How to Take Picture-Perfect Portraits

Written by  on October 3, 2011 

Once upon a time perfect portraits of your family or loved-ones were the domain of professional studio photographers. But with today’s digital cameras, it is easy to take great portraits that will make for lasting keepsakes.

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Photo: Hervé KERNEIS

When taking portraits, one of the most important aspects is the composition – in other words, what you actually fit in the frame. If it is a family group, get everyone close together with the tallest people at the back and smallest to the front. Make sure there is no wasted space at the top and bottom or sides when you look through the viewfinder. Everyone should fit in nice and snug.

If it is just one person you are taking a picture of, get up close. And get them to turn slightly to their side so they have to turn their head towards you. It will make for a much more flattering shot than a full frontal.

Another important aspect is the background. Although you should be aware of the picture’s composition, there are bound to be some gaps. Getting everyone up against a wall is sure to cause some shadows, so get them to takes a few steps away from the wall towards the camera. Even better, take your family portraits outside where you can use the natural environment such as the greenery of your garden for a softer and more pleasant background.

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Photo: malik ml williams

Knowing the limitations of your flash and how best to use the light it generates is vital. Things to remember include:

  • Know its range. Standing a long way back to fit everyone in will result in the flash failing to reach the subjects and you will end up with dark, shadowy faces;
  • Conversely, get too close and you will “blow away” your subjects with the big blast of flash;
  • Use the flash even when outdoors. It will help eliminate shadows, especially on faces, and will improve the contrast of images when the sun is behind your subjects.

Using a tripod when taking portraits is also a great idea. Key advantages include:

  • The camera remains steady, reducing the risk of blurred photos;
  • It is easier to adjust the height and perspective of the camera, and to hold its position when taking several photos;
  • It means you, the photographer, can set the timer and jump in the picture as well!

Make sure you select the right setting on your camera as well. Many, such as Canon cameras, have a portrait setting that takes away a lot of the guesswork.

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Photo: pamhule

Above all, make the portrait-taking process fun. Snap off a few candid shots and remember to be a picture-director rather than just a picture-taker. The results will speak for themselves. Also, don’t be scared to take lots of photos and review them as you go along. The last thing you want is to take what you thought was a great photo only to find out your dear old uncle has his eyes shut!

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