Portrait captures a person – great portrait captures a personality. While portraits are a staple of the photography industry, they are much more than simply pointing and shooting. From posing to framing, several elements must work together to create a good image.
Awkward subjects mean awkward smiles
One of the keys to capturing a subject's personality is to feel comfortable in front of the camera , News flash: No one feels comfortable in front of the camera, at least not at first. As the photographer, it's your job to help the subject relax and feel confident. Do not just toss out a "say cheese" and expect a genious smile.
First, use casual conversation – silence is awkward. Learn more about your subject and ask what they are interested in, what makes them happy, what irks them. Keep up conversation as you shoot. Avoid a forced smile. Tell stories, ask for their stories or tell jokes to get a genuine smile.
Photographers do not need crazy.
Wide angle lenses tend to be flattering.
Photographers do not need crazy expensive gear to take great portraits, but that does not matter. A camera with a larger sensor – like a mirrorless camera or DSLR – wants to help create a soft background typically found in portraits bokeh after the Japanese word for blur. The lens, however, is the most important part of the equation.
Wide-angle lenses create distortion and accentuate distance, which is to make your subject's nose look bigger than it really is – and that's not usually what people want. 50mm (in full-frame terms, see our guide to working with crop factor to find the appropriate focal length for smaller-sensor formats), with 85mm and longer lenses even better ,
That's not to say wide angle lenses do not have a place in portrait photography. The angles are okay for full body shots and environmental portraits. Just try to keep your subject closer to the center of the frame and farther from the camera to reduce the effects of distortion. Other times, the distortion may actually be desirable – as in concert photography.
Use in many portraits,
a blurry background is ideal. This is the result of the Shallow Depth of Field, which refers to how much depth in the photograph is in focus (see our depth of field explainer for more information). That's created by using a wide aperture (longer focal length lens so help). To get that background blur you want a wide aperture, denoted by a small f-number. Set your camera to priority mode or manual mode and a low f-number, like f / 2.8 or lower.
So, note that not all lenses can open to f / 2.8 or against. Most kit lenses top out at f / 3.5 or f / 5.6, depending on how zoomed-in they are – in this case, just use the widest one available.