How to take portraits

Created date

July 14th, 2016
Portraits of children present a different challenge.

Portraits of children present a different challenge.

For a wide variety of reasons, we love taking pictures of people.  Most photos of people are candid, not posed. Posed photographs are more formal and classified as portraits. 

Here are some tips that should help you shoot first-rate portraits.

The face

The face is of primary importance in portraiture, and the subject’s eyes are the most important feature. Always show both eyes unless you are going for a dramatic effect.  Photograph at the subject’s eye level or from slightly above. If you have a zoom lens, use, at the least, a 50-85mm lens position. A wide-angle lens distorts the face, particularly the nose. If there are no markings on your lens, step back a bit and zoom in.


When photographing a group of people, the camera lens should see everyone’s complete face. You don’t want heads hidden from the camera’s view. I sometimes ask the group to be sure they see the lens with both eyes. If the group is involved in a hobby or sport, use the item associated with their activity. 


Portraits of children present a different challenge. What’s required is mostly patience, multiple exposures, and fast shutter speeds—1/100 of a second at a minimum. You might have more success shooting candid rather than formal photos. You’ll want to get down to their level, too. Children are most at ease when they play, so involve them with objects they enjoy—balloons, soap bubbles. A child with a dog is a natural photo opportunity. Always be the observer, not the director. 

How to pose

Single-person portraits can usually be improved with simple posing instructions. Suggest that your subject stand or sit with shoulders back, chest out. Another attractive pose is to drop the shoulder closest to the camera. Women should reveal their hands when crossing arms and be sure their fingers are closed. When the subject is standing, have her put one foot in front of the other with the weight on the back foot. It’s okay for a woman to tilt her head slightly to either side, but a man should keep his head straight.

Bonding with your subject

Last, your portrait photography will be better if you can develop a bond with your subject. A few informal questions about their interests might get them talking and relaxed. That may be the most important tip for you to achieve. You want that twinkle in the eye and a relaxed demeanor because expression is everything.