Featured Photography

How to Take Better Portraits

Whether you are snapping pictures of your cat, daughter or a glamorous super model the key feature in any portrait is the eyes.

1. Set your Aperture at f/2.0-5.0.
This will give your portrait a nice depth of field with the eyes in focus and falling off around the hair line. If you are shooting in natural light your f-stop will be dictated by how much light you have. Just watch that if you decrease your aperture to < f/2.0 that you are able to get both eyes in focus which is tricky if your subject isn’t straight on.

2. Focus on the middle of the pupil.
It’s very easy to catch focus on the brow or eyelashes. If you can’t grab focus on the eyes, you need more light. Need help trouble shooting light? I’ve got a post about that!

3. Ask your subject to tilt their head down.
This makes the eyes look bigger and is a more flattering angle than an up-the-nose angle. If you can see nose hair, you need to find a better angle. Subjects usually respond to a little direction like, “Tilt your chin down”. Then,  guide them into the most flattering position for their face.

4. Shoot from above.
Again this makes eyes look bigger and faces look thinner. If your subject is taller than you, find a curb or a step. Also, I suggest that you head to IKEA and grab a small step stool for $10. I keep one in the back of my truck, so I always have it on hand for shoots.

5. Light the face with soft, even light.
Harsh light is bad. Shadows are worse. Dappled light is the worst. So, give your subject some lovely soft, even light. They will look better and you won’t have to try to correct your light in post. If you are shooting outside, try to shoot either in the morning or in the late afternoon when the light is soft. If you have some cloud cover then you might be able to shoot anytime as long as there is enough light.

Behind the scenes: AJ shoot

One thing you should purchase is a collapsible reflector. I use a 22″ circular 5 -in-1 reflector. It’s reversible covers give you the option to reflect with silver, gold, white or block light with black. Brand isn’t really important just go to any photography store and buy the cheapest one. If you are financially challenged at the moment, go to your local craft store and buy two large foam core boards in white for about $2. These work great as reflectors.

If you have any tips or questions, head to the comments!

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  • Reply
    uberVU - social comments
    November 9, 2009 at 1:31 PM

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by mostlylisa: http://shak.in/35 How to take a better portrait. Say cheese!…

  • Reply
    November 9, 2009 at 1:36 PM

    Great site and helpful info! I’m just getting into portraits and I didn’t know about tilting the head down…I’ll have to try that.

    A few additional comments on aperture

    If you are using a full frame instead of a crop frame, you can achieve much better blur with a smaller aperture.

    Another thing to consider is if you are using zoom vs. prime lenses. If you shoot f/4 at 24mm vs f/4 at 105mm with the same zoom lens you will get much better blur at 105mm.

  • Reply
    Stuart Webster
    November 9, 2009 at 1:53 PM

    Thanks Lisa, I’ve got a shoot on Wednesday for my work team day :& The day is at a hotel any suggestions on getting that extra hight when taking an Ikea step on a flight to Scotland isn’t an option :)

  • Reply
    November 9, 2009 at 1:59 PM

    what photoshop tweaks do you make post shooting? As noted by the more vibrant colors(between the bottom shot of you shooting & the final product in the top left matrix)?

  • Reply
    Aimee Greeblemonkey
    November 9, 2009 at 2:51 PM

    all great tips!

  • Reply
    Jan Ole Peek
    November 9, 2009 at 3:15 PM

    Very nice post, thanks for the tips, especially about the aperture setting!

  • Reply
    Eric Fadden
    November 9, 2009 at 4:51 PM

    Don’t forget the importance of that telephoto lens either. While most simply see it as a way to bring far away things closer in what they don’t know is that you can also use them to compress your background.

    If I shoot you at 24mm and f/2.8 and then I back up about 6-8 feet and shoot you at 150-200mm and f/2.8 the difference will be *huge*. It’s all about blowing that background out of focus and while a wide open aperture is key to controlling depth of field you have to compress that background too.

    Just my $0.02.

  • Reply
    November 9, 2009 at 6:36 PM

    thanks for the tips, esp your lighting techniques! :)

  • Reply
    November 10, 2009 at 2:38 AM

    Sweet. No I have a reason to get a reflector.

  • Reply
    November 10, 2009 at 7:40 AM

    My heart is warmed to know that you drive a truck.


  • Reply
    Rick Rouse
    November 10, 2009 at 12:16 PM

    Great tips Lisa.

  • Reply
    November 10, 2009 at 12:33 PM

    Great tips Lisa. It was a very enjoyable read. I like the tip about tilting the head down. It is amazing the differences that small changes make!

  • Reply
    Shannon M
    November 10, 2009 at 9:59 PM

    Hi ya Lisa! I always appreciate the tips you pass along. You’ve mentioned before how you’re self-taught to which I can relate. I was wondering how much control you take over the shot setting by shooting in manual mode or aperture? Is there any reason you prefer one setting verses the other for whatever reason (i.e. shutter speed, effect, white balance)?

  • Reply
    Chris Hutchcroft
    November 13, 2009 at 7:35 AM

    Great tips, some seem so obvious but obviously I’ve missed them, especially the shooting angle tip. I have so many of those Ikea step stools I should use them :)

  • Reply
    Matt Larsen
    November 14, 2009 at 9:22 AM

    Using a flash mount so that the flash you’re using isn’t an inch above the lens helps immensely as well.

  • Reply
    forex robot
    November 18, 2009 at 10:09 PM

    Nice post & nice blog. I love both.

  • Reply
    Vivek Mohan
    November 19, 2009 at 8:36 PM

    Lisa…this is easily the best article i’ve read in quite sometime… am planning to try out portrait photography this weekend…it’ll be great if you can pass on your expert comments on the pics I would be sharing!

  • Reply
    November 23, 2009 at 5:18 AM

    Superb tips.I really enjoyed the post.Tip regarding aperture setting helped me a lot as it was new for me.Thank you for sharing..

  • Reply
    December 7, 2009 at 7:41 AM

    Thanks for the great tips. My question – Do you ALWAYS blind your model with reflectors or am I doing something wrong? It doesnt matter how much or little light I am reflecting, my models feel blinded whenever I get the light “right.”

  • Reply
    December 9, 2009 at 1:26 PM

    nice list of tips …
    thanks for sharing …

  • Reply
    Photography Techniques
    December 14, 2009 at 10:20 AM

    […] Lisa, who is mostly fabulous, has a great article on taking better portraits . She should know. She’s been in front of the camera as much as behind […]

  • Reply
    Jason Collin Photography
    December 17, 2009 at 9:52 AM

    Thanks Lisa for these short and to the point portrait tips. I will put into effect the shooting from above tip in my next shoot as my wife already has the exact same IKEA step stool that she uses in the kitchen!

    I’ll ask for a reflector for Christmas….and an assistant too I guess!

  • Reply
    wedding photography sydney guide
    December 20, 2009 at 11:22 PM

    Hey there Lisa, greetings and like to add what an excellent and informative site you have created. Your tips are great and educational. Will bookmark this site! Cheers from Perry

  • Reply
    December 28, 2009 at 4:05 AM


    how about copyright on pictures which are published on internet.

    When a person have a account and the picture is an animal there is no doubt

    the difference appears when the picture is a person and the understanding of law
    Common LAW — european law not english spoken countries

  • Reply
    Overcoming the fear of high ISO, and shallow depth of field. « Optic Bard
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    […] lower than the recommened 5.6. When I did, I wasn’t happy with what I got. Recently I read on mostlylisa that for portraits you should use between F2.0 and F5.0.  Why could she take such awesome […]

  • Reply
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    […] am most passionate about taking portraits. From candid street photos shots, to strobe light lit creatives, to magic hour back lit shots, the […]

  • Reply
    September 24, 2012 at 9:43 AM

    Thank you indeed
    Rely I don’t have word related to thanx coz I got large no. of tips from you . You are creative person
    Tnhank you again

  • Reply
    Tom C
    August 28, 2015 at 8:37 PM

    This is without a doubt the greatest article entitled How to Take Better Portraits by Lisa Bettany that I’ve ever read!!!one

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