Portrait Photography

Portrait Photography

Would you like to improve your portrait photography? Just starting photography business and want to know how to capture portraits photography outdoors and in the studio professionally? Check out the following 17 portrait photography tips about camera settings, gear, photo retouching, and poses.

Portrait photography is a process of shooting a person or group of people to show the personality of the model/models by working with lighting, backdrops, props, outfit, and poses. There are many things to learn if you want to take up portrait photography. You need to buy high-quality equipment, find the right location/studio, and select poses that will suit your subject, while always thinking about the shot’s composition and lighting. Moreover, you also have to retouch your portrait images in Photoshop and Lightroom.
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10 Basic Portrait Photography Tips

  1. Forget about Auto Mode
  2. Focus on eyes
  3. Prefer a 50mm lens
  4. Don’t capture portraits at a focal distance smaller than 50mm
  5. Shoot only in RAW
  6. Use a grey paper sheet to set white balance well
  7. Don’t shoot in direct sunlight
  8. Choose aperture according to the shooting conditions
  9. Shutter speed should be set at about 1/200
  10. Adjust ISO to fit the weather conditions

Tip 1. Forget about Auto Mode

portrait photo

The camera’s autofocus mode can damage the quality of your portrait since this function simply focuses on the closest point to the lens. Some cameras tend to pick a group of focal points and attempt to “guess” where to focus by evaluating the aggregate distance of all selected dots. Meanwhile, using a single focal point allows the photographer to be in full control and blur the areas you need.

Tip 2. Focus on Eyes

portrait photography

The human’s eyes are the most distinct part of the face and you should always try to highlight them even if you’re taking a formal portrait. Additionally, eye-focused portraits with a large aperture tend to have a slight bokeh effect which softens the skin and makes the subject look more appealing.

Tip 3. Prefer a 50mm Lens

portrait photography

A high-speed lens offers multiple benefits, most notably, the depth of field. I recommend to have a 55mm lens and shoot at f/2.8 or f/4 since it provides images of the highest quality. When you’re capturing a photography portrait in natural light, having a high aperture setting will provide you with a bokeh-like backdrop blur.

If you are a wedding photographer, read about bridal portraits and wedding portraits tips that will be very useful in the beginning of your photography career.
 

Tip 4. Don’t Capture Portraits at a Focal Distance Smaller than 50mm

A mistake commonly made by portrait photography rookies is that they use a focal distance below 70mm. As a result, the subject’s face becomes distorted and excessively blurry. This is especially evident if you look at portraits taken with a focal length of 50mm or less.

Tip 5. Shoot only in RAW

portrait photography

Shooting in RAW allows saving the unmodified version of your pictures, while JPG images destroy original sensor data and limit your photo editing capabilities. A RAW file is the digital counterpart of a negative that you can apply dozens of photo retouching actions before converting it to JPG.

Tip 6. Use a Grey Paper Sheet to Set White Balance

portraits photography

Let your model hold a grey paper sheet for the first photo on all locations. Next, in Lightroom you may click the eyedropper on the paper to correct the white balance, select all pictures taken on the same location and synchronize them. Now you’ve just saved hours on editing photography portraits!

Tip 7. Don’t Shoot in Direct Sunlight

photography portraits

Direct sunlight leads to heavy shadows and poor white balance. Take photos in the shade to avoid hard shadows and the process of setting the correct exposure and white balance.

Tip 8. Choose Aperture According to the Shooting Conditions

photo portrait

When shooting, you can either set “Aperture Priority,” which enables adjusting the aperture with the system selecting the shutter speed, or “Manual” mode, which grants you control over both settings. If you go with the largest aperture possible, you’ll receive a small depth of field.

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For example, the model’s eyes might be in focus while the lips aren’t. When working in the studio, I usually set it to f/5.6 or f/6.3. Meanwhile, for outdoor portrait photography, my aperture is set to f/8. Remember to switch to manual focusing mode if auto-focus is producing inaccurate results.

Tip 9. Shutter Speed Should Be Set at 1/200

Most famous photographers recommend taking portraits with a shutter speed of about 1/200. This has nothing to do with preventing camera vibrations, but rather to accommodate the max synchronization speed of flash equipment used indoors.

Now, even though you can use the Shutter Priority mode, which allows setting the speed while the system remains in charge of aperture, it isn’t the most efficient solution. I advise you to always work in Manual mode since you may set the aperture by yourself as well.

Tip 10. Adjust ISO to Fit the Weather Conditions

According to portrait photography basics, your camera’s ISO should always be set to the lowest appropriate setting. On a sunny day, I recommend setting it at 100 and increasing it to 200 if it’s cloudy. Personally, I always keep ISO at 200 regardless if I’m shooting outdoors or in a studio.

If you’re doing portrait photography in the studio with poor lighting and don’t have flash equipment, feel free to raise ISO to a value you feel comfortable with. Nowadays, cameras can take low-noise images even at 3200 or 6400. However, if you need to enlarge the images substantially during the photo retouching, I advise maintaining low ISO values and employing flash instead.

Tip 11. Choose a Good Camera Body

You can take breathtaking portraits using a regular smartphone or an expensive Hasselblad camera that costs over $40,000. Personally I recommend the following models:

 
IMAGE NAME DETAILS  
portrait photography camera Canon Canon 1Ds Mark III

This is a top camera that costs and weighs quite a lot but is able to sustain long periods of active usage. I use this model to about 75% of my professional portrait photography sessions.

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portrait photography camera Canon Canon 5D Mark II

This camera is good for shooting in poor lighting conditions or during the night when it offers terrific performance at large (up to 1600) ISO settings.

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portrait photography camera Nikon Nikon D810

D810 is a great example of a universal camera. It’s very user-friendly and suitable for any beginner photographer. Meanwhile, the inclusion of a 36.3MP full-frame sensor will satisfy the needs of even the most demanding professionals.

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portrait photography camera Fujifilm FujifilmX-T2

This Fujifilm model is the next generation of the company’s top-tier DSLR APS-C camera that offers amazing picture and contrast quality. It also has a unique phase detection mechanism that is great for capturing various outdoor family photography poses.

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portrait photography camera Sony Sony Alpha A7R III

This Sony camera offers DSLR-level photographs in a compact body. It’s equipped with a 42.4MP sensor equivalent to 35mm. This is the ultimate choice for creative portrait photography, particularly if you’re printing out your work in large sizes.

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Read my review of the best cameras for portraits that show excellent image quality and charming bokeh.
 

Tip 12. Lenses You Should Have

Are you planning to take group shoots? How big is your studio and what portrait photography poses are you planning on using? Will you venture outside to capture portraiture with a stylish bokeh effect? Are you okay with purchasing several lenses or would you prefer to have a single prime lens?

 
IMAGE NAME DETAILS  
portrait photography lens Canon Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

Canon’s “L” lenses have received a lot of praise from a long list of famous photographers. This 85mm f/1.2 model is ideally suited for capturing portraits with a larger focal length. It’s capable of taking breathtaking sharp photographs with a nice bokeh effect.

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portrait photography lens Canon Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

This is probably the best model if you’re looking for a universal Canon lens. Thanks to the focal distance of 24-70mm, you can employ it both for environmental portraiture and close-up shots.

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portrait photography lens Nikon Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G

This lens is designed specifically for those photographers who are constantly shooting in the studio or practice wedding photo shoots. It works great in low-light situations.

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Tip 13. Choose High-Quality Lighting Gear

Proper lighting setup is among the most important aspects of professional family photography. Professional photographers excel at changing the amount, quality, and direction of their available light sources and are able to adapt to circumstances when they can’t control the lighting.

 
IMAGE NAME DETAILS  
portrait photography lighting gear Canon Canon's 600EX-RT

This flash provides the power of several other models in one. It can be quickly prepared for usage and doesn’t need to be recharged. 600EX-RT works great even in dark conditions as it collects the needed light level and adjusts it to the camera’s settings.

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portrait photography lighting gear Nikon Nikon SB-700

SB-700 is a “smart” flash for shooting indoors. This model is capable of examining the light’s saturation in the studio, transferring that information to the camera and adding just the right amount of light. It can be used to control additional flashes or employed as an off-flash.

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portrait photography lighting gear Profoto Profoto D1 Air

This top level flash offers the performance of 15 regular flashes. It allows capturing professional portraits even in subpar lighting conditions. The colors provided by this item make the images look both stylish and atmospheric, which is perfect for senior portrait photography.

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portrait photography lighting gear umbrella Impact 7' Parabolic Umbrella (White Diffusion)

An umbrella is a perfect tool for portrait photography. When placed near the subject during a studio or evening shoot, it allows to diffuse the light and creates a nice, soft glow around the person.

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portrait photography reflector Westcott Collapsible 2-in-1 Silver/White Bounce Reflector (40")

If you feel like your lighting setup doesn’t produce enough shadows, consider employing a reflector. This item is portable, can be folded twice or thrice, and the two unique fabric types enable you to achieve various shadow effects. It’s especially useful if you’re capturing portraits by using artificial light sources.

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Tip 14. Always Do Portrait Photography Retouching

There are several types of portrait photo retouching you can do to enhance your photos. Choose the photo editing style you like and enhance your portrait in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Are you a beginning photo retouchers? Check out these 20 photoshopping portraits tips that will be useful for every beginning photographer.
 

Portrait Color Correction

portrait color correction before and afterportrait 

color correction before and after
 

Beauty Portrait Retouching

portrait beauty retouching before and afterportrait 

beauty retouching before and after
 

Portrait High-End Retouching

portrait high end retouch before and afterportrait 

high end retouch before and after
 
Send your portrait photos to FixThePhoto and for about $5 per photo receive high quality color correction, skin retouching, blemishes removal, hair retouching, and background enhancement services.

For faster photo editing you can use different Lightroom presets, brushes or Photoshop actions, overlays, textures, etc.


Portrait Photo Editing Presets & Photoshop Actions

 

6 Portrait Photo Editing FREEBIES

1. Portrait Lightroom Preset “Sunlight”

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lightroom presetportrait lightroom 

preset

Download Lightroom Preset Free

To get the free pro tools from the Fixthephoto simply enter your email address and your first name in the form.


If you don’t want to spend much time on color correction, download this free Lightroom presets to make colors bright and warm in several clicks. Make sunlight bright and vibrant on your outdoor portrait photographs.

2. Portrait Lightroom Preset “Color Pop”

portrait 

lightroom presetportrait lightroom 

preset

Download Lightroom Preset Free

To get the free pro tools from the Fixthephoto simply enter your email address and your first name in the form.


This is a good preset for removing unnecessary shadows on your portraits. Get a natural white balance and warm temperature fast and easy.

3. Portrait Photoshop Overlay “Golden Bokeh”

portrait 

photoshop overlayportrait photoshop overlay

Download Photoshop Overlay Free

To get the free pro tools from the Fixthephoto simply enter your email address and your first name in the form.


Add a beautiful and magical bokeh in Photoshop. Realistically looking bokeh effects in gold and while colors. Highly recommended for holiday and night portrait images.

4. Portrait Photoshop Overlay “Sun Rays”

portrait photoshop 

overlayportrait photoshop overlay

Download Photoshop Overlay Free

To get the free pro tools from the Fixthephoto simply enter your email address and your first name in the form.


Add sunny light effects to your portraits with this sunlight overlay. Highly recommended for for wedding, street or beach photoshoots.

5. Portrait Photoshop Action “Burn”

portrait 

photoshop actionportrait photoshop 

action

Download Photoshop Action Free

To get the free pro tools from the Fixthephoto simply enter your email address and your first name in the form.


This is a perfect Photoshop action if you don’t like to make color correction in Camera Raw. Make your portrait photo sharp, clear, bright, and saturated in several clicks.

6. Portrait Photoshop Action “Teeth Whitening”

portrait photoshop actionportrait photoshop action

Download Photoshop Action Free

To get the free pro tools from the Fixthephoto simply enter your email address and your first name in the form.


Make your model’s teeth white and shiny in several seconds. Now you don’t have to edit all photos separately, just apply this portrait Photoshop action.

Tip 15. Choose Portrait Photography Poses for Female

You can be able to take portraits and make amazing photo retouching, but you need a model that will look great in changing poses. Here, I will show you 15 portrait photography poses for girls which diversify any photo session.

Check out other 75 portrait photography poses for women, men, children, and groups. Take funny or dramatic photos easy with my poses guide and free checklist templates.
 

1. Sitting

best portrait photography

This is a fairly traditional pose for portrait photography. However, you must be careful that the thighs do not look too big. To avoid this, ask the person to sit out of the chair. You should also use a longer focal length when shooting portraits.

2. Profile Pose

photography portrait

This elegant and simple pose is very popular in portraits photography. The model turns to the side and raises the head a little. You can also try another option of this pose when the model puts the hand around her neck. It brings additional tenderness to the photo.

3. Something in Hands

portrait photography basics

You must pay special attention to the positioning of the arms. The first one is placed across the chest. In this case, the hand holds the opposite elbow. Raise the second forearm and focus on the second hand. A model can touch a necklace or hold some object. Some time ago it was popular to use a cigarette, but nowadays it is not relevant. This pose is perfect for photography portrait of many kinds.

4. Lean

formal portrait

The model should lean forward and keep the neck extended upwards. The back should also form a straight line. Take the hair to the side to complete this photo portrait.

5. Leaning onto the Surface

outdoor portrait photography

Straight back leans on some kind of surface. The hand that is farther from the camera should slightly touch the hair or neck but it must look natural.

6. Chin Out

portrait photography poses

Lifting and stretching the chin forward while the model turns the nose a little so that it looks more favorable. That’s a perfect idea for a formal portrait.

7. Relaxed

digital portrait photography

To get the desired effect, the legs should be put at a shoulder distance, hands and shoulders are slightly down. The nose should be turned to the side and the chin – down.

8. Don’t Look

professional portrait photography

This is one of the classic poses of portrait photography. The neck of the model is raised and the hands are passed through the hair. The look is directed aside.

9. Classic “S”

senior portrait photography

One hand is stretched along the body and the other is put on the thigh. To give the nose a better look, it shouldn’t be directed straight to the camera.

10. Lean on the Tree

creative portrait photography

According to portrait photography tips, the upper shoulder must lean against a tree or other vertical surface.

11. Sofa

portrait photography

This is one of the best family photography ideas. Note that the legs should be put to one side and the upper shoulder is directed at the camera while the arm is on the sofa. The model leans back slightly. This pose allows you to visually lengthen the body.

12. Look Down

portrait photography

Ask the model to turn the face away. The chin must be lowered and pushed forward. Place the hair in front of the main light. Thus, the lines will be destroyed and the profile will look thinner.

13. Turn

portraits photography

One shoulder is slightly raised and directed at the camera. The weight should move away from the camera, and the nose points a little to the side.

14. Laying Down

photography portraits

If you need an elegant but at the same time simple pose for outdoor portrait photography, then you will certainly like this idea. Ask the model to change the position of the arms and head for each shot. Do not forget to use different angles when shooting. Such photos are done better from a ground level.

15. Use Hair

portrait photography

This pose is perfect for models with long hair. You can get great shots if a girl plays a little with the strands or just put the hands in her hair.

Tip 16. Portrait Photography Poses for Male

Some people believe that male portrait photography does not require much preparation or posing, it is enough to ask the model to stand up straight and take a picture. Look at the ideas that I suggest below and you will understand why interesting portrait photography poses are needed.

1. Soft Look Away

photo portrait

This pose is one of the most commonly used for portrait photography. As a rule, models do not have any difficulties with it and the result is always amazing. The body and eyes are directed to the side that allows you to get incredible emotions and impressions from such photos.

2. Sitting Comfortably

best portrait photography

This pose gives the model not only a significant look but also creates the feeling of coziness and comfort. Classic male standing poses are also good. Nevertheless, the combination of a relaxed sitting man and a thoughtful look brings a wonderful effect. Many photogs recognize this pose one of the digital portrait photography ideas.

3. Walk Out

photography portrait

If you do not know how to take portraits outdoors and are looking for creative ideas, try this pose. A careless gaze of the model and a light walk will do the trick.

4. Hold the Bag

formal portrait

A bag or backpack can be a great accessory during a photo shoot. Use the straps or pockets to create the desired look.

5. Hands in Pockets

portrait photography basics

To give a man determination and calmness, ask him to put his hands in the pockets. You can try several variations of this pose: hide the whole hand in the pocket or only a part of it demonstrating the thumbs.

6. Jacket over the Shoulder

portrait photography poses

Use the jacket thrown over the shoulder to make the standing pose more interesting and attractive. Such photos will certainly enhance any portrait gallery.

7. Thoughtful Look

digital portrait photography

Create an incredibly beautiful image of a thoughtful man with the help of this pose. To get the desired effect, ask the model to bring his hand to his face. As an option, the guy can touch his chin with his fingers or clasp it.

8. Show Your Thoughts

professional portrait photography

According to portrait photography basics, photographers should avoid poses when models are looking at the photographer. You will get more natural pictures if you ask the model to raise his eyes beyond a camera level or overhead.

9. Crossed Arms

creative portrait photography

This pose will let you create a strong and serious atmosphere. However, you should not overdo it and spoil the photo with artificiality.

10. One Leg up

portrait photography

This idea of creative portrait photography can be used both in a sitting and standing position. Ask the man to lean against the wall with his leg raised.

Tip 17. Outdoor Family Photography Poses

Portrait photographers also often shoot entire family photo shoots. In order for you to never run out of ideas, I suggest some fresh outdoor family photography poses.

1. Classical Variant

family photography poses

This position is best used at the beginning of a photo shoot. Pay particular attention to the location of all the members of the family. Everyone should look organic. You’ll get the most natural pictures when parents stand behind their children. You can also involve sincere hugs into this variant of family photography poses.

2. Laying

outdoor family photography poses

This is a great pose for shooting from the top. Capture the happy smiles of children and parents lying on green grass or yellow autumn leaves. It is better to use this idea for photo sessions with large families.

3. Playing Family

professional family photography

Bring a little movement and energy to the family photo album. Invite them to play their favorite active games and get ready to make lots of great photos. Do not forget to set the quick shutter speed to embody this portrait photography idea.

4. Hugs

family portrait clothing ideas

Try to arrange all family members correctly. The difference in height must not be very noticeable. Thus, it will be easier for you to shoot and the emotional connection will be more obvious. Hugs will add tenderness and genuine feel to the photo.

5. Sunset Silhouette

family photography ideas

To get the best results when using these outdoor family photography poses, you need to examine all the technical and compositional points. Select the necessary settings for shooting at sunset or sunrise.

6. Kissing the Child

family portrait photography

This position is perfect for small families. Photos of parents kissing their kid look incredibly touching and cute.

7. Back Pose

family photography poses

Ask parents and kids to hold their hands. The family should not look at the camera. This idea perfectly emphasizes the love and warm feelings between them. Help the family relax in front of the camera and you can take a great photo portrait.

8. Editorial Family Photographs

outdoor family photography poses

This type of photograph is most often used for wedding photo albums. Although you need a lot of time to get high-quality images and the process of taking pictures is rather difficult, the final result is worth the hours and effort.

9. Sitting Down

professional family photography

For the success of this pose, you must check out if the whole family is sitting side by side and the distance between their bodies is not long.

10. Tight Crops

family portrait clothing ideas

It is very important for the photographer to be in close proximity in order to be able to capture and convey precious moments and emotions. That is one of the main ideas of professional family photography.

All in all, I would like to note that there are no universal approaches and ways of portrait shooting. Each photographer should choose what suits his/her style and goals that correspond to a particular photo.

Like any other type of photography, portrait photography requires creative thinking and an original approach in order to get images that are amazing in content and emotions.


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Hi there, I'm Ann Young - a photographer, photo retoucher and of course, journalist. Here on FixThePhoto blog you can find all of my reviews, photography and photo editing tips, pricing guides, and photography experiments.

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