When I first started doing portrait photography, I wished there was a straight forward guide that explained to me what I needed to do to take awesome portraits. Every book that I read seemed like it contradicted the previous book. One Author would say, you should do things this way and another one would say you should it that way. Since I didn’t know much about portrait photography at the time; they all seemed right. However, if everyone was right, then who should I have really listened to?
I decided to find a way that worked best for me. I had a lot of trial and errors and made a number of mistakes. If there is a thing that you are thinking of trying, chances are I may have already done it. I feel the best way to learn something and actually remember it, is to make a lot of mistakes!!!
For this guide, I am going to assume that you are a beginner and can’t wait to get started. I hope that after you are done reading this guide, you will be able to take great portraits and hopefully get a paying gig.
I have divided beginner’s guide to portrait photography into the following sections:
Picking Your Camera
Different Camera Modes
Mastering Camera Exposure
Finding Your Style
Picking Your Camera
As a beginner portrait photographer, you might get caught up in the “Megapixels” (aka – MP) hype. Some people might tell you – you NEED at least 8 MP for a good quality. Others might say – you MUST have at least 15 MP for a good quality photo. Then the camera company will say – you need this $10,000 camera which is 21 MP to take fantastic photos.
As a beginner, you might think more “Megapixels” means better pictures, right? I thought the same thing, but found out that’s not always the case as there are other factors that are involved; such as camera exposure, light and so on.
I believe the better question you need to ask yourself as a beginner portrait photographer is what size pictures do you plan to print? Are you going to print – 4x6s, 5x7s, 8x10s, or 11x14s?
If you are only going to print 4x6s, you will need at least 800×1200 Pixel Resolution and 3 MP. Below is a chart that will help you determine what “Megapixel” camera you will need to do the job for you.
|Megapixels||Pixel Resolution*||Print Size @ 300ppi||Print size @ 200ppi||Print size @ 150ppi*|
|3||2048 x 1536||6.82″ x 5.12″||10.24″ x 7.68″||13.65″ x 10.24″|
|4||2464 x 1632||8.21″ x 5.44″||12.32″ x 8.16″||16.42″ x 10.88″|
|6||3008 x 2000||10.02″ x 6.67″||15.04″ x 10.00″||20.05″ x 13.34″|
|8||3264 x 2448||10.88″ x 8.16″||16.32″ x 12.24″||21.76″ x 16.32″|
|10||3872 x 2592||12.91″ x 8.64″||19.36″ x 12.96″||25.81″ x 17.28″|
|12||4290 x 2800||14.30″ x 9.34″||21.45″ x 14.00″||28.60″ x 18.67″|
|16||4920 x 3264||16.40″ x 10.88″||24.60″ x 16.32″||32.80″ x 21.76″|
*Typical Resolution. Actual pixel dimensions vary from camera to camera.
Different Camera Modes
Sometimes many beginner portrait photographers get confused about which camera mode they should use. Should they use P, AV, TV, or M? Let’s find out what each of these modes can do.
In P (aka – Automatic or Professional) mode, your camera does everything for you. All you have to do is just point and shoot. In AV (aka – Aperture Priority) mode, here you can change the ISO and Aperture. In TV (aka – Shutter Priority) mode, here you can change the ISO and Shutter Speed. In M (aka – Manual) mode, here you can change everything (Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO).
I would suggest that you start of with “Professional Mode”. This will allow you to focus more on building your own personal style. As you will learn later, building your own style is more IMPORTANT (in my opinion) than learning all the technical side of camera. i.e. camera settings.
After you feel comfortable enough to shoot in P mode, then you should move on to different modes. Your goal should be to feel comfortable enough to shoot in “Manual” mode. This is my favorite mode!!!
Mastering Camera Exposure
Other challenges beginner portrait photographers often have, is getting the perfect exposure. I was once one of those portrait photographers and it was very frustrating to me (I am sure you feel the same way as well)!!! I mean I tried every single technique out there but for some reason my images were either under or over exposed all the time.
After doing A LOT of trial and errors, I came up with a technique I call “Camera Metering”. With this technique I found no matter what lighting condition (bright sunlight, cloudy, and etc) I was in, I got the perfect exposure every single time.
This technique is so simple to use that when I tell people about it they don’t believe me. So, I tell them to try it themselves. When they do, they are really amazed by it!!! They tell me it was so easy and simple to use. The best part about it is that they see the results right away.
One time I taught this technique to a man who just brought his camera a few days prior and was still shooting in the automatic mode. After teaching him this technique and doing a few test shots, he was shooting in “Manual” mode and he couldn’t believe it!!!
So, how do I use this “Camera Metering” technique?
First thing you need to do is put your camera in “Manual” mode so you will have complete control over the ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed. Then, look through your view finder and then press your shutter button (the one that you use to take the picture) half way. To keep things simple, we will assume that when you look through your view finder you are looking at the below picture:
Let’s take a closer look at what you are seeing. In the middle of your screen (view finder), you will see your auto focus points. At the bottom of the screen (left hand side), you will see 640 (this is your shutter speed), followed by 3.5 (this is your f-stop), and then -2..-1..0..+1..+2. Although “0” is not there, that’s what the down arrow between -1 and +1 represents. This (-2 to +2) is for Canon cameras. For Nikon, you will have the opposite (+2..+1..0..-1..-2). Finally, at the bottom (under -2..-1..0..+1..+2) you see a green pointer which is close to -2.
First, let’s find out what these numbers (-2..-1..0..+1..+2) mean. We will start with -2. If your pointer is at -2, then your camera will under expose your image by 2 stops. If your pointer is at -1, then your camera will under expose your image by 1 stop. However, if your pointer is at 0, then your camera will expose your image perfectly. That’s where you want your pointer to be to get perfect exposure. If your pointer is at +1, then your camera will over expose your image by 1 stop. If your pointer is at +2, then your camera will over expose your image by 2 stops.
If you take the picture right now with the settings from the above picture, your picture will be under exposed. Why you may ask? It will be under exposed because your pointer is close to -2.
To get the perfect exposure, we will need to move that pointer at 0. We can do that 1 of 3 ways.
- We can increase the ISO and leave the F-Stop and Shutter Speed alone.
- We can decrease the Shutter Speed and leave the ISO and F-Stop alone.
- We can decrease the F-Stop and leave the ISO and Shutter Speed alone.
For this, we will decrease the Shutter Speed down to 200, which will move the other pointer to 0 and that will give us a perfect exposure.
The exposure settings for below image are: ISO (400), F-Stop (5.0) and Shutter Speed (1/250th)
I know this technique sounds VERY simple and easy to use. At first you would probably be little hesitant to use it. I get this kind of response all the time!!! But, when people start to use it, they see the results right away and can’t believe that this technique really works.
I promise you that when you start using this technique, you will get perfect exposure all the time.
Finding Your Style
There is a famous saying that I love and that’s “what’s being said is not as important but the way we say it is”!!! It’s not the subject of the photo, rather the way we take it, show it, and make it our own. If you take a group of 30 photographers to a location and ask them to take a picture, assuming that all of the photographers have the same cameras, you will get 30 different unique photos. But you will know which photo belongs to which photographer because of his/her unique style.
I believe one of the reasons why my clients hire me is because of my photography style. In my style, I try to show my personality and try to capture emotions (smiles, laughs, serious editorial looks, and so on) that I want to photograph.
When trying to find or build your own style, you might want to ask yourself what it is you love about the photograph or frame before actually taking a picture; then try to capture that. This could be a head shot, full body shot, just the face and so on.
If you like this, then comment below
Powered by Facebook Comments