Photography, Tutorials

Tips to get that Portrait Photography Nailed

Portrait photography

Portrait Photography

Portrait photography can be sorted out with a few tips that can make the photo look more balanced and more professional so when the person who has been photographed sees the photo, they have a sense of a wow factor rather than ‘looks nice’.  I will start with what I feel is the most important, rather than the typical list that appears online.


When we take a photo with a phone or camera it has a size.  It will have a height and width, which nowadays is quite big.  This is the natural size without zooming in or out.  Unless there is a specific reason for printing posters or big books it is unlikely that they will ever be needed at that size.  This means there is room for error ie, we can crop some the photo if it is not right.  So do not stress if every photo is not perfect.

Getting the focus on the eye is absolutely imperative. A good portrait needs to be in focus.
Getting the focus on the eye is absolutely imperative. A good portrait needs to be in focus.


Focus.  Get the camera focused on the eye nearest you.  Sharp, clear and really try to get that focus.  Do not let the camera focus on several points, one point, the eye.  The most amazing portrait images can be ruined by the shot being out of focus or the focus on the chin or something. The eye.

Take multiple shots.  Single shot perfection is unlikely, take a few photos.

Get the camera stable.  Reduces the chance of a blurred shot.  Models move, hands move, added together, lots of movement.

Lighting.  This will be an article on its own as it is very important but for now, do not have the sun full on in someone’s face.  Put the sun behind them and use a flash.  When indoors use a combination of natural light and lamps.  A nice idea to try is: sit a person on a window sill, let the natural light come in, take shoot then turn on an indoor light and do again.  See the difference.

Background.  This can destroy a good photo immediately.  Follow this link to backgrounds here.

A little bit of creativity and a nice background. Try not to center a model and use negative space wisely.
A little bit of creativity and a nice background. Try not to center a model and use negative space wisely.


Camera TIPS

Shutter speed.  This does depend on the model or models.  If you have a person who is moving a lot, a fast shutter speed (1/1000).  If you model is seated and relaxed then you can go with a slower shutter speed (1/100).

Aperture.  If the background is close and you want this part of the shot, a small aperture (f9).  If you are maybe doing headshots and the background is far away and aperture like f4 or f2.8 will make the model prominent and the background blurred.

ISO.   I high ISO will give you a faster shutter speed indoors.  Higher the ISO the more grain in the photo, but, a bit of grain or out of focus?  grain any day.  Blurred shots are ruined shots.

Composition. Try not to stick the model dead center.  What will you focus on? two eyes? Try to be a little more creative in the look, position, the negative space, background and colors in the frame.  Rule of thirds, leading lines, the background and where the light is coming from.

Diffused light.  If the sun is overpowering, hang a white sheet over the window.

Reflectors.  I use these and they can be really handy to balance light over the face.

Model TIPS

Talk.  Chat with the person being photographed, a few jokes, lighten the mood.

Move.  Don’t just stand there with the ‘this is where I want a shot’.  Move about, try different angles from below or above, left and right.

The model.  The model wants to see nice pictures, take your time, move the model, try different positions, talk to them and make them feel relaxed while getting them into unnatural positions.

Carefully positioned lighting can add intense mood and feelings to an otherwise standard photo.
Carefully positioned lighting can add intense mood and feel to an otherwise standard photo.


Remember this is portrait photography.  Putting someone in the kitchen and the food looks more in focus than the model is not right, especially when the image is properly composed and the models face is out of focus.  The whole picture looks out of balance.  If it was the food that needed to be in focus then the rules of composition would put the food in the right place and the model as an accessory.  SO, get the focus on the eye, follow the composition rules and be creative.

Remember.  A blurred photo is useless. 

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16 thoughts on “Tips to get that Portrait Photography Nailed

  1. I was saying the other day how I never seem to be able to take decent photos!! These tips sound very useful and I’ll have to try them out next time I’m playing with my camera!

  2. These are test tips, would love to see some tips on how to perhaps put your subject models at ease for more natural photography. Not really your area I know, but it does sometimes feel incredibly awkward! My dad is a photographer and occasionally I steal his bits and bobs and have a play around. I’ve always been taught about the importance of background space and the rule of thirds!

    1. I work a lot for a TV studio as a set photographer, one thing I can say is, chatting and being part of what is going on makes a difference. Not the photographer, but another person who is part of the group.
      Successful portrait photography doesn’t need thou=sands of pounds of equipment, just an eye for detail and moving about with plenty of fun and chats.

  3. Some beautiful photographs there, and great tips too. I think portrait photography can be the hardest of the lot.Especially with children who move the entire time! I don’t think I have one decent shot of my two year old yet! 😀

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