5 Tips for Taking Better Portrait Photos


Have you ever looked at a friend's photos and said 'Wow, those pictures are brilliant, you have such a good camera." and then discovered it wasn't a fancy camera at all? Many photographers have taken the challenge of doing entire weddings or commercial photo shoots using only an iPhone. The results are amazing and no-one would suspect that they hadn't used a real camera. 

So, what things can we incorporate in our portrait photos to make them better?


Making the most of the available light will always enhance your photographs. Always avoid having your subject in direct sunlight, or under harsh artificial light. Look at the shadows on the face before you click that shutter - it's often easy to have someone turn around or move into the shade. Having the subject turn their face toward the light, often produces the most flattering light patterns on the face. Exposure choices and post processing in Lightroom can also create interesting and varied effects. The two images below were taken seconds apart, with the same window light falling on the face. The first one was underexposed and darkened Lightroom, while the second one was over exposed and lightened. I also altered the contrast of each to create completely different moods. 


Use as many tools as you can to draw the viewer's attention to your subject, including focus, depth of field and background.


It may seem like a small thing, but it really makes a difference where you focus. It's good practice to focus on the eyes, specifically, the one closest to the camera. Whenever possible, I like to have catchlights in the eyes to add life.


Depth of field is affected by lens length, distance between the subject and the background, distance between the photographer and the subject and of course, aperture. The choice of whether or not to include the background detail is entirely up to the photographer. I usually like to blur it out and let the person be the main focus. So, I often use a telephoto lens with a wide aperture and separate my subject from the background.

200mm f2.8


Another simple but not-so-easy to employ point. So often we have less than ideal locations in which to take photos. Sometimes the background is ugly, or sometimes just busy and distracting. Always check to see if there is a better background you could have your subject stand/sit against. Usually, the plainer, the better. Just stopping and thinking about the end photo is helpful. If you have a strongly back-lit situation, using a reflector (or piece of white paper/fabric) is a good way to add some pop to the face, especially the eyes. Moving closer to the subject cuts out distractions and the longer the focal length of your lens, the less background will be included in the photo.


If you have multiple lenses to choose from, which one should you use? That is such a subjective question. It all depends on what effect you are wanting in your final image. Let's say you want a 'normal' looking photo which will flatter your subject - rather than an unusual, creative image. For a full length portrait you could use anything from about 35mm - 200mm depending on how far away you are able to get from your subject. A 50mm lens is a good starting point. For half length photos, I would use anything from 50mm-200mm. For a head and shoulders portrait, I would use something between 85mm and 200mm. Longer focal lengths compress the face better and give a more flattering, natural looking photo. A 50mm lens will give an adequate image, but the results from 85mm are much more pleasing. So, if you only have a wider lens, such as the one on your iPhone, then move back a bit and try to capture more of the subject, rather than taking a close up of their face. 

105mm lens


50mm lens