Useful tips for portrait photography

Useful tips for portrait photography

Portrait Lens

What lenses are best or more suitable for portrait photography?

Usually the mid-tele lens ranges from 70mm – 135mm to 200mm are best for portraits because of its less distortion and more flattering characteristic.

Check out Stephen Eastwood’s web site for the effect of lens distortion. He has nice images of head shots  taken with lenses from 19mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 100mm, 135mm, 200mm, 230mm to 350mm. You can clearly see the effect of lens on the model’s face. The wider the lens, the more distortion you will get.


Camera level when shooting portrait

To get normal perspective with mid-tele lens, for half length shot, shoot at the chest level as shown below:


For full length shot, shoot at lower level close to waist level as shown in the picture below:


However, you could try shoot from lower angle to lengthen the legs if you would like to make the person looks taller in the picture.


Catch light

Catch light is the bright spot or reflection in the eyes. It adds energy and liveliness to the portraits.

Here are some examples of portraits with catch light.


The question is how to get or create catch light?

Well, the eyes have to face the bright area. For indoor, the window especially large window will create beautiful catch light when the eyes are facing the bright window. For outdoor, you could look for bright building, patch of light in the part, sky or any reflective surface. If you can find any of those, the last resort is to use fill flash to create one.

Here is an example of portrait with and without catch light, same location, same time.


Best time to take portrait photo?

  • Early morning and later evening
    • Low angled light, softer light that eliminate the hash shallow
    • Warmer, golden light
  • Bright overcast day
    • The overcast sky will be like a giant softbox that soften the harsh sun light
    • Overcast day is good for flower shots too
  • What about bright sunny midday?
    • Sun is a tiny light source in this case that will create harsh shallow.
    • Look for open shade to avoid the harsh shallow or try backlit shot instead.
  • For indoor, as long as there is enough window light which is not direct sun light.

The basic rule is the larger the light source, the softer and better the light, the smaller the light source like the bright sunny day sun (sun is huge but in this case it is like a small dot of light source), the harsher the light. The closer to the large light source like the window, the softer the light.

One useful tip is when photography baby or kids, place them closer to the large window and the light will wrap around their face, creating beautiful light with very smooth transition from highlight to shadow.

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