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10 Portrait Photography Tips to Take Better People Pictures

Updated on March 23, 2020
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I have been a photographer since the early 1980s. I have over 600,000 saved photos and have taken many fireworks pics over the years.

Top 10 tips for great portraits

10 tips to great digital portraits

If you can just remember a few of these tips, you will take a better digital portrait.

1. Get in closer. This is the number 1 tip to get a great digital portrait. If you want to get better pictures of people, get as close as you can when you shoot. Zoom in closer, or physically move closer. Try to frame the person to get either a head and shoulders shot, or waist up shot. If you want a full body shot, still get as close as you can. You will have a more pleasant photo if you don’t have a lot of blank space around the subject. If you are going to leave some space around them, don’t put them in the center of the shot. If they are looking left, leave a bit of space to the left, and vice versa.

2. Check the background. This is tip 2 for a great digital portrait. Look through the viewfinder and look behind the person to make sure that there is nothing that appears to be coming out of their head, or something that detracts from the shot. Bright colored objects draw the viewers eyes away from the subject. Try to get the least distracting background that you can. Unless you are trying to get the shot of the person in front of something. There is a big difference between using a person to show scale in a landscape shot, and taking a portrait. Decide before the shot what the focus is.

3. Use your flash. Think about what you want the digital portrait to say to the observer. Look at
how the person is being lit by natural light. Most of the time you will benefit by using
your camera flash, even if you are outside in bright light. Use your fill flash and you will fill in dark shadows on their face which will look better.

4. Don’t shoot in direct sunlight if you can help it. Direct sun light is very harsh, It makes the subject squint if they are looking into it. Try to get into the shade of a tree, or a passing cloud, anything to block direct sunlight.

5. Candid shots are often best. Many of my best digital portrait shots were taken when the person was doing something else, and I caught a good expression or look.

How to take great people photos

The book below is a combination of the best tips I have learned over 40 years of taking all types of photos. Many of the tips are easy to incorporate into you shots to make the shots you take wow the viewers.

The book goes over

  • Equipment
  • Composition
  • Lighting
  • General portrait tips
  • Tips for shooting women
  • Tips for shooting men
  • Tips for shooting couples
  • Tips for shooting kids
  • Tips for shooting pets

If you use just a few of these tips, you will become a much better photographer.

Shot of me with a 4 pound bass
Shot of me with a 4 pound bass

More tips for a great digital portrait

6. Focus on the eyes. You want to have the subjects eyes in the best focus. People looking at the shot will most likely look first at the eyes. Good sharp focus on the eyes can make or break the digital portrait.

7. Zoom your optical zoom. Most lenses are best in the middle of the zoom range. Try
to zoom your lens to the middle of your zoom range. Best zoom range for a digital portrait is in the 70 to 120mm range.Optical zoom only. Do not use your digital zoom.

8. Use spot metering if you have it. Your focus is on the face and eyes of the subject.
If your camera has a spot metering option, that will give you the best exposure for the
face. If you don’t, use your digital portrait setting , to get the best exposure and depth of field.

9. Get to eye level. If you are shooting a child, it looks best when you get down to their
eye level. Get them relaxed. That is why sometimes taking a digital portrait when they are not paying attention works best.

10. Use The portrait mode setting on your camera. This will give you the best aperture and shutter speed for portraits.

All of these tips will help make your portraits great. If you can do any of them it will
help. Try to think of a couple of them next time you are taking pictures of your family or
friends, you will get better results the more you think about these things. Have fun shooting.

woman portrait
woman portrait

You can see in this portrait how simple is better, no distracting background and a good shot of the eyes. And how you can use black and white to make stunning portraits.

Black and white portrait
Black and white portrait

This shot also shows how the subject doesn't need to be looking at the camera to get a good powerful portrait.

Very good video about using flash in sunlight


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