July 5

The Basics of Portrait Photography

The Basics of Portrait Photography 

So you want to start taking portraits, huh? 

Well youʼve come to the right place! Portraiture has been a mainstay in photography for as long as the art has existed. One of the earliest known portraits is from 1839 or 1840, taken by John William Draper of his sister Dorothy Catherine Draper.

Photography portraits can cover a wide range of mediums, for the typical posed portraits taken at a photostudio, to headshots for your LinkedIn account, to the extremely popular street and fashion portraits that have taken over Instagram. In this blog, we’ll be focusing solely on the latter. 

So, how do you take a good, artistic portrait? Letʼs dive on it! 

Depth of Field 

One thing that all photographers who like to do portraits will agree on, is that having a shallow depth of field is almost essential to creating a good portrait. By having a shallow depth of field (low f.stop), youʼre bringing all of the attention on to your subject. Depending on the time of day and background you have, you might even get some nice bokeh too!


This goes hand-in-hand with depth of field. In order to get that nice, shallow DoF, you need a lens that will give you a nice, low f.stop, so that you arenʼt doing it manually in photoshop (this is an option using something like the Gaussian blur tool, but itʼs not optimal). 

Some of the most popular portrait lenses are 50mm and 85mm lenses, which will give you a nice minimum f.stop of around 1.2-1.8. Personally, I use the Canon 50mm 1.8 as thatʼs what fits my budget, but if youʼre willing to invest more you can get a lens with an even lower f.stop giving you an even more pronounced subject. 

Comfort & Cooperation 

Taking photos of someone is scary, both for the photographer and the subject! My first time going out to take photos with a friend of mine, I was TERRIFIED! I didnʼt want to tell her where to look, how to act, how to pose, and so on. But in order to get some variety out of your photos, you will need more than just having someone staring into the camera and smiling. 

Of course, in order for this to work out, itʼs very important for you as the photographer to ensure your model is comfortable and enjoying their time. Staying patient, reassuring them after youʼve taken a photo, and showing them the photos as you go are great ways to build some trust and comfort there!  

Check Your Surrounds 

You donʼt want to be somewhere thatʼs so cluttered that people will be distracted when they view your photo, and you especially donʼt want anything randomly coming out of the top of your subjects head! Feel free to travel to different spots and try new things, but always keep an eye on the overall composition of your shot. 

And finally…. 


Easy enough, right? Not really, but youʼll get there. Trust your instincts and try and do some weird, wacky and creative stuff. Go out at different times, bring out lights, bring out props, try shooting at golden hour, try getting some lens flairs in there, just have fun with it! Thereʼs no better way to make your photos stand out than taking more than just a generic photo of someone standing around smiling. Thereʼs a world of options to explore. Donʼt forget to check out Instagram or Pinterest for some inspiration!

With these tools at your disposal, you should be well on your way to taking beautiful portraits! And donʼt forget to go easy on yourself if youʼre new to it. It takes a lot of time and practice to really get a good feel for your style as a portrait photographer. I promise you though, if you follow these tips and practice, it WILL come! 

Good luck! 


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