Friday, March 08, 2013

Contributor | Portrait Photography Tips

Hello friends, this is Jenni from Jarfly and I’m very excited to be hanging out in this corner of the web for a little while. Thanks again to Amanda for bringing me on as a contributor! Today I’m going to share some basic tips on how to take flattering, naturally beautiful portraits of people. I won’t cover it all...just a few tips that have really helped me. So let’s jump right in!

Tip # 1: Making Your Subject Comfortable
I think a good portrait starts here. It doesn’t matter how awesome your camera is, if your subject feels awkward...its going to be a bad portrait. Interacting with your subject can ease the tension by praising the shots you are taking of them. It may seem corny but using phrases like, “love this” will encourage your subject that you are enjoying shooting their fancy face. If you have a particularly shy person you are working with, give them a prop. It sounds weird but having them bring objects that are a part of their everyday life can set them at ease (as you’ll see below). Having them look away from the camera can also ease their fear of the lens and create a more natural capture.

Tip # 2: Flattering Natural Light
I truly believe natural light is the most beautiful way to illuminate a face. When shooting outdoors remember that you never want your subject looking directly at the sun. Using a reflector to shade your subject is helpful in these scenarios or put your subjects back to the sun and expose your camera for the shadow in front of your subject (more on this later). If you are dealing with a particularly sunny day, find some shade. Make sure its consistent full shade (like under a large tree). You definitely don’t want speckled shading, which will leave yucky “dot-like” light on your subjects face (no good)

If you are shooting indoors, turn off all the lights and use window light if possible. A large north-facing window will give you the best even light.

Whether you manipulate the light around you with the ideas above, or are lucky enough have plenty of even light...natural even light always means good light. Because of that, over-cast days are like a gift from the heavens for a photographer. When you find yourself meandering around on a day like that, take your camera with you, grab a friend and have a ball!

Tip #3: Depth of Field & Exposure
Here’s the part that can get tricky because it involves numbers (and numbers scare me). However now that I understand the numbers, I am free to be creative with my camera. I may not use the most high tech of terms (forgive me, professionals out there), but here is how I think of things and what works for me. Let’s start with depth of field.

Depth of field refers to the nearest and farthest objects in your photo, and depending on how you manipulate depth of sharp or blurred they are. You can change your depth of field by using the F-Stop on your camera. Here’s the key: The lower the number (f/2)...the more blurred the background in your photo will be. The higher the number (f/5) the more sharp and in focus everything in your image will be. Here’s a quick example ceramic owl.

I have found that shooting a portrait at a very low f-stop, like f/2, makes for very flattering pictures. Blurring the background helps the viewer focus solely on the subject (which is usually what you are going for with a portrait). Just remember to focus your camera carefully when using low f-stops.

Exposing for the shadow is another important part of taking flattering portraits, which will give your subject a lovely glow. When you expose your camera for the “shadow”, you are basing your ISO (1/200 for example) on the darkest part of your image. This makes the main part of your image (the person) just that much brighter. This will slightly over-expose your picture but it will bring out the best qualities in your subject. When I’m indoors I hang out at 1/60 at f/2 quite a bit...which creates lovely images.

There is so much more we could talk about but I think this post is getting long enough already! I hope you all fall in love with your cameras as much as I have. If you have any questions leave a comment and I’ll try to answer as best I can.

P.S Here are some great teachers in this field whose books have taught me a lot:
The Luminous Portrait by Elizabeth Messina
Fine Art Wedding Photography by Jose Villa
Film Is Not Dead by Jonathan Canlas
The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnbaum

Jenni Kupelian
Here Comes the Sun Contributor

* Special thanks to the models: Tela Janssen, Brittany Walker, Debbie Sue Young, Bethany Wecks & Owl


  1. Great post! You explained this so well. Although I do understand the ins and outs of my camera I am guilty of sticking it on auto far too often which is definitely a habit I'm trying to break - manual offers so much more control.

    Katie x
    And Katie • Beauty & Lifestyle

    1. Thanks Katie! Yes it's so fun to explore options with manual settings...hope you have a blast!

  2. This is so helpful! I really want to improve my photography but it's often hard to know where to start xx

  3. thanks for all of these tips! very helpful and easy to understand.


  4. Great tips!! Thanks heaps - always wondered what settings would produce good portrait shots.

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  6. Great tips! I love the pictures :)

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. yes this is helpful! awesome post, thanks for all the tips :)

  9. Thanks for sharing these great tips!


  10. Huh, I accidentally erased my comment above! Thanks everyone, I'm glad you enjoyed the tips! Amanda has a wonderful audience in you guys :)

  11. some brilliant tips! ill be trying these out!

  12. Thanks for sharing! Really wonderful tips xx

  13. This has seriously helped me FINALLY come to terms with F.numbers! They have riddled my mind so much. Thank you! :)

  14. Great photography tips,
    maybe now your readers will be fully prepared to enter our photography competiton...
    keep up the good work, wonderful blog!
    -Team Gloobbi


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