Basic Portrait Photography

A short guide to Basic Portrait Photography. Where to get started when starting a portrait shoot.

Basic Portrait Photography

Before I even begin, what are the main questions I am asked about portrait photography?:


What makes a good portrait?

  • The photo captures your subject(s) in a flattering way.
  • The subject(s) is the main part of the photo
  • Your subject(s) LOVE the photo
  • Lighting
  • The background doesn’t distract from the subject, or it adds something to the image overall.
  • Composition
  • Focus on the face, especially the eyes.
  • Relaxed confident subject.

How to achieve this:

It’s pretty daunting to go into portrait photography with little to no experience, so arming yourself with knowledge will definitely help you be more confident (or feign confidence) and get the good shots. People say fake it until you make it, and honestly, that advice has helped me out in so many situations and not just in my art.

We don’t want an ugly half-blink, unflattering chins, or awkward expression. Change your camera to multiple shots and take 3-5 pictures at a time. Ask the subject to move, lift the chin, relax the shoulders; don’t be afraid to direct your person to get the best out of them. Keep communication open, this keeps your model relaxed as well as having a good time. You can get more natural candid photos this way too!

When it comes to backgrounds, you want to find something that compliments the subject or creates a negative space. This can be done with a texture or pattern, such as a wooden fence, or a block-colour backdrop or wall. If you want it to compliment your subject, think about how it will add to what you and/or the subject wants to convey. If your subject wants to show off their profession in business, try and get a picture in an office setting or something that reflects their professionalism. In this sense, the backdrop is an extra prop to make the photo pop.

What Settings are Best?

Of course, settings are mainly reliant on a number of factors, mainly to do with light, so keep that into consideration when taking photos. Make sure the exposure is bright to begin with, we don’t want dark photos that rely on editing to brighten up.


Aperture Priority is a great inbuilt setting to help get started on portrait photography. Ideally, we want to have the subjects in-focus, and everything else a bit blurry. To achieve this we want a nice low f-stop. Most portrait lenses and prime “art” lenses will have a low aperture, being perfect for portraiture.

How do I compose a portrait?

Over time, taking people pics has come pretty much second nature to me, but breaking down a photo, I usually follow 3 main guides:

  1. Rule of Thirds
    As mentioned in my previous post, the rule of thirds is pretty much a platinum rule.Using a grid is second nature and can turn your photos from being off-kilter and some-what boring, to perfectly proportioned and flat as a spirit level. Where possible, align the eyes with a third or a point of interest (where the lines intersect) to make them the focus of the photo.
  2. Look for Lines
    Use leading lines and converging lines to lead the eye to your subject. There is nothing more interesting than a story in a photo, so let your eyes read a composition before snapping it!
  3. 45 Degrees and other angles!
    Make the subject turn their body 45 degrees from the camera, and get them to look at the camera. The shape that is created is a lot more interesting and flattering. Also, contemplate the angle at which you are taking the photo. From lower down you are making a subject look more independent and powerful, a higher angle gives depth and interest, and eye level creates a conversation between you and the subject.

And Lastly…

As with all photography, just keep at it, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, share your work, and try new things!

Happy snapping everyone, stay safe, stay positive!


Published by Briony-Molly

Photographer & Designer. Horse Owner, Book Fanatic

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