Taking great portraits


Portrait photography is more a science than an art, which means virtually anyone can take great portraits with the right equipment and techniques. In a nutshell, there are four things that must be taken into consideration in order to produce a great portrait:

  1. Lighting – The light falling on your subject is probably the most important factor in determining the quality of the photographs you produce.

    The best light of all is a soft, natural light, and a great place to find it is near an open window that isn’t directly facing the sun. Simply open the shades and position your subject about 4-6 feet away from the window. Feel free to move him/her closer or farther away to adjust the quantity of light and its direction.

    Another great place to take advantage of available light is a non-cluttered garage. Simply open the garage door(s), remove any vehicles, and place your subject just far enough inside to provide the proper amount of light.

    If you’re planning to take some outdoor shots, try to set up under a tree that will shelter you and the subject from direct sunlight yet provide enough natural light to allow a proper exposure. Working under a shade tree will eliminate harsh shadows while making colors really come to life.

    Wherever you shoot, if the available light is inadequate you can use reflectors and secondary light sources to augment the natural light in order to ensure a proper exposure.

  2. Focus – Getting the right focus in your portraits can be tricky, but it is essential to get it right. First of all, the eyes should always be in sharp focus even if other areas of the body are left a little soft. Also, if you use a wide aperture and get close to the subject you can shorten the depth of field in order to blur the background and make the subject really stand out.
  3. Background – The background you choose should reflect the type of portraits you wish to produce. A background can be as simple as a white sheet taped to the wall or the ocean in the distance behind the subject. But if you plan to seriously pursue portrait work you’ll probably need to invest in a variety of professionally produced backgrounds. There are numerous photographic supply websites that offer hundreds of different backgrounds at reasonable prices.
  4. Poses – While the subject is responsible for letting you know how he/she wishes to be photographed, it is up to you the photographer to tell him/her explicitly how to pose in order to achieve the desired result. And don’t go for just one pose. Have the subject pose several different ways and take several shots of each and you’ll be more likely to end up with portraits that the customer wants to buy!