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  • Writer's pictureJanice Gill

5 Top Portrait Photography Tips for Beginners

Portrait of a young child with focus on the blue-grey eyes.
Photo by Janice Gill

I have a box full of photographs of my children, but I wish I'd captured more. Portrait photography in the 90s was an expensive hobby, and I had to be intentional about what I captured. Consequently, many of my photos that include people are staged and staid.

Photography was also hard to learn. There was a disconnect between capturing an image and receiving the prints weeks later. Unless you meticulously recorded your settings and the situation, you never knew where you'd gone wrong. Who's got time for that with four children having fun?

Nowadays, we can take as many shots as we like, generally with more success. Still, a lot of those shots come out blurred, underexposed, badly composed or a number of other faults. If you're shooting a particular moment, that may be gone forever.

Older people, conscious of their fading memories, are more aggrieved than most.

How do you improve your hit rate for memories you can treasure? How can you capture fleeting moments without resorting to staid setups?

Read on to discover some trade secrets and skyrocket your success.

Focus on the Eyes

When you look at a person, you are naturally drawn to their eyes. It's hardwired in since you were a baby. The most engaging photos have the eyes in sharp focus. Many cameras these days will recognise that you are taking a portrait and try to focus on the nearest eye. You can help this process along by putting the eye at the centre of the field of view. A box comes up when the focus is found. Obviously, you don't always want the eye in the centre, so hold your shutter button halfway down and recompose the shot before fully depressing the button.

Watch the Light

Lighting will make or break your photos. Too dark, and your camera will need a slow shutter speed leading to motion blur. Too bright, and your subject may end up with sharp ugly shadows.

It isn't always possible to do anything about the light if you are outdoors, but we can look out for some spoilers. Try not to have the sun directly behind you - your subjects will be squinting if you do. Use areas of dappled shade, if possible, on bright sunny days. If you have the option of planning a shoot, choose a lightly overcast day. The diffused light is much more flattering.

Consider the height

For a photo that looks most like your subject, getting your camera to their level is best.

This is a rule begging to be broken as you become more experienced and want to create an edgy feel. Most of the time, with our family and friends, we want flattering shots true to life.

Find a Friend

The best way to learn is to practise without pressure. Find someone who is happy to be your muse and take plenty of shots. Check your viewfinder regularly and adjust accordingly.

Try different types of portraits, from full-length to head and shoulders. For close-ups, you may feel uncomfortably close, and it's worth getting used to the proximity.

Portrait photography - by Janice Gill

Do a Background Check

While focusing on the subject, it's easy to lose track of what's behind them. Lamposts or trees growing out of heads can jar our enjoyment of an image. It may be possible to remove them in post-processing, but it saves time to get it right in camera.

Use the right Lens

Wide-angle lenses are a no-no for portrait photography as they distort the features. I would suggest a 50mm lens (or equivalent on your system) as the minimum. Personally, I like the range of 80 - 120mm.

For children, I tend to use a zoom lens so I can stay further away as they play. If I can avoid them knowing I'm photographing them, I get more natural expressions.

Perfecting Portrait Photography

Relationships throughout our lives are deeply important. The ability to capture the character of the people who are significant to us is immensely valuable. As we age and our recall diminishes, those images will bring great joy and keep our memories alive.

Learning to take better portraits means more of our images are worth keeping.

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Loved all the tips of taking portrait photos.I liked the tip of focusing on the eye.I will try to use it on my next vacation.

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