Tips on How to Shoot Portraits

Many people have asked me, how to shoot portraits? How do you start? How do you get people in front of your camera? What are some good practices? Keep reading to learn more.

If you’ve seen my website or follow me in social media, you know that my main offering is portrait photography. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to write this post. The other one is that one of the most common questions I hear is: “How to start in portrait photography?”.

What is a Portrait?

Let’s start by defining what a portrait is. Well, a portrait is an image in which a person or a group of people are the main subject. Simple, right? Not so fast.

Portrait Under Harsh Sunlight

Some people say that you should be able to see the person’s eyes or face, but there is something called a conceptual portrait, in which we don’t show a person’s eyes or face but still is the main subject. I actually love conceptual portraits.

Some other people say that images with animals are portraits as well. I don’t really agree with that, I think a portrait is an image of a person, but I guess it’s a matter of taste and approach.

Gear Needed

Now that you know what a portrait is, let’s talk about the gear you need. A camera and a lens. That’s it! However, there are some common practices in portrait photography when it comes to lenses. Some of the most used lenses for portraiture are either normal or short telephoto lenses. Of course, you can shoot portraits with a wide-angle lens, it’s just not very common.

Fujinon XF35mmF1.4 R – a Normal lens

If you have a kit lens, you have both options in one lens. Turn it to the 28 or 35mm position and you have a normal lens. Turn it to the 55mm position and you have a short telephoto lens.

Fujinon XC15-45mmF3.5-5.6 OIS PZ – a kit lens

What About Lighting?

Of course, you want to make your subject look interesting in the photograph. That’s why you need to keep an eye on the lighting. You will usually want soft light for portraits. There are exceptions to this, but soft light is usually flattering. You can find soft light next to a window, if you’re indoors; or under some shade, if you’re outdoors.

If you read your camera manual, it will probably recommend you to shoot with the source of light behind you, so it’s right in front of your subject. This may work but, if the light is too strong, your subject may squint and will not look good in the photograph. Try placing yourself and the subject so that the light comes from one side. This will create shadows on the subject’s nose, cheeks, chin and eyes, making their features to stand out.

Portrait Under Soft Shade

How to Get a Subject?

Of course, you need a subject! How do you get people to pose for you? Just ask. Ask your friends, family, coworkers, even strangers. Some people will say Yes, some other will say No. It’s fine!

If you don’t have any experience in portraiture, look for reference images on the internet, so you can show what you’re aiming for when asking a person to pose for you. As you get more experience and build a portfolio, you’ll use your own images as reference. In any case, showing a reference increases your chances of people saying Yes, when you ask them to pose.

Portrait Made During a Models and Photographers Meetup

A great way to thank your subjects for their time, is to give your images away. However, I strongly recommend not to give away all images. They won’t all be great, so make sure you make a selection of the best images from the shoot. If you do this long enough, and frequently enough, your portraits will get better and people will start to ask you for a portrait shoot. That’s when you start charging for your services.

There you have it! All you need to start in portrait photography is knowing what it is, having the gear, the lighting and the subjects. I’d love to know, is this working for you? Do you have any suggestions to start in portrait photography? If so, leave a comment below!

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