Portrait Photography – A Complete Guide for Portrait Photographers
As one of the most popular genres in photography, many aspiring photographers are considering portrait photography as a good place to start for a rewarding career.
- Table of Contents
- What is Portrait Photography?
- Introduction to Portrait Photography
- FAQs about Portrait Photography
- Be Inspired by These Incredible Portrait Photos
- Types of Portrait Photography
- Portrait Photography Tips
- Resources for Portrait Photographers
It is not too late to realize this whether you are a newbie or is already in the photography industry. Here is everything you must know about taking great portraits.
What is Portrait Photography?
Portraiture in photography is a genre that is done using effective lighting, appropriate backdrops, and poses. As a photographer, the main goal of taking portraits is to have photos that are able to freeze emotion and capture a person’s personality. It is more than just taking a recognizable photo of someone. The photo must really capture the person in the sense that the viewer will see the mood, personality, and character and be able to draw conclusions about the subject.
It is safe to say that taking portraits is all about people. The key to making brilliant photos is not by being perfect in the technical aspects of taking photos but rather being able to capture the essence of the model or the subject. A good portrait is one that tells the story of the person in it.
Introduction to Portrait Photography
An effective portrait photographer is one that is proficient at being able to capture the individuality of his model.
Here is a concise description about taking portraits that will be a huge help in understanding why portraits are both expressive and emotional.
FAQs About Portrait Photography
Photography is all about naturally capturing personalities and characteristics in photos. The following facts will help you understand this genre even more and enable you to take engaging portrait photos.
How much is a portrait photoshoot cost?A portrait photographer typically charges either by the hour, session, or a package deal. The price varies depending on the experience of the photographer, location, studio costs, post-production, and travel fees. If having multiple subjects, such as the case for a couple of family portraits, the number of people will also be factored in. Most portrait photographers charge an average of $100 to $250 per hour. This range goes up if the skill level of the photographer is higher.
Which camera is best for portrait photography?Equipping yourself with the right camera for portraiture will guarantee beautiful skin and amazing background blur for your shots. The best camera to be used for taking portraits could either be a DSLR, a mirrorless camera, or a high-resolution camera phone. While camera phones now have “professional” settings, it cannot achieve the same top quality and background blurring effect that interchangeable lenses and big sensors of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Top choices for cameras that produce quality portraits are the Nikon Z 7, Fujifilm X-T3, Sony A7R IV, and Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III.
What camera setting is best for portrait photography?The first thing you need to do when setting up a camera for portraits is to get out of Auto Mode. Shooting in full Manual mode will give you more control and consistency with your shots. Most portraits that are taken using natural light usually get the best results so we will focus on having the best camera settings for such conditions.First to check on is the ISO which is usually set at the lowest setting; most cameras will have ISO 100 as the lowest. For cameras that have lower ISO values, setting it at 64 would be fine. One thing to remember about ISO is that it controls how grainy the photo would look. The higher the ISO, the grainer the photo will be hence using a lower ISO to create a smooth-looking photo.
The next setting to decide upon is the Aperture. This would give you freedom to have a sharper subject with an out of focus background. An f/1.4 will get you a shallow depth of field wherein only the focal point looks sharp and everything else is blurred or softened out.
For the Shutter Speed, it won’t be a big factor if you are shooting in full sunlight or when the light source is bright enough. A speed that is faster than 1/100th, however, will definitely help avoid shaky shots. On this note, you may want to add an artistic blur to your photos in order to create a sense of movement. Setting a low Shutter Speed will let you achieve this and you can go as low as 1/50th if you have a steady hand. Experiment with different speeds so you can find the ideal speed that will work with your shots.
What lens is best for portrait photography?No matter what camera brand is used for portraiture, it does not discount the fact that good equipment and a keen eye really does wonders for portraits. As for lenses, it is pretty subjective and will depend on the personal style of the photographer, budget, and the camera itself. Generally, prime lenses are great for taking portraits because they have wider aperture that is useful for capturing photos with shallow depth of field. Prime lenses also allow taking photos with faster shutter speeds and lower ISOs. The image quality is also better because photos come out sharper with less lens flare. An 85mm prime lens for either a Canon or Nikon DSLR is ideal while a 50mm prime lens for an APS-C format camera will do the same job.
What is the best lighting for portraits?Adding lights to a portraiture photography gear will open up plenty of creative possibilities. A light is more than just a light source but also a way to play with shadows, add glow, or make the subject’s eyes sparkle. It is tricky to understand lighting in portraiture but before investing something, you must take into consideration some factors.First, do you need the lights to be portable or not? Studio lights are generally heavier because they are larger and come with several battery packs. Continuous and strobe lights have more power but they are not ideal for location shoots because they are difficult to lug around. On-site portraiture can do best with speedlight or flash because of portability and flexibility.
Light strength and wattage also affects the portrait quality since powerful light can produce hard shadows. They are effective, however, when using a telephoto lens, shooting a large group, or when it is needed to overpower the natural light from the sun. Most portrait photographers will find it easier to work with a soft light or use a light modifier to create a flattering strength.
Aside from a light source, modifiers such as diffusers, umbrellas, beauty dish, barn doors, grids, snoots, and gels are also to be used to further get creative with your lighting gear.
There are many great lighting brands with different price points and it is up to your budget, and your needs, to help you decide on which one to pick out for your lighting gear. A Nikon SB-700 or the Canon Speedlite 430EX II are recommended for a speedlight or off-camera flash. There are many affordable options for a continuous light from Lowell, Impact, or Ikan. As for a strobe light kit, there are a lot to choose from Profoto, Wescott, Impact, Elinchrom, and Bowens.
What makes a good portrait photograph?Unlike other photography genres where technical knowledge and skills make great photos, the best portraits are those that create a connection. A timeless portrait is one where the human elements are captured. It is one that will tell something about the subject.As always, a good equipment will help capture stunning photos. Both a newbie and a professional photographer would do so well if he knows the camera so well. Experimenting with different lenses and lights is also one way to discover the different possibilities when it comes to shooting portraits.
One of the things you can do to have portraits that create a strong impact is by being creative and going out of the box. Alter your perspective by shooting in different angles other than the usual eye level of the subject. You may also try having the model look off-camera and focus on something that is unseen from outside the camera’s field of view. Or you may have the model look at an object within the frame, such as props or other people if it is a couple or a group portrait.
How much do portrait photographers make?It is typical to ask about how much you would earn if you are going to professionally take portrait photos. After all, determining your worth as a photographer is one of the first steps in creating a career in any field. As of March 2020, portrait photographers earn an average of $36,229 a year. This can go higher or lower depending on how much you hustle. This means that if you are going to be limited by the amount of time that you will dedicate to shooting portraits.
What aperture is good for portraits?Changing the aperture and focal length dramatically produce different effects with portraits. Blurred backgrounds and sharper subjects can be achieved by having a wide aperture like f/4 and f/2.8. A faster prime lens will allow you to bring this down to f/1.8 or f/1.4 which will all create a good depth of field.If you want everything to look sharp, a small aperture of f/22 will have everything on the frame in focus. A slow shutter speed is also necessary and the use of a tripod will help negate blurring.
A medium aperture of around f/8 is a good starting point if you are using studio lights and wants to create a photo with a narrow depth of field but still has a sense of separation between the subject and the background.
Can a portrait be full body?Yes, portraits can be a head, half body, and full body shots. It is great if you want to show a lot of the background in order to give the viewers a sense of place and context about the environment. The subject does not necessarily need to stand up as full body shots may be taken with the subject sitting or lying down.
What is a half length portrait?A half length portrait shows only half of the body of a subject. If you are going to crop at the body, do it at a fleshy part and never at a joint like elbows and knees. Including the hands on the frame must also show the whole hands and not chopping off the top of the fingers.
Be Inspired by These Incredible Portrait Photos
Most newbie portrait photographers tend to be held back by their lack of experience in doing this kind of genre. Here are stunning examples of photos to give you ideas on how to do portrait photography.
1. Portraying Emotions
2. Dramatic Portrait
3. Beauty Portrait
4. Candid & Street Portraits
5. The Eyes
Source: Thierry Blondel
6. Point of View
7. Kids Portrait
8. Movements/Fleeting Moments
9. Lifestyle Portrait
Types of Portrait Photography
Even though it is devoted to capturing personality, taking portraits also goes beyond photos of persons with characters. There are many sub-genres of this type of photography and some of them are:
1. Traditional Portrait
A posed portrait that is shot in a studio where there is a formal photography backdrop. It favors a traditional composition where the head and shoulders are shown instead of a full body shot. It is a popular type of portrait because minding the pose, studio lights, and backdrop results to flattering photos. It also has a sub-genre called formal portraits such as those that are done in black and white portrait photography.
2. Glamour Portrait
Otherwise known as beauty portraiture, a glamour portrait emphasizes on capturing the beauty of the subject. On top of the usual planning for the lights and backdrop, a professional make-up artist may also be added on the team. It is designed to highlight beauty no matter what the model is wearing, or even without wearing anything, such as in nude photography. An identical type of portraiture is called boudoir where the focus is not only on the beauty but also on sensuality.
3. Conceptual Portrait
source: Arianna Ceccarelli
A unique type of portraiture, a conceptual portrait has endless possibilities in achieving a concept. Props and advanced photo editing are used, along with makeup and wardrobe tricks.
4. Surreal Portrait
source: Nils Stefan Püschel
The artistic style of surrealism is applied to create dream-like portraits. This is perfect for people who would like to incorporate art in their photos.The stunning photos are created using photo tricks, make-up and costumes.
5. Couple/Family/Group Portrait
One of the things that you must understand about portraits is that it isn’t limited to having a single subject. Couple, family, and group photos can still fall under the portraits category and it is even more challenging than photographing a single model. Aside from having to capture different personalities, the photographer should also be able to capture genuine interaction between the subjects.
Like any other photography style, taking portraits encompasses many styles. The key to being successful in this genre is to understand each type of portraiture so that you can better capture the subject in the best light.
Portrait Photography Tips
Short on portrait photography ideas? Here is a great collection of portrait photography tips and resources so that you can arm yourself with knowledge while honing your technical skills in this genre.
Tip #1 – How to Capture Powerful Portraits
Learn from a Sony Global Imaging Ambassador with this hour-long seminar-style video about capturing powerful portraits. Watching this video will make you feel like you have attended one of Mark Galer’s workshops.
Need help with your light setup? This is a very informative video that will let you know about five basic portrait lighting setups when taking studio portraits.
Even professional photographers commit mistakes. This video will tackle the most common mistakes when taking portraits and how to overcome them.
Planning the shoot is one of the crucial aspects of having a successful session. Here is a great guide to putting together a portrait photo shoot in just five steps.
A very concise yet informative video that covers everything from choosing gear, camera settings, composition, focusing, and more!
A good lighting definitely improves the quality of portraits. This video shows five different ways of using a softbox to make flattering portraits.
Props are also great with portraits. Here are examples of props that are cheap but work really well with portraits.
Learn how to incorporate nature with this tutorial about shooting portraits outside of the studio.
Tip #9 – Creative Portrait Photography Ideas
Get creative with your portrait shots with these 10 artistic ideas.
Tip #10 – Lightroom Portrait Editing Tricks & Tips
Want to learn about Lightroom for your portraits? Here are awesome tips to get you started.
This informative article will give you starting points to help you begin your journey in taking portraits.
Resources for Portrait Photographers
If you are aspiring to be the best portrait photographer, it always helps to have a lot of knowledge about this photography genre. Here are additional resources to get you going with shooting portraits.
Resource #1 – Starting a Portrait Photography Business
Learn how to improve your portrait shots so you can have a better business for 2020.
Resource #2 – 5 Portrait HACKS Everyone Wishes They Knew Sooner
Great portraits do not just magically happen. Here are five hacks that you must know before getting started.
If you enjoyed the previous video, here are five more tricks that will increase your productivity in taking portraits.
Resource #4 – 192 Tips About Portrait Photography
Learn how to professionally capture portraits with these tips.
Resource #5 – Free Lightroom Presets for Portrait Photos
Photo editing makes portrait photos look more amazing. Here are free Lightroom presets for portraits that you can download to improve your photos.
Resource #6 – Free Photoshop Actions for Portrait Photos
Editing portraits can be time-consuming. These free portrait Photoshop actions will let you achieve creative effects quick and easy.
Taking portraits is a demanding yet very fulfilling job. It is a challenging field of photography simply because it encompasses a wide scope in terms of style and equipment. The trick here is to be equipped with all the necessary knowledge so that you will not be overwhelmed when starting out in your career. It would really help to give yourself some time to read and watch all of these resources because it will definitely make a huge difference if you have a great foundation about taking portrait photos.
It is also highly encouraged to devote plenty of time in honing your skills by capturing portraits as much as you can. Get to know your camera and other gears, apply the tips and tricks you have learned, and do not be afraid to try new things in order for you to create your own style.
Need Help in Retouching Your Portrait Photos?
You may also learn how to use Photoshop and other photo editing tools to enhance your photos. It will be more efficient, however, to find a reliable partner, like Ephotovn, for the post-processing of photos. Editing photos can be fun but it would take a lot of your time that should be used instead for practicing your shots.
Turn your hobby into a career and do not be limited with your time. Hone your portrait photography skills and let our team do magic with our professional portrait photo retouching services.
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