How many times have you been captivated by a portrait? More has happened to me than I can recall. There has always been something that drew me to portrait photography. Photographers like Annie Leibovitz, Dorothea Lange and Vivian Maier, are among my favourites. The way they are able to capture human emotions is something magical in my opinion.
Annie Leibovitz is known around the world for her portrait photography, while Dorothea Lange and Vivian Maier have had more of a street photographer approach to their portraits. Vivian Maier’s self-portraits and Dorothea Lange’s close-ups are particularly famous.
It’s hard to explain what it is that draws me to people’s faces. I think the feature that attracts me most is the eyes. An ocean of thoughts is hidden behind them and it fascinates me to be able to see some of them through a portrait.
If you have already looked at my portfolio, you will have noticed that there aren’t a lot of portrait photos. This is because, despite being one of my favourite genres, the shyness in approaching people has always hindered me. A good portrait photographer must know how to guide his subject and therefore, must know both his equipment and how to approach it very well.
I’m working on this and I would love to shoot more portraits in the future. So, here we are, welcome to your very first introductive guide to portrait photography. Let’s begin this chapter together, shall we?
How to take portrait photos
Since I’m a self-taught photographer, and not having much familiarity with portrait photography yet, this guide will be slightly different from the others that I’ve made. I will share with you everything I know at the moment and, as I learn new photography techniques and new tricks, I will make sure to always update you.
The first fundamental thing to know is that you don’t need to have a photo studio and super expensive equipment to take beautiful portrait photos. Don’t be intimidated by all those youtube tutorials that show you weird tools and tell you over and over how important it is to invest in good lights and reflectors.
Let’s not worry about all that stuff for the moment. In the future, if you will decide that portraits are your bais, then we will discuss investing in some equipment.
But to get started, you can easily try taking portrait photos at home. All you need is a natural light source (window) and your trusty camera or smartphone.
These excuses are no longer allowed:
I have no one to photograph
This is the most common excuse that I find myself using. Yes, I’m guilty. If you think about it, it’s not true that you don’t have a subject, cause you are the perfect subject. Take advantage of that.
I’m shy and I’m ashamed
Well yes, I’ve used this excuse too. I know, I know, we shy people have this natural block that makes us hate being in front of a goal. But there’s no reason to by shy if you are both the photographer and the model, right?
The beauty of portrait photography, and above all portrait photos, is that no one has to see them. Use this opportunity to learn which poses work and which don’t. Learn how the light affects the face and body and have fun experimenting.
Where do I start with a portrait photo?
Here are few things to keep in mind when doing portrait photography:
- The light
- The pose
- The emotions
- The story
If you find this guide useful for finding your photography style, read the other guides dedicated to different photographic genres!
The best lenses for portrait photography
As for the choice of lenses for portrait photos, I recommend that you avoid wide-angle lenses and telephoto lenses. Even if there isn’t a real reason that prevents you to use one of those lenses, usually for portraits photos there are more suitable lenses. The most popular are:
- 50mm f/1.8 o f/1.4 o f/1.2
- 35mm f/1.8 o f/1.4
- 85mm f/1.8 o f/1.4
As you can see, in all three cases we are dealing with fixed lenses, not zoom lenses. This is because it is better to interact with the subject and physically approach or move away rather than using a zoom. This way you are also more likely to look for different angles and this guarantees a greater variety of shots. With the zoom, on the other hand, we tend to remain fixed in one point and to zoom in and out while always maintaining the usual shot.
Fixed lenses are very expensive, so I’d avoid buying one unless you’re already sure you want to specialize in portrait photography. The zoom lens you probably have in your hands now is more than enough to begin with.
Just remember to change angles often and use the focal lengths above (50mm-35mm-85mm) for best results.
I leave you with a video of Sorelle Amore, a Photographer / YouTuber from whom I learned a lot.
You are ready to start your portrait photography adventure. If you found this article useful, share it so that other self-taught photographers can learn photography with us!
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