Taking Perfect Portraits

Written by  August 10, 2009

1. Blur the background

If you are using an SLR camera, try shooting with the aperture wide open (small number:  e.g.  f/4) to decrease the depth of your focus and blur distracting background elements.  The background-blur will be greater if you’re using a long lens and nearly non-existent with a wide-angle lens.  A similar effect can be achieved by setting your camera to “portrait” mode.

2. Choose soft lighting

Instead of fighting the sun, try placing your subject in the shade of a tree or veranda.  Use your camera’s flash to light your subject.  This will bring their exposure closer in value to your background (which will still be lit by the sun).  No more dark faces or overly bright backgrounds!  Keep in mind that you will probably have to force your camera’s flash to fire by taking it off “auto” mode and setting it to “fill-flash” mode.  On most point and shoot cameras this is represented as a lighting bolt symbol, without the “A”.

3. Experiment with white balance

The auto white balance setting on most digital cameras will save your butt in many situations.  However, try experimenting with the different preset settings.  The warm glow from a lamp, or the bluish hue of evening light can be wonderful adjectives for telling your story.

4. Stop looking at the camera!

The quiet, soft, fly-on-the-wall approach can be rewarding as well.  Just because you’re interacting with your subject, doesn’t mean they have to constantly be looking at you.  Get them involved in an activity.  Experiment and find what works best with each subject.

5. Select a high shutter speed

Action shots are great.  Blurry ones—not so much!  Keep your shutter speed as high as possible to ensure that when the right moment presents itself, it’s not missed due to motion blur or camera shake.  Most point and shoot cameras have an “sport/action” mode or a “kid/pet” mode which sets the shutter speed as high as possible given the lighting conditions.

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Published in PhotoPro
Trevor Lush

Professional photographer Trevor Lush has produced imagery for some of  the industry's foremost agencies. Recent productions have taken him from  the glitz of Las Vegas to the stark beauty of the Canadian Arctic. Trevor  contributes a regular column on travel photography.

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