How to shoot Better Portraits

If you’re taking portraits of your friends or you’ve been commissioned to photograph a family, a head shot or a complete modelling portfolio. You’re shooting in a professional studio or outside in a park or a street, the helpful advice below will help you become a better portrait photographer.

Shoot in Aperture Priority mode to control depth of field; in this mode your SLR will helpfully set the shutter speed for a correct exposure. 

At Aperture priority mode, a common photography problem while shooting portraits with light skin tones is under-exposed portraits. You’ll notice this more when shooting full-face photos or when there’s lots of white in the scene –people wearing white outfits or standing against a bright source are typical examples. 

In such situations, the subject appears to be darker than what he or she actually is, especially in case of very fair people or if the subject is wearing a white outfit. You can try using Exposure Compensation. Try dialling in up to +1 stop of positive Exposure Compensation to lighten up people’s faces. In earlier times, camera's typically used to have an "against the light compensation button" to be used in such situations. You will get to know more about it in our Exposure section.

When shooting portraits, it’s best to set a wide aperture (around f/2.8-f/5.6) to capture a shallow depth of field, so the background behind your subject is nicely blurred, making them stand out better.

Specialist portrait lenses tend to have even wider maximum apertures (from f/1.4 to f/2.8) in order to blur backgrounds further. 

When setting shutter speed, factor in your lens’s focal length otherwise camera-shake (and blurred results) will become an issue.

As a general rule, make sure your shutter speed is higher than your effective focal length. For example, at 200mm use a 1/250 sec shutter speed or faster.

This also means you can get away with slower shutter speeds when using a wide-angle lens – such as 1/20 sec with an 18mm focal length. However, do not use a wide angle lens very close to the subject as that will lead to distortion, unless you are looking for it, intentionally.

People move around a lot as they’re photographed, not to mention blink and constantly change their facial expressions – and there’s nothing worse than a photo of somebody half-blinking instead of smiling!

To avoid these problems, and to prevent motion blur appearing, you’ll need to use a fast shutter speed.

This will also help to ensure sharp shots and avoid camera-shake because more often than not you’ll be shooting portraits handheld.

During low light situations, while in Aperture Priority mode with a wide aperture, if you still need to increase your shutter speed increase your ISO in small increments just to reach the right shutter speed (for example from ISO100 to ISO400 instead of straight away increasing it to 1600). In very low light (indoors and outside), you may need to increase it to ISO800, 1600 or even 3200. 
A little grain is infinitely better than a blurry, useless photo. 


our choice of lens has a big impact on your portrait photos. A wide-angle (around 18mm) lens captures a wider angle of view, so more of your subject’s surroundings will be in shot.

A telephoto (over 70mm) lens captures a narrower angle of view, and less of your subject’s surroundings will appear in frame. Focal length also affects depth of field.

A wide-angle lens will capture more depth of field compared to a telephoto lens. This is why telephoto lenses are favoured over wide-angle lenses for portraits, as they further knock backgrounds out of focus to make people more prominent in the scene.