In portrait photography there are a few guidelines that you should review and think about when you take pictures of people. The three general types of portrait photography are: close-ups or facial shots, upper body shots, or environmental portraits (where you focus on the subject and the surrounding environment that gives the subject character).
Some of the best portraits are where the subjects look completely comfortable like their not looking at a camera. When people try to smile or make a certain kind of face for the camera it usually doesn’t seem very genuine. The trick is to capture the image when the subject(s) aren’t necessarily focused on the camera. The main purpose of portrait photography is to capture the essence of the subject(s). Different people have different techniques for doing this, one of which is taking a picture while the subject is planning on smiling and then take another couple while they are recovering. Or another way would be to tell a funny joke where they can’t help but genuinely laugh and smile. But probably the best way is just to catch them off guard by waiting for the right opportunity and snapping a picture right when they look at you not expecting a camera.
Close-up portraits usually have the subject’s shoulders and head or less. They are basically framed around the face. These are the best to capture expressions and glamour shots. It is very important to have the light coming from a good angle for these. If you want to accent wrinkles or small details you should have the light coming from the side or from the top. If you want flattering pictures you should take these on a day that’s cloudy so there is a lot of diffused light and therefore no shadows.
You will get the best results if the subject is brighter than the background so there is not much distraction. For these you should use a wide aperture (low f/stop) to make the background out of focus and less of a distraction. Professionals usually use a fixed telephoto lens that’s 90 mm or a little higher for portraits for the reason that it de-emphasizes the subjects nose or any other unflattering feature because at that far away the nose or any other significant feature doesn’t seem closer to the camera than the rest of the face.
Upper body shots or midrange portraits are a little less personal than close-ups. These are easier to get satisfactory results from mainly because your subject is probably more relaxed plus you can include a little of the background. These are probably the most commonly used for single subjects and multiple subjects. The ideal lens would be around a 90 mm fixed telephoto lens but if there’s many subjects in your frame you will need more of a wide-angle lens. These are usually used to mark occasions such as graduation, school yearbook, birthdays etc…
Environmental portraiture are portraits that let us into the life of the subject. These usually include the whole subject in a scenario or partaking in some hobby that they enjoy. These are best for telling a story to the viewer about the subject in the pictures. Photojournalists almost always use these to look into the lives of interesting people. These also work very well in Black and White.
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