AmSnaps - Digital Photography Basics For Amateur Snappers

Digital Portrait Photography - Tips And Video To Capture Your Subject’s Character And Reveal Something About Their Personality

Why is digital portrait photography so popular? Well, because people are without doubt the most accessible subjects on earth and as a direct result also tend to be the most popular too.

What’s the first thing you do when you buy a new camera? Yep! You’ve guessed it...take pictures of your family, friends or even your pets.

The Basics Of Digital Portrait Photography

A common problem with people pictures is ‘amputation’. How many times have you seen photos with a person’s head cut off. If you are using a compact camera, use the LCD to compose your shot.

What you see on the screen is what you get! If it doesn’t look right, delete it and take another picture. I prefer using a DSLR for taking portrait shots.

I enjoy the extra control you get in different situations, such as: outdoors, indoors, close-up, etc. You also have more control over the focus, shutter and exposure.

An important point to remember when shooting people is to focus on the eyes. A focal length of around 100mm is ideal for digital portrait photography and gives a good quality image with minimal distortion.

Always use a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field. This keeps the attention on your subject and not the background. An aperture size of between f/2.8 and f/5.6 usually works best.

Alternatively, if the background is blank and non-distracting, then use an aperture of f/8. This is known as the 'sweet spot' in most lenses.

Look for character in your subject and emphasise their features. Examples are craggy, lined faces or flamboyant clothing. Also, if your camera has ‘Face Priority AF’, use it. It will help you to focus on a person’s face.

One of the most important basics of digital portrait photography is to always fill the frame. Don’t waste a single pixel. Get as much of your subject in the frame as possible.

Digital Portrait Photography - The Use Of Proper Lighting

If shooting outside in daylight, getting enough light is usually not a problem, but if you are shooting indoors, the quality of lighting will play a big part in the success of your shots.

If you are lucky enough to have a properly lit studio, then you won’t have a problem with lighting, but most of us have to improvise.

A simple way to get a great lighting effect is to use natural light streaming through a window. It should be diffused to provide nice soft shadows. If it’s too bright and causes harsh shadows, use a white piece of paper or card to reflect softened light onto the dark side of your subject’s face.

If you are using a flash and the exposure is harsh, lower the flash power (using flash compensation) or switch the flash off and use the light that is available. You need to remember to adjust the camera’s white balance accordingly to stop unsightly colour casts caused by indoor artificial lighting.

In the video below, Mark Wallace from Snapfactory explains the difference between telephoto and wide angle lenses for digital portrait photography.

Formal Digital Portrait Photography

A formal portrait is any portrait were the shot has been posed, as opposed to a candid shot, which the subject is usually being natural and sometimes unaware.

However, formal portraits don’t have to look can still get your subject to pretend to look and behave naturally, but still have a controlled environment with adequate lighting.

For any type of pose in digital portrait photography to be successful, you need to try to relax your subject and get them to be themselves.

Build a rapport with them before the shoot so they can feel at ease with you.

The classic formal pose is of the head and shoulders. The subject is cropped across the shoulders just below the collar line and this provides an effective method which looks clean-cut.

Avoid shooting your subject head-on as this tends to produce very flat, static-looking portraits. It also exaggerates the width of the shoulders. A good tip is to get your subject to sit on a chair at a 45 degree angle to the camera. They then turn their head to face you and your pose is complete. Happy snapping!

You don’t have to stick to this method though and can try a full body portrait which is equally as impressive. This allows you to show off your subjects clothing, especially effective if it’s flamboyant.

If you're interested in taking professional headshots for actors, performers or other entertainers, then these tips about how they choose "headshot photographers" will give you an idea of what is required.

Digital Portrait Photography - What Makes A Good Candid?

Informal shots of people are probably the most common type of picture you’ll take. They are not posed and you will probably be shooting them on the 'hoof' with no tripod or proper lighting equipment.

A classic environment where you can capture good candid pictures is at a wedding or birthday party. Your subjects are usually unaware that they are being photographed and are quite relaxed.

To take a successful people picture, you must think about what, who and how to shoot. Use a focal length suitable for the effect that you want.

A telephoto lens is good for close-ups from a distance and also blurring out distracting backgrounds, whereas a wide angle lens will let you get a good group shot with an interesting background.

In the video below, Erin Manning shares her top 10 tips for taking digital portrait photography.

Erin Manning's Book: Portrait and Candid Photography: Photo Workshop

Outdoor Digital Portrait Photography

Most people feel far more relaxed in the great outdoors than in a formal studio environment. Outdoor portrait photography is easy to shoot as well as there isn’t any background or lighting equipment to setup.

The main thing you need to think about outdoors is the quality of light, as this plays an important role in determining the success or failure of your portraits.

Early morning or late afternoon are ideal times to shoot, because the warm sunlight enhances your subject's skin tones and gives them a healthy glow as well.

Keep the sun slightly to one side of the camera rather than shooting with it behind you. Not only does this prevent your subject squinting into the light, but shadows cast across their face will reveal texture and add depth to the shot.

With the sun low in the sky you can also create beautiful backlit portraits. Make sure that your subject has the sun behind them and use fill-in flash to light their face. This gives your photograph a lovely warm glow.

With outdoor digital portrait photography, care should be given to the background of your shot. You don’t want to end up with a lamp-post of tree sprouting from the top of your subject's head. Neutral backgrounds work well, especially if you select a wide lens aperture to throw them out of focus so they don't compete for attention with your subject.

Useful Books From Amazon About Portrait Photography

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David Coote
Wedding Photographer
Northern Ireland