You would have to shield your eyes in any attempt
to try and see them. wNow, imagine that same scenario only it’s
heavily overcast. You would now have no trouble seeing them,
as the sunlight is now dispersed through all those clouds.
These are two qualities of light. The first scenario is harsh and
direct lighting. The second scenario is soft and diffused lighting.

As a beginning portrait photographer, you need to remember
one thing – Soft light RULES! Here are some tips on where to
find soft light, or, how to create it.


1. Shoot your portraits within one hour of sunrise or sunset
2. If you must shoot when the sun is higher in the sky put
your subject(s) in the shade: ie. Under a tree, under a porch,
next to a building… etc.
3. Use your camera flash to fill in shadows on the face.
4. Use objects to reflect light into the face(s) of your
subject(s). Try a building with a white wall. Other household
items that work well for reflecting light are: a bed sheet, glue
tinfoil to a large piece of cardboard, or, paint a large piece of
cardboard bright white.


1. Place your subject(s) near a large window with indirect
lighting. Picture windows or sliding glass doors work well.
Just make sure the sun isn’t shining through the window.
2. Find several lamps in your home. Remove the shades.
Place them near a light (preferably white) wall and
experiment with posing your subject near the wall.
3. If you’re using a camera flash try to swivel it and bounce it
off a nearby wall or ceiling. If you don’t have that option try
diffusing the flash through a piece of paper.
These pointers should help get you started. Just remember this
basic point about light. A soft, broad, light source is better than
a small directional light source.


This one is a lot easier to understand than lighting.
Use the longest focal length available to you.
What does this mean?

1. Digital SLR users – You want to use a focal length of 35mm
to 200mm. Use 35mm to 50mm for groups. Use 50mm to
200mm for individuals.
2. Point and shoot users – Use 1X to 2X for Groups. Use 2X to
4X for individuals.
Here is the basic point to remember about the lens focal length:
Longer is generally better. People tend to not look very good
when photographed with a wide-angle lens.


Here is the most important point to remember on the subject
of focusing – You want that point of critical focus to be your
subject’s eyes.
Here are some tips on how to make that happen.

1. Do not use matrix focusing. If your camera has adjustable
focus points, set the camera to a single point in the middle of
the viewfinder.

2. If you’re a digital SLR with a zoom lens – zoom all the way
in, place the focus point on your subject’s eye, focus, and
then zoom back out to frame your portrait while keeping the
focus locked. If you’re unsure how to lock the focus, check
your manual. If you still can’t figure out how to lock the
focus; go to manual focus.


If you own this type of camera – set the focus point to a single
spot in the center of the viewfinder, adjust your zoom to the
proper zoom range (2X – 4X), and place the focus point on
the eye of your subject, focus, lock focus, and recompose your
If you can’t figure out how to lock focus, go back to matrix
focus points and just be aware of what the camera is focusing on.


Framing is how much of your subject you are going to show
in your portrait. It’s as simple as that. There are basically four
options in how to frame your subject(s): the head shot, the
half-length shot, the three-quarter length shot, and the full
length shot.

1. A head shot is exactly what it sounds like. You see the
person’s head and shoulders. It works well for one to three
people. It’s an excellent choice for emphasizing facial
2. A half-length portrait is a good choice to show some of
the clothing as well as a bit of the background while still
emphasizing the subject(s). This choice is also good for one
to three people.

3. The three-quarter length portrait is an excellent choice
for small groups. It keeps them large enough in the frame to
emphasize facial features, yet gives the portrait a hint of the
background to establish a setting.
4. The full-length portrait works well for anything from a
single person to large groups. It allows the portrait to be
established at a certain location. An example might be a
bride in front of the church she was married in.
The disadvantage to the full-length portrait is that facial
features become diminished.
When shooting portraits it’s usually a good idea to include all
four framing options.


Many beginning portrait photographers forget about this
aspect of their picture taking process: the shutter speed.
After all, the subject isn’t moving, right? But, most portraits
are ruined by camera shake, and camera shake is caused by a
shutter speed that is too slow.

Camera shake is often mistaken for being out-of-focus. Here’s
how you can tell the difference. If EVERYTHING in your
photograph is out-of-focus. You probably have a camera shake
problem. Here are some shutter speed tips for portraiture.
1. If you’re hand holding the camera, keep your shutter
speed at 1/200th of a second or faster.
2. If you have to drop below 1/200th of a second with your
shutter speed, brace your elbows against your chest, or brace
the camera against an object such as a wall or table.

3. Slow down and hold your breath when releasing the
shutter button.
4. Use a tripod, or monopod, if you have one.
Here is the mowst basic piece of advice on shutter speed.
Use the fastest one available to you.


The subject of lens aperture can become quite complicated. For
the purpose of this guide – we’re just going to give you some
simple advice.
1. Keep your aperture (f-stop) at f/5.6 – f/8.0 for a single
person to a group of three.
2. Keep your aperture (f-stop) at f/8.0 – f/11.0 for larger
If you’re not sure what a lens aperture is just remember this;
when you hold your camera up and press the shutter button
down, three things happen: the camera focuses, it sets a shutter
speed, and it sets an aperture. The shutter speed and aperture
settings are usually visible in the viewfinder or on the LCD
panel on the back of your camera. Look for them.
The aperture setting will look something like this: f/4.0, f/5.6,
f/8.0, f/11, f/16. Adjust your camera shutter speed until the
number displayed matches the advice given above. Check the
shutter speed and make sure that it hasn’t gone too slow.


This is probably the simplest aspect of your portrait to control.
Yet, many beginning portrait photographers often overlook it.
Remember, a portrait is about the person in your photograph.
Here are some tips for backgrounds.
1. Unless the background is important to the story you’re
trying to tell with your portrait, include as little of it as
possible. Let’s say you’re shooting a portrait of your spouse
in front of the Eiffel Tower. It would make sense to include
enough of the background to indicate where you were. But,
if you’re shooting a portrait of your spouse at the local
park you don’t need to see the restrooms and the trashcans
behind them.
2. If you include background, try to keep it simple. Busy
backgrounds detract from the subject of your portrait – the

3. Watch out for objects directly behind your subject.
You don’t want telephone poles growing out of their head.
4. Be aware of the light to dark ratio of your subject to the
background. If your subject is wearing all black, it would be
difficult to execute a good portrait against a dark wall in an
unlit alley.
Conversely, a person dressed in white and placed against a
light background will also cause you problems.
Try to find a location that provides something in the middle -
middle tones – even lighting.


The choice of clothing is very subjective.
We prefer solids to patterns.
In general, our rule is – Don’t let the clothing subtract from the
subject. But, there is a school of thought that clothing is part of
the subject.
What they choose to wear is part of their personality.
We can’t argue that point.
Clothing is an area where you experiment freely without
technically hurting your portrait session.


Props often come into play when you’re trying to say something
about your subject.
Perhaps, you’re shooting a portrait of your son, and he just
scored the winning touchdown in the championship game for
his high school. So, you pose him sitting, his back against the
goalpost, he’s holding a football, and his trophy sits next to him
on the grass.
These are props. They help tell a story.
Our best advice as relates to props is – Keep it simple. Don’t
let the props overwhelm the subject. A two-year-old clutching
a teddy-bear is cute. The same toddler with five teddy-bears
propped around him is distracting.
Now that you’ve empowered yourself with the basic knowledge
of great portraiture, we hope that you’ll go out and give it a go.
Photographing people is a lot of fun.

It will bring an exciting new level to your hobby!


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KeithM.. – who has written posts on Tutorial Freak – Online Tutorials.

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