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Welcome to our second guide to taking better photos. In our first guide, we discussed some basics of composition to help you achieve more striking photos. This time, we are going to focus on how to improve portraits. Have you ever tried to take a picture of a friend or relative, only to see them turn away and say, "I'm not photogenic"? Perhaps one of the reasons people think of themselves this way is that they often see poor portraits of themselves. If only the photographer had the techniques to take better portraits, these people might have a different attitude towards themselves and their photos.

There are many simple things that you can do to improve the overall quality of your portrait shots. For example, one of the most common problems in portrait photography has to do with the way a subject is lit. While we are not going to get into ultra-technical indoor lighting techniques, we will show you some very simple ways to produce great portraits with good lighting, both indoors and outdoors using very few tools.


A portrait should reveal the character of your subject. Obviously, this is easiest to accomplish when your subject is comfortable in front of the camera. If they are not immediately comfortable, it may take some time for them to warm up and show their true character. You will most likely find that after taking a few pictures, they will begin to open up and start to feel more uninhibited. Since portrait photography is all about capturing that special moment where a subject's character really shows, be sure to take a lot of pictures. To do this, it is clearly beneficial to have a relatively fast digital camera and a good size memory card. Now, let's move on to some portrait basics.

The Basics
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  • thehorriblejoke - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    my name is horrible Reply
  • shuttleboi - Thursday, January 20, 2005 - link

    #17: try using a camera more advanced that a point-and-shoot and you will see. Yes, focal length *does* affect DoF. A longer focal length reduces DoF if the aperture and camera-to-subject distance do not change.

    http://www.dpreview.com/learn/?/Glossary/Optical/D...
    Reply
  • skunklet - Thursday, January 20, 2005 - link

    DOF is based only on f/stop and how close you are focusing. focal length does not effect it. Reply
  • apriest - Thursday, January 20, 2005 - link

    #12, 105-135mm is my favorite range for portraits, unless they are candid shots from a long distance. Reply
  • Live - Thursday, January 20, 2005 - link

    I especially liked the tip about post processing your shots in Photoshop. Since I’m an amateur I don’t really know how my pictures will turn out. So more tips on how “bad” photos can be made better would be most welcome. What’s the best way to get rid of redeye for example? I mean of course you should by an SLR and use a good flash. But if that’s not an option with your compact camera what can be done about it afterwards? Reply
  • CB1 - Thursday, January 20, 2005 - link

    #10 is indeed wrong about depth of field. Correct answer given in #12. Reply
  • headbox - Thursday, January 20, 2005 - link

    thanks for the great guide- too bad my daughter won't sit still.... Reply
  • shuttleboi - Thursday, January 20, 2005 - link

    #10, you are wrong, depth of field is controlled by three variables: (1) aperture; (2) focal length; and (3) distance between the camera and subject. Fixing any two of those and varying the third will change the DoF. Note that changing 2 and 3 also change the perspective.

    Speaking of perspective, one thing the author did not mention is that the ideal focal length for portraits is 85mm. Anything shorter results in bulbous faces (e.g. bigger noses and cheeks). FYI The absolute greatest portrait lens has to be the Canon 135mm f2 L (long focal length, wide max aperture, great glass).
    Reply
  • CB1 - Wednesday, January 19, 2005 - link

    The other, and I think more important reason to use your longest focal length on a zoom, or use a short telephoto, is perspective for facial features. If you take a headshot with a "normal" focal length lens, 45 to 50mm for a 35mm camera, noses become unnaturally big (front) or cheeks appear fat (side). A short telephoto puts the viewer at a distance we're used to in real life, a distance where the perpective is natural. Reply
  • ElFenix - Wednesday, January 19, 2005 - link

    i think this is the best article series on anandtech in a while. everyone has cameras these days with tons of functions, and no one knows how to use them.

    one minor thing though, depth-of-field is solely dependent upon the absolute size of the aperature. so a 200mm lens at f/3 has a smaller depth of field than a 100mm lens at f/2.

    woodaddy - use the self timer :)
    Reply

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