In portrait photography, the background is just as important as the subject. A choppy or distracting background will take attention away from the person in your photo.
Therefore, you should pay attention to a neutral, tidy background that does not distract the viewer from your model.
You don't have to go for a completely plain background, however. For example, an interesting wall or fence could create a wonderful effect in an interesting color or texture.
Another technique is to put another object in the background to create further focus and context. For example, an artist in front of her easel, a fisherman in front of a boat or a musician in front of his instrument.
Prepare your model for the shot
Even the best, most expensive camera gear will produce poor results if your model isn't ready, easy, and relaxed.
Being photographed is a pretty unnatural and therefore stressful experience for the model, so your job as a photographer is to make the shoot as easy, fun and stress-free as possible for the model.
Even models you know well sometimes tense up. Break the ice with small talk.
Explain what type of photo you want to take - or ask her what type of photo she would like. Be open to suggestions.
In portrait photography for children, you should approach the level of children and talk to them gently. Tell them you are going to have great fun. And encourage them to play games so as to forget about the camera if possible.
If possible, ask your model to wear neutral colors - preferably dark colors - because this will better accentuate your model's face.
Check your model for things that could be distracting, such as lint on clothing, uneven buttons and zippers, collars, clothing that is sliding up, or a jammed shirt, etc. These things are usually easy to correct beforehand.
Posing your model like a pro
Now that your model is ready, easy and relaxed, you need to keep her relaxed throughout the shot. Work quickly, but confidently and calmly, and give clear instructions during the recording.
Not all models know exactly how to pose perfectly. Here you should give appropriate information and instructions.
Don't overwhelm them with complicated requests. Just get them to make small, simple adjustments such as "lift your chin up a little", "straighten your back" or "look at me now".
Rotate your body and shoulders slightly away from the camera for a natural feel. Or, for a more frontal image, keep your shoulders facing the camera, as shown below.
Bring variety to the picture. Take photos from an unusual perspective, e.g. very low or very high.
Make sure your model is well lit.
In general, natural daylight is the most attractive light source for portrait photography - especially if you don't have special studio lighting.
A slightly cloudy day provides a nice soft light that will flatter your model. Direct sunlight is usually undesirable as it creates strong, harsh shadows on the model's face. In such conditions, it is best to find a shady spot to position your model.
Alternatively, you can take the opportunity to (carefully) take photos in the sun, with the subject with your back to the sun. This is called backlighting and can create a golden glow around your subject.
Remember, when shooting in the sun, you will need some "fill light" to reduce the shadows on your model's face.
You can also use natural daylight indoors. For best results, place the model near a window with the model slightly facing the light.
The shadows on the model's sides facing away from the light can add depth and a touch of drama to the image.
If the shadows are too dark, try using a reflector to reflect some of the window light back onto these shaded areas.
Use a flattering focal length
The focal length has a big impact on your pictures. Depending on the focal length used, a certain amount of image distortion will arise, which can make your portrait photography a real eye-catcher. Caution - used incorrectly it can also lead to a poor result.
Find out what focal lengths your lens offers. The focal lengths are given in millimeters, eg 18 mm, 55 mm, 90 mm etc. If you are using a fixed or primary lens, there is only one focal length. A zoom covers a range of focal lengths, for example 45 mm to 90 mm.
With a focal length of 50 mm you get a very realistic representation of your subject, as this focal length does not cause any distortion of the face.
If you take pictures with a focal length of less than 50 mm, you will notice some facial distortion. For example, the size of your model's forehead, nose, and closest cheek will appear enlarged, while other features such as ears, chin, and hair may appear smaller.
With a focal length greater than 50 mm, your model's facial features may appear flattened. In moderation, this is quite flattering - but in extreme cases, it can make the person's face appear very wide or thick. 80mm is a popular focal length for portraits. However, some photographers also prefer 100 mm or longer.
The longer the focal length, the further away you can be from your model.
This greater distance can be advantageous if, for example, you are taking photos outdoors. It also helps some models to appear more relaxed and therefore more natural in the photo. You will quickly notice whether your subject benefits from a certain distance. However, it can be a problem when you just don't have enough space to be far enough away from your model - for example when shooting indoors.
Blur the background with the aperture priority mode
A good way to enhance portraits is to shoot them with a shallow depth of field. This allows you to focus your model while the background appears blurry or out of focus, which makes your portrait subject stand out.
You can control the depth of field on your camera by adjusting the lens iris. The aperture is the opening inside your lens through which the light from the front of the lens can reach the camera's sensor. Your lens has a minimum and a maximum aperture range.
The aperture is measured in f-stops. The larger the lens aperture, the smaller the f-number. The larger the aperture (the smaller the f-number), the blurrier your background will be.
In general, you will want to choose the largest aperture (smallest f-number) that your lens offers. The F / 4 aperture is an ideal aperture for portraits, as it should provide enough depth of field to focus your entire subject, but blur the background.
To change the aperture on your camera, set the recording mode to aperture priority or AV mode.
Then use the control dial, buttons, or menu settings to increase or decrease the aperture value. On my Canon 5D mk IV, the aperture value is changed with the dial directly behind the shutter release.
Expose the model's face
Exposure refers to how light or dark your picture is. In portrait photography, the most important part of the scene is the model's face. So make sure the face is properly exposed - not too dark (underexposed) and not too bright (overexposed).
For portrait photography, it is better to have a background that is too dark or too light than a face that is underexposed or overexposed.
Depending on which mode you are shooting in, you can easily adjust the exposure compensation (EV) setting on your camera. This allows you to increase or decrease the exposure as needed.
On my Canon 5D mk IV, I hold down the ISO / Flash +/- button with my right thumb and use my index finger to set the exposure compensation value using the main wheel.
Alternatively, you can set the metering mode of your camera to spot metering or center-weighted metering. This tells the camera to ignore excessively light or dark areas around the subject, which could result in under- or over-exposure of the picture.
Focus on the eyes
Portrait photos look best when the eyes are in focus. This improves eye contact between the model and the viewer, creating a powerful and engaging photo.
Therefore, when taking portraits, especially when the depth of field is shallow, you should carefully adjust the focus point.
Your camera most likely has multiple autofocus / AF points visible in the viewfinder. Select the central AF point with your camera's AF option, then position the central AF point directly over one of the subject's eyes.
Now press the camera's shutter button halfway to lock the focus. If necessary, move the camera to realign your shot for the best composition, and then press the shutter button to take the shot.
When recomposing, make sure that you do not change the distance between the camera and the subject, otherwise the eye will no longer be sharp.
Many cameras offer the ability to zoom in on the scene in the viewfinder, which is invaluable for checking focus before shooting