People are easily the most important topic for photos. From group photos to children’s photos and travel photos of people near famous sights, millions of millions of people are photographed each year.
Portrait photography differs a bit from general photography of humans. The purpose of portrait photography is to capture and reflect something of a person’s “essence”; say something about their character, their personality or their life.
The three most important things you can do in portraiture are camera settings, lighting, and your relationship to your model.
Since a person’s portrait is central to portraits (or if it’s a larger photo of the head and shoulders), the classic portrait photography settings try to remove everything that hijacks the background of the photo. This mimics the effect of someone looking closely at the face and making the subject “pop” (it’s “stand out and capture attention”).
To get a portrait image without distraction, use a large aperture, often as wide as possible (f / 2.8 or f / 4 are popular choices). The large apertures create a shallow depth of field and give off something of the best focal plane – the background – as a slight blur.
Apart from a large opening, the only other important parameter is ISO. This should be as low as possible (eg ISO 100), as higher ISO’s cause digital noise, which is especially ugly in a portrait.
There is an exception in portrait photography where the recommended settings are different and this is the photo for portrait photography. Photography with a portrait of the environment wants to show a person in their “natural habitat”, which is often their workplace. Here you want to display the background, so a smaller opening is appropriate.
The Right Lighting
The lighting in portrait photography can be as complicated as you like. Professional portrait photography is almost always done in a studio where the lighting can be 100% controlled. If you’re reading this, you probably do not have your own photo studio, so let’s talk about a simple lighting system that you can install at home.
First place your model in a window. The light that comes out of the window should be clear, but not direct (that is, it does not come directly from the sun). Your model should look at you, turn to the window. Of course, the light from the window light will illuminate the side of her next face. Then place something on the other side of your model that reflects the light reflected from the window on the other side of the face. For example, anything that is white or reflective is a piece of white cardboard or a piece of aluminum.
You now have a simple and flattering light scheme, with the main light source on one side of your model’s face and “filling” the reflector light on the other side. Remember that you have to place the photo so close that the reflector is not in the picture.
Interact with your subject
Portrait photography inevitably says something about the relationship between photographer and subject. If you do not take professional models, the hardest part of taking photographs is not the camera settings or lighting, but make sure that your model is comfortable and relaxed enough to give you good results. A model who feels uncomfortable or embarrassed does not photograph properly.
Often, the best strategy for relaxing your model is simply to engage in a conversation because it removes his or her thoughts from the camera. You may feel more comfortable after a few shots, so plan a good time and plan your best shots at the end of the session.