Portrait Photography Tips for Beginners

portrait photography

Becoming a successful portrait photographer requires you get some things right. The good news is that you don’t need to know everything to get started. You can master the basics and then continue learning new tips every day until that time you are confident you can capture stunning portrait photos.  

With that in mind, this piece has wrapped up some portrait photography tips for beginners. So, if you are a newcomer and ready to become a professional portrait photographer even without attending a workshop or buying pricey gears, read this article to the end.

Know your subject

portrait photography

It is always a good idea to first engage your subjects before the photo sessions. Meet with them and find out what they expect at the end of the photo session, the location they prefer, and so on. Meeting in advance also allow you to share with your subjects more about the kind of output you would like. More notably, meeting in advance makes you more comfortable with each other.

Scout your location

portrait photography

Planning on shooting indoors or outdoors? It is always good to be fully aware of the environment and lighting conditions. If shooting indoors, for example, in a studio, make sure you have the right equipment. Basically, shooting in a studio, in most cases straightforward because most of the things are already setup.

If shooting outdoors, consider weather and lighting changes to capture the best portrait photos. Often, the best time is in the morning and late afternoon when sunlight is diffused. Too much sunlight will, in many ways, hurt your effort to capture the best portraits.

Know your camera

It is never possible to use and utilize your camera well if you don’t clearly understand how it works. For the best experience with any camera, whether you have a DSLR, film, action, or mirrorless camera, first make sure you know how to use it. Only when you know what camera you have; you will be in a position to bring out the best in your subject and setting.

Additionally, when you have full knowledge about the camera, it will be easier to use its built-in features like a metering system to handle the exposure. Not to mention that you will be able to know when it is ok to let the camera do some work and when to have full control of the camera.

Keep samples

Samples come in handy any time you want to show or share some ideas with your subjects on how to pose, dress, or prepare. Having samples around or on your phone can also remind you of the desired output. It is that worth always to have best samples within reach.

Use color for mood

Color or lack of it on your picture has a lot of power over the feeling. Consider asking your model to wear a specific color or to scout a venue in advance to get the scheme you are looking for. Familiarize yourself with the wheel of color to consider which colors are complementary to each other and which clashes.

Shoot in RAW and B&W

portrait photography

Learning how to shoot in black and white as well as in RAW is another way to becoming a professional portrait photographer fast. Shooting in RAW format helps preserve details and produce high-resolution photos that are much easier to edit later on. For example, you can correct overexposed photos and edit unappealing blowouts when you shoot in RAW.

Change angles

While seeing your subjects eye to eye is the best way to give your photos the best personal feel, consider also moving closer and shooting at different angles. Shooting at different angles allows you to focus on other features such as nose, lips, and ear.

Candid photos

candid photo

Taking a portrait doesn’t mean you need to put the camera in front of your person. Take candid photos and change it up a bit. Try to distract your subject with your talk or a friend of yours. You can also provide them with a mission or take a picture far away.

Capture emotions and expressions

portrait photography

Artistic portrait photography is all about finding emotions in portrait pictures and expressions. It is easier said than done to get your subject to express emotions. Make sure you’re avoiding fake smiles and looking blank. A genuine sparkle in the eye, a faint smile, a confident expression-these are the recipes that will shine when creating portrait shots. Work with your topic, and give them time to enter the zone. Forcing that process or hurrying it will not work.

Ask them for a courtesy laugh and see how that can help them put a real smile on their face.

Mind the eyes

You have probably heard that the eyes are the windows to the soul, right? In portrait photography, if you don’t pay close attention to the eyes, your portraits will end up losing their life, especially when the eyes are too dark or hidden.

To capture stunning portraits, make sure the eyes are sharp and have a good amount of light reflecting on them. That way, you can be sure all your pictures will be pleasing. You can even place the autofocus manually on the eyes to make sure that it is sharp even when you are using a shallower depth of field.

Use props

portrait photography

Your creativity will go a long way in making your stand out. Using props is one excellent way of taking your photography to another level. Flashlights, Styrofoam, car reflectors are a good example of props used daily by professional photographers. Feel free to use them to add contrast to your subjects, to give observers more things to look at, and so on. You are not limited to have you can do with props.

The background

portrait photography

Obiviously, portrait photography is about the subject. There are more intricacies than just that though. Sometimes an interesting background can add a lot of drama to the photograph and help it stand out from your subject.

However, in most cases blurring the background properly may add more emphasis to the subject matter. So seeing how the background will turn out is imperative and adjusting the shutter and aperture accordingly.

Increase your ISO

Increasing ISO helps avoid many problems that can hurt stunning images. Blurred shots due to camera shake, change in facial expression, and missed smiles are some of the things an increase ISO solves. By increasing ISO, it will become possible to capture sharp shots and avoid camera shake when shooting portraits.

You can start with an ISO setting of 400 and adjust depending on the amount of light available.


portrait photography

Lighting is important to a photographer and forms the golden rule of photographic lighting. Directional lighting is the explanation of why standing before a light source makes the subject dim and hardly visible. Similarly, having a light source at the side will light up half of the subject and a half in shadows.

It is also easier to stand in front of a light source for a fully illuminated image. The imaginative use of the sun as a light source will produce amazing results in outdoor portrait photography. A good photographer should be in a position to take advantage of the lighting available.

Keep It Simple, Stupid (K.I.S.S.)

Always focus on keeping your composition simple if you want to produce striking portraits. You can do this by focusing on the primary subject. You can also add exciting props or background, but it is not mandatory if you are in a position to bring out the best in your subject.

Lens choice

Be cautious when choosing your lens as they have a big impact on your portrait photos. For example, for portraits with visual impact, a wide-angle lens is a must. To make your subject taller, consider shooting from a low angle. However, be careful not to go too close, as you might see some distortion.

Use a wide angle lens

portrait photography

Traditionally, the lens most portrait photographers use isn’t a wide angle lens–the reason is that it distorts anything you bring in front of it. While most photographers use a standard 50 mm lens, shooting with a wide angle lens (something below 50 mm) will challenge creativity. Find examples of using fisheye lenses in this on wide-angle portraits!

Don’t make your model the center of the photo

This methodology tests the compositional understanding. You may put in architectural elements, scenery or props. Brush up on rule of thirds for a step up.

Get a good camera

Professional photographers know the value of using good cameras. At first, you can start with any camera, luckily today it is seamless to find one, but once you master the basics, you may want to get a good camera. Of course, you will have to splash more money to get one, but it is worth it if you plan to go professional in the long run.

Shoot a series of shots

A great technique is to use your camera’s ‘ burst’ or ‘continuous shooting’ mode to take on a series of shots that capture your subject’s different poses in motion.

The series of images can be viewed together, creating a sense of suspense and motion, or you can pick the shots from the bunch of images with the best expressions.


portrait photography

What settings should I use for portrait photography?

ISO – low as 100-400 if possible, higher if you need faster shutter speed. 
Focus mode – autofocus, set it to single point and use back button focus. 
Drive mode – single shot. 
Aperture – between f/2 and f/4 for single subject (control the background) or f/5.6-f/8 for groups.

What is a good shutter speed for portraits?

The use of a 50 mm prime isn’t a good reason to have a 1/60 of a second shutter speed. You’ll most likely need to increase the shutter speed to offset some of the movement of your subject.

What is the best focal length for portrait photography?

A medium telephoto is usually the preferred focal length of the portrait photographer, with something like 56 mm being suitable on a camera with an APS-C sensor or 85 mm on a full-frame model. It’s about how close you end up being to your subject, as much as the perspective you get.

Is a 50mm good for portraits?

For portrait photography,50mm lenses are perfect both locally and in the studio for full-length and waist-level portraits. This is due to the wide field of view compared to a lens of 85 mm or 135 mm, and you don’t have to be too far from the camera to get these crops.

Final thought

Understanding the rules and putting them into practice can be a precursor to getting creative and breaking the rules. You create unusual and unique work that would make your mark when you break the rules.

It is effortless to become a portrait photographer, but you have to be patient to master everything. Even the most successful portrait photographers you admire started somewhere. They did not wake up one day and started shooting stunning portraits. So, be patient, learn, practice, and eventually, you will find yourself in the club of professional photographers.