9 More Tips to Improve Your Portrait Photography

1) Use an ultra-wide lens for fun

By ultra-wide I mean 24mm or less - all the way down to a full 180 degree fish-eye. Now when shooting this wide you get lots of distortion, so the trick is to frame and compose to make the most of that distortion. What is close to the camera will look huge, what is even only a little distance away will look absolutely tiny.

2) Use a long lens for portraits

Somewhere along the line it became "common knowledge" that a 50mm lens is the correct lens. Absolute bollox - I see more portraits ruined by 50mm lens that for any other reason. A 50mm lens distorts a portrait, whether just a head and shoulders or a full length shot. A minimum starting point for me is 70mm and ideally you should be out to 100-120mm. This gives a much more flattering perspective and does not distort the body shape.

focus lens portrait wide soft Simon Q. Walden, FilmPhotoAcademy.com, sqw, FilmPhoto, photography

3) Get out of your sitters face

On a related note, if you use that 50mm lens you are going to find to get any kind of headshot you are right up your sitters nose, initimidatingly close.

4) Get a 50mm lens.

What? Well the thing is that for both Canon and Nikon cameras they both have 50mm lens which are (a) incredibly cheap, (b) incredibly sharp and (c) incredibly fast. Which adds up to a lens you can set to f1.8, gives you a fast shutter speed even in low light, and a lovely focus on your subject.

5) Use depth of field to focus attention

Depth of field refers to the area of the image that is in focus, often not very much, maybe even just an inch or two, with the rest of the image getting progessively out of focus. The trick is to make sure the background is really, really out of focus, so it has the aesthetically appealing, non-distractive, blur - the correct term being "bokeh" (rhymes with ok).

6) Focus on only one thing

Now normally you focus on your sitter, but instead you could choose to focus on some other part, let's say on hands doing something or holding something. Focus on just the eye-lashes so the rest of the face is soft. Focus on a prop. Focus on one person, with another standing further back and soft.

7) Focus on the eyes - check lashes for sharpness

In general though a good portrait needs the eyes to be in focus - if the eyes are soft you haven't got a picture. If you want to check, then just look at the eyelashes, if they are clear and distinct you are OK, if they are blurred then so is the eye. This is quick way of checking on your LCD screen where otherwise it can be difficult to tell.

8) Use a polariser to get rid of reflections on glasses.

If you are of doors, and especially if your partner is a glasses wearer then a simple polarising filter which fits to the front of your lens may be an eye saver. The polarising filter stops light glaring in reflections so you can still see your sitters eyes. This also applies to water, car windscreens and all sorts of other reflections too.

Important though - you can't use a polariser in the studio, you will find that your exposures are wildly inconsistent of you do.

9) Use the correct focus mode

Modern cameras have all sorts of ways of focussing, "active" for sport, "multi-spot" to cover areas. The one you really want to use is the "single-point" focus mode. This gives one point of focus - which you basically want on the eyes. With a single point of focus you usually have control of whereabouts in the frame that is - I like mine to focus in the upper third when the camera is in portrait orientation.

focus lens portrait wide soft Simon Q. Walden, FilmPhotoAcademy.com, sqw, FilmPhoto, photography

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