Portraits 8 – and how to take a good portrait

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given about taking portraits was “Get in close.”  The closer you get to your subject the better your shot will generally be. There is a limit however. If you push in too close with a wide lens you will distort the subject’s features and produce a very unflattering portrait. The advice should perhaps be changed to “Get in close, with the right lens.” For a tight portrait you want at least a 50mm lens, and preferably an 85mm lens. (Both Canon and Nikon make excellent cheap options at this focal length.) The following portrait was shot at 50mm quite close to the subject – it’s full of atmosphere and character…

The generally accepted wisdom is that if the nearest eye is in focus then it is a good shot.  Be creative with aperture. I do a lot portrait work at f/2 if the light is low, but generally I shoot at f/2.8 – f/4. Cropping is crucial.  This image is tightly cropped but I’ve deliberately kept the woman’s hands in the shot, they help frame the face an add another area of detail. Finally the image has a slight sepia tone, which warms up the image. Shooting portraits? Get in close with the right lens and watch the light.

What else do you think is important when shooting portraits?


About David Charlwood

I am a professional photographer, specialising in weddings, working across the UK, based in the South East. View all posts by David Charlwood

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