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Portrait Photography

by Philip Greenspun, June 1999 (updated January 2007)

A face devoid of love or grace,
A hateful, hard, successful face,
   A face with which a stone
Would feel as thoroughly at ease
As were they old acquaintances,--
   First time together thrown.
-- "A Portrait" by Emily Dickinson

Below are two photos by world-famous portrait photographer: Elsa Dorfman. Elsa has the same kind of studio, background, lights, and equipment as a lot of folks with more technical skill. Yet those folks aren't portrait photographers and Elsa is. What's the difference? Elsa cares about people. She is genuinely curious about people she has never met and can connect with them in just a few minutes. After a one-hour session, she knows more about her average subject's life than I do about my sister's.

Elsa uses a 20x24" Polaroid camera. Film costs about $50/exposure, so she limits herself to two exposures per subject. Yet her photo of me and Alex (below right) is one of the only pictures of myself that I like. Our advice to digital photographers is to fill the flash card with at least 50 images in hopes of yielding one that captures the essence of a subject's expression.

Elsa's artistic success implies that the most important thing about portrait photography is an interest in your subject. If you are so busy working that you can't care about strangers, don't take their photos! Or at rate, don't expect those photos to be good. Some of my better portraits were taken on a trip to Alaska and back because I had 3.5 months in which to be alone and learn to appreciate the value of a stranger's company and conversation.


If you don't have or can't create a photo studio, concentrate on environmental portraiture. Show the subject and also his surroundings. These tend to work best if you can enlarge the final image to at least 11x14 inches. In any smaller photo, the subject's face is simply too small. Taking photos that will enlarge well is a whole art by itself. Your allies in this endeavor will be a low ISO setting, prime (rather than zoom) lenses, a tripod, and at least a mid-range digital SLR.

There are two elements to a photo studio for portrait photography. One is a controlled background. You want to focus attention on your subject and avoid distracting elements in the frame. Probably the best portraits aren't taken against a gray seamless paper roll. On the other hand, you are unlikely to screw up and leave something distracting in the frame if you confine yourself to using seamless paper or other monochromatic backgrounds. You don't have to build a special room to have a controlled background. There are all kinds of clever portable backdrops and backdrop supports that you can buy or build. If you absolutely cannot control the background, the standard way to cheat is to use a long fast lens, e.g., 300/2.8. Fast telephoto lenses have very little depth of field. Your subject's eyes and nose will be sharp. Everything else that might have been distracting will be blurred into blobs of color.

Canon EOS-5, 70-200/2.8, 540EZ flash, Sto-Fen diffuser, Fuji ISO
400 color negative film

The second element of a portrait studio is controlled lighting. With lights on stands or hanging from the ceiling, you get to pick the angle at which light will strike your subject. With umbrellas and other diffusion equipment, you get to pick the harshness of the shadows on your subject (see out studio photography primer). There are some pretty reasonable portable flash kits consisting of a couple of lights, light stands, and umbrellas. These cost $500-1000 and take 20 minutes or so to set up on location. If you don't have the money, time, or muscles to bring a light package to a project, the standard way to cheat is to park your subject next to a large window and put a white reflecting card on the other side. Don't forget the tripod, because you'll probably be forced to use slow shutter speeds.

Stealing a Location

What if you don't have a big open space with diffuse light and a neutral background? Steal one. If you live in the United States, a vast open space with light pouring in from expensive skylights is as close as your nearest art museum or university. With a 200mm lens set to f/2.8, the background will be thrown out of focus. Here are some examples from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and a couple of lobbies at MIT, taken on a cold February day in Boston. Canon EOS-5D, 70-200/2.8 IS lens, handheld without flash.


The most flattering light for most portraits is soft and off-camera. A large north-facing window works, as does the electronic equivalent, the softbox (light bank). The Elsa Dorfman Polaroid photo at the top right was taken with two large light banks, one on either side of the camera. Note that there are essentially no shadows.

If your subject is outdoors, an overcast day is best. If the day is sunny, make sure to use a reflector or electronic flash to fill in shadows underneath the eyes.

At right: In a New York loft, light coming from a bank of windows at left. Canon 70-200/2.8 lens on tripod. Possibly some fill-flash. Fuji ISO 400 color negative film.

More: the Light chapter of Making Photographs.

What if you're in Mexico, the sun is strong, the longest lens that you have is a 50/1.4, and you meet someone who needs a portrait for her Web page? The results will not be happy (left). On the other hand, if you're photographing people for whom bright mountain sun is their natural environment, the portrait can be acceptable (right; Olympus E1, 14-54/3.5 zoom at f/7.1 and 37mm (74mm equiv.)).

Readers' Comments

Add a comment

Albert E. Anderson , March 22, 1998; 07:36 P.M.

I sometimes use a Yashica-Mat 124G with the normal 80mm lens. Properly used, it can give superb results. The challenge for portraits is that the lens perspective is too close. And you're on your own for filters if you want a warm or soft effect. So, get creative, back up and crop the big square negative later. And speaking of film, because of the higher cost, you'll be enticed to slow down and shoot more efficiently.

Scott Gant , June 28, 1998; 01:49 A.M.

Great article.

I have a couple of points though. You mentioned in the article about film selection: "If you're doing color, you'll want subtle tones, low color saturation, and low-ish contrast. My favorite films are Fuji Astia, Kodak 100SW".

Those choices of films kind of contradicts your statement though. Astia is considered by many to be almost "Velvia Light". Great color saturation but acurate skin tones. And of course, Kodak 100SW has high saturation too. That's what the "S" in SW means...the W means toward the warm tones.

Fuji NPS is a great one though for low contrast/ saturation...which is why it's such a great wedding film.

Philip Greenspun , June 28, 1998; 01:38 P.M.

Scott's right of course about the ISO 100 slide films being pretty saturated. Still, that's sort of all that you can get these days in slide film.

Bill Briggs , February 24, 1999; 03:41 P.M.

On the subject of using fast primes for portraiture, I'd like to offer a lens that is: Inexpensive,Sharp, and handy to use. That is the Nikon 100mm/2.8 E (AIS) lens that has been around for years. This lens is available (used) in the neighborhood of about $100 or so. Several lens raters have noted that this is a good lens for optical quality, but seem to downcheck it somewhat for mechanical quality because of the plastic build. That's not a problem for studio work though, and for the field -- just don't use it to pound nails. Any comments by others?

shiv s , February 26, 1999; 03:12 A.M.

As a professional photographer specialising on location fashion and potrait shoots, I can vouch for the countless times an 80-200 f2.8 has saved me from many a tight corner. Shiv Saran

Paul Koster , March 23, 1999; 01:50 P.M.

I can only agree with Shiv S. Though a 2.8/80-200 zoom is indeed huge and heavy, it gives the freedom of getting closer to and getting further away from your subject without moving from the spot you're standing. Apart from the thus gained advantage of speed when trying to catch spontanious moment in just the right frame, I find it a huge advantage that, e.g. when working with a inexperienced model, you don't have to run around the place to get a close up or a medium or three-quarter shot, and thus avoid unsettling the model with the unrest otherwise created.

Mark Tuccillo , March 29, 1999; 11:53 A.M.

I agree with Paul Koster. I recently purchased the Nikon 80-200 f2.8 D ( non S ), and it as sharp as my 135 f2. This is an amazing lens and it provides for great flexability. Although heavy, it's well worth it. Portraits have a great look. Give it a try, you will be amazed.

Tan Chung , April 08, 1999; 07:05 A.M.


Before I got my Canon, I was using a Nikkormat with a 50mm lens.

All my recent shots are done on a Canon EOS 28-105mm at the longer end. Tell me whether you can see the difference in quality. Except for the fact that the photos on my website are a little small, you can't really spot any difference.

I agree with Philip that I want my original shots to be sharp and if I want some parts to be blurred, etc, I can always touch them up in Photoshop later.

My point in showing you the comparison: it is not the lens/camera/film that counts but the eye.

George Struk , May 18, 1999; 09:08 P.M.

I do "environmental" portraits, where the subject is in their natural environment. After all, the point of a portrait is to reveal something about the subject. That's why I find most plain background studio shots sterile. It's always a struggle deciding how much of the background to include. Usually the old rule applies: less is more. The face usually says it all.

greg b. , May 30, 1999; 01:57 A.M.

Pretty informative user friendly site. You know, one of the things that has always both fascinated me and irritated me is what I call the "expensive camera mystique" or ECM. I swore that ONLY a Nikon 90s or Canon EOSn1 could take the great pictures. An impressive photo exhibit held by a woman armed with only a measly Canon AE-1 changed all that. The way I figure, some of my most favorite photos were shot on cameras many times inferior to the so called pro gear. I still however would like to own the 90s for its high ratings, lens availability and versatilty. It's a great camera to hold and prices on the model have dropped in recent years. I must add that portrait photography is my favorite category next to still life and I prefer b/w to color about 75% of the time. Nikon prime lenses are expensive but the only ones I want are the 20mm, 24mm, 85mm and 105mm macro. Hopeully I can find some used ones! Favorite shutterbugs: annie l. richard avedon linda mccartney (r.i.p.) mapplethorpe

Robert Mossack , October 20, 1999; 12:31 A.M.

For the longest time, my main portrait lens was a nikon 75-150 3.5 Series-E. This lens was very sharp, and great in the studio due to the constant maximum aperture. When I got my F4s, I decided to get an 85 1.8 af, and have sworn by this lens ever since. The wide aperture REALLY makes the subject pop! I like this lens so much, that I sold the 75-150!

Fajar Reksoprodjo , October 22, 1999; 06:38 A.M.

Hi Philip,

Just visited your portrait photo page. Thanks for the infos, really helpful. However, you seem to concentrate in using expensive equips. For a lowly cheap (and poor) student like me, it's kinda hard to get them. Personally, I found out that using Canon 50mm/1.8 Mk. II is enough for my need. As I like to get up close and personal to my subjects. For candid portrait (capturing expression), it seems to me that people notice you less when you're close to them. They thought you were focusing on something else. I'm just an amateur, however, so my opinion might not be correct. Thanks again for the website, really helpful.

Regards, fajar

joon um , October 24, 1999; 01:14 A.M.

Here is what I did for buying portrait lens. First I bought cheap so called universal zoom lens. I think those lens really give some idea of charateristic focal length and give a chance novice like me to explore the different focal length. Eventhough quality of those lens was not great, To me It was acceptable. and later I can use as a preview lens for medium format camera that doesn't have camera meter. After analyze the picture I took, I can break down portrait into couple of the situation.

1)Standard portrait: 2)Telephoto portrait:candid, natural unposed, long enough to be subjects aren't aware of them being photographed 3)Environmental portrait:The subject and surroundings are equally important 4)Detailed Body part:Macro works on portrait 5)Exaggerated body portion portrait:So called wide angle close up portrait, for thsoe fun special effect, Using a distortion a minimizing hadicaped body portion for example making short leg looks longer. 6)Group portrait:Family photo, wedding photo something like that kind of gathering. Then think each case what kind of the lens will be useful. For the case 1), Something like 85mm/1.8 or 100mm/2 will be useful. For2), 300mm focal length is minimum. For3), lens like 24mm 28mm 35mm will be ideal For4), Dedicated macro lens, or medium telephoto lens with extension tube For5), 24mm or at least 28mm will be ideal. this one should be single focal prime For6),35mm or 50mm will be ideal.

next set the budjet.and study the which brand is ideal for me

My choice for portrait lens was -->

24mm/2.8 Eos USM(35mm format) 34mm/2.8 Sekkor manual(medium format)(this is 35mm equivalent focal length) 50mm/1.4EOS USM(35mm format) 93mm/3.5 Sekkor manual(medium format)(this is 35mm equivalent focal length) 135/2 EOS USM(35mm format)+Et-25 300/4IS EOS USM(35mm format)+1.4X

I think this is minimum for the portrait. My point is this is almost every kind of the lens. I can shoot with this lens almost any kind of situation not just portrait nature, concert, indoor or outdoor event,sport, action etc.

Paula Swaim , April 27, 2000; 08:51 P.M.

I think it's a good idea to use a medium format camera for people pictures. I use a Pentax 645 with a 150 lens often. I do 100% black and white because I do it myself. I like having proof sheets that are viewable and 15 shots is economical but still greatly superior to 35 mm for portraits. I have a square "clunker" camera which is a Bronica S2A and a 75 mm Nikkor-Q lens, both 30 years old. That's nice for group shots or full-body shots. Like I said, the quality is superior to 35 mm and the proof sheets are easy to view. I like to use a medium-speed film like Plus-X or my all-time favorite is Agfa APX 100 which is sharper and gives a lovelier image than Plus-X, and it's generally cheaper.

Another thing about people shots, I like to do the old-fashioned type of portrait that is mainly window light. One-hundred years ago, portraits were made with a soft north light from a window and I love that look in black and white. I generally make my pictures sharp too, or I'll use a very minor diffusion filter that barely alters the image.

Paula Swaim , April 27, 2000; 08:59 P.M.

Colin Hastings

Actually, I started doing portraits with Tri-X and a Nikon FM2N and a Vivitar Series-1 28-105 lens. This portrait is an example. It's good quality, but it would be better in 645 format. The proof sheets were hard to view. This image is on Ilford MG RC warmtone paper, toned in selenium 1:8 for a chocolate look. The subject loved it.

Marcelo Salup , December 22, 2000; 08:29 A.M.

There seems to be too much concentration on equipment and too little on the core subject which is people. I have noticed that the older I get, the less likely I am to approach people and take portraits in the street. I used to enjoy it so much, but now don't do it as much. How do most street photographers do it? Do you just click away? Do you try to engage the person in some conversation? Any pointers? Thanks.

Mark McCombs , January 09, 2001; 05:43 P.M.

Good article, but a lot of the comments confirm the belief that most photographers are just equipment buffs. When I used to shoot professionally, I was appalled that when you get a group of photographers together in a room, invariably they are talking about equipment, not how to get the shot, marketing, composition, rapport, etc. Can someone please tell me what difference it makes whether an Nikon FM, FE, F2, or F5 are used to make an image? A camera body should be viewed as something to hold the film and lens and be good at that. I love it when I see great images being made on what some would call "inferior" equipment.

steve wall , January 28, 2001; 02:26 P.M.

i liked the portrait article. but i also understand the other comments. it seems to me that about 80% of creative portraits is the photographer. Knowing how to use your equipment and its limits. I've seen some great portraits with equipment most people would have given to the kids. When in doubt shoot the picture. then analyze the results and learn from them. when you reach the limits of your equipment then move up.

Ans Beaulieu , March 13, 2001; 08:45 P.M.

I have two lenses that I prefer to use for portrait: my Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 and my Sigma AF 70-200 f/2.8 HSM APO. Both of these lense are fast and allow shallow dept of field.

I love the 50mm for getting "up close and personnal" with my subjects, where I can have that special interaction wich make for great candid portrait. It will ofthen gives a very intimate look to your portrait that is difficult to get with telephoto lenses. It is also quite fun to play around and improvise the shots with such a small tool (I use a Rebell 2000). Better yet, the 50mm cost 1/10 of the 70-200!!!.

I usually use the 70-200mm with kids or when getting too close would intimidate the subject. It is also great for environmental portrait for its ability to compress perspective at the same time.

For some examples take a look at:



John Kahmann , May 26, 2001; 03:23 P.M.

I shoot with a Nikon N90 and a Yashica D. The Nikon is more for the action/fast moving pictures, and the Yashica is for my portraits and still lifes. I would like to scrap them both and purchase a Mamiya but the price is a little to high. I will say that despite the ugly appearance and technical limitations(by today's standards), my Yashica is a workhorse and for quality the 6X6 destroys 35mm. I shoot portraits of friends and coworkers using Ektachrome 100S and have never been happier. You'll never see them on the cover of Cosmo and Cindy Crawford isn't beatng down my door to have her picture taken, but I still get excited every time I see a roll of my pictures. At the end of the day I'm happy(for the most part) with the pictures I took, enjoyed the time working with the models, and look forward to critiquing(?) my own work. To me that's what the art of photography is about. However I wouldn't mind being in the business of photography either!

Bruce MacNeil , June 01, 2001; 12:17 P.M.

The 8x10 camera is one of the most luxurious portrait tools available. I use this format for portraits taken in my home. If you can afford it - by all means...... Nothing beats the flattering presence of camera offered by an 8x10. Except maybe the 20x24 Polaroid.

margaret martin , June 02, 2001; 05:24 P.M.

Very good artical.Do agree that you bring up alot of highly priced equipment not everyone can afford.i've found that all of my pentax cameras are comfortably priced and do a wonderful job no matter what i'm shooting.On the comment made about street photography,its all about human contact.talk to people,make them feel comfortable with you and the sometimes scary to some people piece of equipment your carrying.I have been in the lower side of east philly and got wonderful shots of the people who live there and had great conversation too.Its a nice way to spend your sunday afternoon and it reacquaints you with you "people skills".

William Cordray , June 22, 2001; 01:39 A.M.

For portraits, technically, I have to say for the majority of the time I use my Nikon bodies (F100 and FM2n) and an 80-200mm 2.8 nikkor zoom and the cheap 50mm 1.8 made in china nikkor that costs around $100. Occasionally I might shoot with a 24mm 2.8 nikkor that is quite sharp and gives me distortions that for some reason I find pleasing and humorous. All three lenses give me what I want in doing portraits for people either posed or candid. I have a 105mm 2.8 micro nikkor lens but I never use it. People always stressed how this is a great portrait lens but I've found it to be a little limiting due to its picky focusing and awkward focal length for me personally. I much like the results with my 50mm or my 80-200mm lenses. Anyone want to take this macro lens off my hands for a price??

When I shoot portraits I always try to have conversations with my subjects about things like what they like, what I like, the news, weather, etc. I don't shoot and say "oh thats great," or "beautiful", I'd rather ask them "so where are we going for lunch?" or "did you see that guy on the news that attacked his dog?" I want let my subject relax and just be themselves. Thats why I like shooting people who are actors or just have a knack for it. But of course it isn't as easy as that. I think the main thing is, is just getting people to become comfortable even if it takes a few tries to get it right. But one thing I always like to do when I meet a subject for the first time, leave the camera at home.

Emmanouil Skoufos , June 29, 2001; 05:30 P.M.

Zeiss Sonnar 180 f2.8, shot

I do a lot of "available light" environmental portrairture work, both indoors and outdoors using highly saturated (albeit "slow" 50 -100 ASA) films. My absolutely favorite lens is the Zeiss Sonnar 180 f2.8 multicoated lens (adapted to fit my trusty manual Minolta system) that allows me to take both indoor and outdoor shots when the subjects are comforable in a natural form and setting. Also with the big glass wide open, it allows me to take pictures in fairly ugly backgrounds without disturbing the composition Here is an example (also see the picture submitted). I dislike the tension of "posed" portraits, especially with younger people and children. When the subject is willing to go through some film and spend some time, I usually use the Minolta Rokkor 85/f2.8 Varisoft lens, probably one of the best lenses made that would allow you to create photoshop-like (but much more natural) effects on your slide or negative.

Wee Keng_Hor , June 30, 2001; 10:04 A.M.

Yashica T5, Kodak 400CN

"The worst possible camera is a zoom point and shoot."
I've to disagree with this statement. P&S camera can take good portrait too! The T5 has a f3.5 aperture. If u are close enough and light level is low, you too can have a nice background blur.

William Baguhn , July 09, 2001; 01:50 P.M.

To address Wee Keng Hor's comment:

The Yashica T5 is not a zoom point and shoot. Heck, I have an XA, and I love it. Not all point and shoots are bad, just the zoom point and shoots where the F-stop at the long end falls below about f5.6. Even those are GOOD cameras, they just aren't ideally suited to portraiture.

George D. Gianni , August 11, 2001; 11:02 A.M.

A portrait is a broadly defined term. Though my favourite head and shoulders portraits were and are taken with an old 1.4/85mm lens, a skilled photographer does definitely not need one to take good portraits. I do use 35 and 50mm primes for people and my 28-70mm zoom is also used frequently, while my 135mm prime sits on the shelf.
"Portrait" may even be considered the subject which requires the least specialised equipment in photography.

R Murray , September 22, 2001; 08:40 P.M.

Ah, the vexed issue of street photography (see above). I'm generally pretty shy and have a hard time approaching interesting subjects. I have the best success when I wear a big grin and a have a neat appearance (this depends, if you're in, say the East Village of Manhattan, you can dress arty and you'll probably have better luck). Always, always ask before snapping away, unless you see a decisive moment, in which case have a chat with your subject afterwards. Be sensitive, too: during the recent nightmare here in NYC, I saw thousands of shutterbugs shooting away with what seemed to be little regard for the people around them. Personally, I feel this is intrusive and slightly unethical. But then, it's up to you to decide whether the art you create in these situations will transcend the exploitative quality inherent in photographing people at the limits of despair. On a happier note, many of the photos I've seen of the rescuers and survivors of the terrorist attack have been exceedingly moving. I salute everyone for their bravery.

Elaine Roberts , October 15, 2001; 10:20 A.M.

Regarding p&s zooms - I have a Samsung Maxima Zoom (38-145), and although it has gotten some great shots for me, I must say that in general - for portraits as well as general photog - the f/11 maximum aperature at 145 can be EXTREMELY frustrating. It'll take great pics on a bright sunny day, but even on overcast days it'll sometimes "get ya". I'm poor, and a beginner, so I just have a Rebel 2000 w/the kit 28-80, (f/3.5-5.6), and even this is far better for portraiture than the p&s. It would be very cool to have a f/2.8 lens for portraits but frankly I just can't afford them. So that basically just means I have to control my background more. A bit more of a hassle, but it works.

2 of my favorite portraits taken w/the cheapo 28-80:

<http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=298364> <http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=251884>

Patryk Soika , November 14, 2001; 01:52 P.M.

I'm not certain that a fast lens is required for portraits. Particularly not if we are shooting for a crisp image and softening it in Photoshop. It is just another step to blur the background, not too much trouble.

Tony Samples , November 23, 2001; 01:52 A.M.

One comment I think others may find useful: If you're taking a portrait of a difficult subject, like a child who doesn't want to hold still or anyone who isn't comfortable in front of the camera, I've found that handing my camera over and letting them burn a couple of frames on me or anything else they'd like to photograph has fixed this problem 100% of the time. My son used to run from me when I said I wanted to take his picture. I had my tripod and the subject stool all set up and suggested he snap a couple of pictures of his stuffed animals with it. After he did that, I got a whole roll of portraits that he would never have allowed me to take of him before.

keki unwalla , March 01, 2002; 03:55 A.M.

You ask for a different perspective. This one may sound self indulgent but its factual. I know nothing about techtalk or f stops or even how to read light meter. But I take beautiful portraits so much so that I am asked by friends to take a couple of master frameable ones at weddings even when pros are there for the general photoshoots. I am an interior designer. Having taken some pics of my own work clients have asked me to do photo work for them. Portraits. I look through the lens moving it and the subject till I find that expression which in 2D is the same as I would see it in 3D. When I get the subject in his most natural element, specially laughing, which essentially means the showing of teeth, that makes a good pic. This is because frozen laughter is better than a frozen smile which starts out frozen and unnatural.Teeth are natural elements that add ivory or white color to a colored photos thus showing a kind of hot spot with the eyes. I use little background as I crop close. Always black. I shoot fast in a series with a Nikon F5 and Tamron zoom 28 to 210 on full auto. I pick the best out of postcard prints, design the cropping with a white bracket as I give the large 10 by 12s a thick 1" border of the white photopaper. I am lucky enough to be friends with the owner of the city's best studio where I frame the image on the enlarging plate. THIS PART IS VERY IMPORTANT. I could never tell the actual correct scale of the faces on paper until I saw this on the paper. I Ok this then the technician does his job. Sometimes a tilt to the face breathes unbelievable life to the portrait. But really, go for the laughter. It comes alive. Also I would never take a pic without studying the subject as others ordinarily see him. Ordinarily, with his gestures or expressions or tilt or agression and t shirt or tux . Ordinarily. Now I have just bought an F5 and must learn the sophisticated language of cameras. All my pics are easy daylight but with a handheld background. Amateurish. But they like the protype results.

Gerry Siegel (Honolulu) , March 17, 2002; 12:53 A.M.

Portraits are a subject where one can get away with pretty little in the way of equipment. Autofocus is a convenience but not a necessity. Lighting outdoors is as nice as lighting indoors, if you try for the same combination of lighting effect on the subject(the ratio business and the big light source business meaning naturally soft without soft focus lenses courtesy old "Sol". Late in the day or early in the morning I like. Even after sunset. I started this comment because I keep on thinking about the eyes,seen by some as the center of the soul thing and the place to focus critically. Because I dont want the eyes to be deadish looking I try to use a small flash to put a sparkle in them. Its formulaic true, but the formula is one that most subjects come to expect. Some people have really dark eyes that need it more than others. But the psychology of getting someone to relax is tough. You might need to waste some film doing that. Anybody that can do it with one or two frames, (as in big Polaroids)whoah my deepest admiration. Thats a portrait photographer. I like to use an 85mm which is not as sharp as the the sharpest lenses out there. Wide open it gives some softness to the edges and an out of focus background. Environmental work is the kind that is the supreme example of the art. These are the portraits that never get forgotten. Show some of the subjects life, and they relax more. And love the result more. A pretty face is a pretty face, but a person in their home or on their tractor. That is ageless.

Tom Morris , May 14, 2002; 08:14 A.M.

As always, an item on photo.net talking too much about cameras, lenses and films, and not enough about photography.

I don't care whether you used an SLR, TLR, P&S, rangefinder, 35mm, 6x6 or even flippin' APS. I care what pictures you take.

You don't meet up with other writers and talk about typewriters and pens. You don't meet up with other artists and talk about paintbrushes. So why do photographers always seem to spend hours talking about flipping cameras!

Kalpesh Sheth , June 13, 2002; 02:16 P.M.

Check out this Portrait of my 5 months old son

Malcolm Kantzler , July 14, 2002; 01:27 A.M.

Alex Lee's picture of Camille (two above at this writing) is a perfect example of the need for short-telephoto portrait lenses. If I were shooting her in a tightly cropped frame as he did, I would have used a 135mm, because beautiful as she is, I'll bet she goes on and on about her ski-jump nose. That's what a girl friend of mine called hers, but I loved it, too. Mr. Lee's objectivity has been clouded by his appreciation of her beauty, and the use of a short-tele would have made her nose less prominent, instead of exaggerating it, even beyond how she appears to the corporeal eye-brain connection that cancels out the phenomenon of optical physics, perspective.

If Mr. Lee's intent was to lend emphasis to the subject's nose because he likes it, then his choice of a 50mm lens in a tight shot is appropriate. A subject with a broad, flat nose would be better served by use of a 50mm, the closer perspective narrowing the nose and bringing it out. The perspective shaping power of lenses is the first and most effective tool a photographer has to emphasize or de-emphasize a subject's features, for good or bad, or different.

And to Gerry Siegel, I envy you your 20/20 vision, but when it begins to fail you so that you can't clearly see the image in the viewfinder as quickly as you used to, you'll think that AF is a Godsend and realize that it IS a necessity, because without it you'll lose shots. In portraiture or candid people photography, time taken to frame and focus, if more than an instant, is the killer of the first, honest expression, the natural smile and the subject's patience. After you've learned to see your AF's focus-lock indicators (depending on mode and lens) as quickly as you see a flash-ready light come on, then you can trust the camera and go with the shot you know you want, even if your eyes haven't caught up with the camera's yet.

Paul Andre , July 22, 2002; 02:54 A.M.

A 50mm lens is good lens to have especially with the new dSLRs. A 50mm becomes about an 80mm on my d60. Here's a portrait experimenting with colored gels:

Jeff Bishop , December 08, 2002; 12:14 P.M.

Chestnut Hill Street Fair Mime

I am in agreement with Alex Lee. Too many people view photos and one of the first things they check is the photo equipment. Professional equipment does not make for a professional photographer. Whatever equipment a pro is using, instead, becomes pro equipment. Any decent camera and lens will give great results, when used properly.

Stephen Lutz , January 20, 2003; 08:18 P.M.

The father of a friend of mine, standing in his kitchen

The D-30/D-60 class of digital SLRs can certainly take fine portraits. I have been using my D-30 for that purpose for some time, and even an off the cuff "snapshot" can turn out quite well with this camera, an 85 1.8 lens and a bounced 550EX flash. Here's an example of one I shot around Christmas. ISO 100.

Jon Revere , January 24, 2003; 07:34 P.M.

As a new member of photo.net, it has been a real pleasure reading this article and the responses from so many members. Having been involved with photography since 1970, I would like to put in my two cents. My first camera was a Canon Ftb and I took some of my most flattering, sharp, and valued portraits with that camera and the 55mm lens that came with it. Today, I own my second camera, an Elan bought in 1992, before they started numbering them. I purchased it because of my failing eyesight; I could no longer see well enough to focus manually. I still take flattering portraits but with all the focusing assist of the Elan, I feel like I've lost some control of my portraits. Even still, I love my Elan because it allows me to still be involved in photography. So I've owned two cameras in 32 years. I've heard people argue about equipment for decades, and now that digital is on the scene, I'm listening to the digital/chemical debate. It all comes down to one thing though. Its the way we see. It doesn't matter whether its using a point-and-shoot or a Hasselblad, an S-100 or a D-1, its the final result that matters and in the case of portraits for pay, its what the client sees that matters too. When I listen to others talk about equipment, I really hear them talk about how they love to see, what a beautiful world they see through their own eyes, how their equipment helps them see, and how they want to share what they see with others.

Mark Whitaker , January 31, 2003; 05:48 P.M.

I found the Portait article to be very informative, the only comment is that I personally like zooms they allow me a student on a budget to get the photos I want without having to dish out for extra lenses, I currently use a Minolta x-700 for studio work, and a canon eos 1n with a 70-200mm 2.8 sigma for outdoor,location work. I am not a portrait photographer, I shoot rock bands but have been hired to photograph bands for promotional work and I like the lens I have just fine. I think tele zooms do have a place, the optics are really good, and the allow more creative freedom. -Mark

Bruce Thee , February 12, 2003; 10:10 P.M.

The portrait page is good, but I agree with a couple of the comments that there is too much talk about equipment. I have a Blad with the 180mm, and the M6 with the 90mm, and the F5 with the 80-200 2.8. What I've discovered is that all that is not nearly as important as the lighting and the connection with the subject. You should expand you those areas, as those seem to be where a photog can distinguish him or her self.

Anamitra Chakladar , February 24, 2003; 11:58 A.M.

Hi, I am a Photo-journalist based in India and occasionally dabble in location fashion shoots...a Nikon 80-200/2.8ED is great, but, this new 135/2 DC and a simple 50/1.4 can do wonders. Have you ever tried a portrait with a normal lens ? I am also dying to see Nikon's 70-200/2.8 VR...guys feedback please !

ben michalski , September 20, 2003; 01:39 A.M.

I guess "pro" photographers really have some egotistical need to fill when they talk about all their equipment and techniques you know the Rollies and the Hassies and the Nikon F's LONG FAST AND MOST OF ALL Absurdly Expensive, I mean you can buy a car for the price of an outfit.But I hate to bust your bubble folks most of the above lesson is nonsense. ANYBODY can take a great Portrait with something as cheap as a $269.00 Nikon N65 with a stock short zoom lens,some Kodak Portra asa 160 or 400 NC or VC film set on apiture priority or (A) and an $79.00 flash attachment. Give the subject some natural light morning or evening is best a nice background and VIOLA!!!! Unless you want to be able to shoot the bull in psudo-intellictual photog circles its all a bunch of HOOIE!! I'll put any of my pics up against the best of the best and let the masses be the judge.Not some bafoon who likes to hear him or herself talk. This page reminds me of a Jackson Pollak review of fine art.

Vic Chui , September 27, 2003; 11:17 A.M.

Reading this article, I wonder if it is meant for amateurs or pro. For amateur, the equipment must be pretty humble, by your standards. It would be good to encourage amateurs to take pictures with simple and humble equipment. Otherwise, some beginners might go away with the impression that we need expensive equipment to take great pix, including portraits. I have taken quite a few rolls of portraits, both in a studio environment and outdoors, using an F80 and a Tamron 28-200XR and a 50D F1.8. They are sharp enough for me, at 8x12 enlargement. Upon scanning the negatives, viewing them on the screen at full size, I am pretty satisfied with it. I find that I am naturally shooting at around 100-110 of the zoom. I would like to get a SIMPLE 105 prime lens for this purpose, but what is available are those with macro or soft-focus. These are not so suitable and expensive. We should all concentrate more on composition, lighting, colour, contrast, film, rapport with the subject.... and less on the equipment, as someone has said that most modern equipment are better than most photographers.

Image Attachment: 00330002.JPG

Keiran Earl , October 31, 2003; 08:50 A.M.

I appreciate that someone wrote this article, but like a lot of people, i find it too much focusing on the 'what' of equipment rather than the 'how-to' use equipment... if i want to read about 'what' equipment, i will read in the equipment sections... However, the 2 best peices of advice I have had about photographs came from the lens section of this learning forum on Photo.net, and a photographer friend who said that pictures taken from above are thinning to the face... both of these might be said to be obvious, but that is why i'm reading a learning section right? I do plenty of experimenting with my camera, so finding my own perspective is a task i reserve for myself, but what about tips on the basics, like placing of external flashes, and camera angles... these are things that are useful for the sort of people reading a learning section... Some of my best pictures that i am saving were taken before i learned how to do anything other than put camera in auto and click... and they can certainly could have been better (and i choose not to post-shoot-alter my pictures with what i feel to be artistic merit, so i have to do my learning)...

another comment is on the oddity of one person who commented that artists don't get together and discuss brushes, they just paint, but wouldn't it make sense that a person with an artistic eye who lacks the how-to knowledge ends up putting together a mediocre result? I have taken many pictures that are great scenes, but lame 2D reproductions of that moment... the art is in the heart, but the expression of it is in the method... for an example, look at the comment by keki unwalla... an excellent example of someone who has a great eye, but admittedly knows little about the working of the equipment... now, when more powerful equipment must be used, keki has to start to learn how to use the equipment a little more to correct for the failing of the physical eye... in the end, it is true that the eye makes the picture, but there is still a place for the technical discussion... if you don't believe that, try painting a ceiling mural with a stick and mud... at some point, you have to move forward... and when you do, you will need to learn how to do that in an informed and educated way.

Orlin Stoilov , February 04, 2004; 08:31 A.M.

definetly visible blurring with big zoom lenses 420mm/2.8

A Monty , March 07, 2004; 07:03 A.M.

I photograph children predominantly and find a prime 50mm 1.7 lens a godsend. Some children are quite intimidated by the long lens - even when you sit back and I have snapped some of my best shots with the tiny 50mm wide open - usually in the kids own home. The small size of the prime seems less intimidating and wide open with no flash - they often don't even realise you are taking their picture.

Pradeep Raghunathan , May 08, 2004; 02:11 P.M.

Look into my eyes...

This is a lovely article, its nice to keep coming back and seeing newer posts. As there was a mention of photographing children, i am not sure if kids are very intimidated by the cameras, yes they do get attracted to it and inquisitive about it, but all it needs a colorful distraction and they forget you or the camera exist. I find kids to be the best subjects to shoot, and i think i would love to do more of child photography, done a few so far with a Canon G2 and the results are good, atleast for me :). But i do agree, i would love to shoot with a SLR and a 50mm 1.8 lens to get more candid shots. cheers! and happy shooting! Just a note, the picutre attached looks better when viewed big to see the reflections in her eyes,

keki unwalla , June 25, 2004; 02:35 P.M.

I would like to post a couple of portraits here. I am not a member. Can someone show me the simple way of doing this? I have the photos on computer.Thanks,

Miguel Torres , July 04, 2004; 03:11 A.M.

Since I started with photography I rather the art photos than portraits, but when I got home and showed my work to my friends and family, the said "how come you dont take a pictures of us" I said why not!!!, what I've find out is work with a NON DISTRACTIVE Background, set your camera at the highest apperture (small f/number) to blur the background, also try green on the background, works really great. Here is an example of my friend and his girlfriend portrait.

PS: I am new in this, please comment.


Miguel Torres

Michael Hansen , July 05, 2004; 05:30 P.M.

I agree with the other postings that there is too much discussion about camera bodies and lenses. Most any 35mm SLR will generate the same portrait results, with only marginal differences in metering performance. The author DOES provide a service by touching on the use of alternate lighting sources and backgrounds. I suggest that inexperienced photographers look at their shots with an eye towards what they don't like. Is the perspective wrong? Was the lighting or exposure unflattering? Does the background interfere too much? Is the focus good? Was the subjects expression and body position appealing? The things that bug you most are the things you need to resolve...Example...My biggest problem used to be (and often still is)uneven/harsh/contrasty lighting when outdoors. The fix for this was not to buy a Canon 1Ds. I picked up a compact 5-in-1 reflector and a flash unit. Bang...problem improved and learning has taken place. Take this approach and pick off YOUR issues and you'll be taking better portraits.

Image Attachment: Sammy.jpg

Shawn Sauerwine , October 18, 2004; 01:16 P.M.

First Smile- EOS Elan in P&Shoot mode

I'd like to offer a balance here. What seems so obvious to me is the level of comfort of the portrait photographer- doing what feels most natural to them. Among all the diverse tastes and techniques of us as photographers- there are inevitably going to be techno-driven, budget-driven, and prestige-driven photographers. Each of the best are complimented with a good eye and a level of comfort in what they do. If the fact that you have the sharpest glass, most perfect combination zoom, or incredibly high-priced equipment makes you confident- perhaps this shows in your work! If, like me, you lack the budget (and fear damaging,) expensive equipment- using lower-priced equipment may be a necessity. You may be more likely to take your "crappy" equipment somewhere that another shooter, safeguarding a prized Hassy, will not. This will give you an edge in some circumstances.

I've moved from camera and system to system, as life's budget required it, and I can say unequivocally, that I have the same tendency to fail or exceed that I have always had. Few things have changed, except where I?ve used the knowledge of my shortcomings in constant trial-and-error. In no particular order, I?ve shot with high-end Canon, entry-level Minolta, Olympus XA, 4x5, twin-lens, and now digital.

I find my latest woes being that of learning the capacity in shooting, editing, and printing in digital. This, for the first time ever, has been a technical dilemma for me. At all other times, it has been an issue of what is comfortable for me to use. I can totally understand the need and want for expensive equipment- I understand that you can get to a level where this is the only thing holding you back from -consistently- getting the images you really want. I think technocrats and elitist-types both understand that a community college student with a ?crappy system? has every potential in the world to create an image that ?beats? that of the pro with the high-end equipment.

Be comfortable in what you choose- and learn to use the tools you can afford. If you?re fidgeting around with a system?s features at the moment which is supposed to be immortalized in film- you?ve completely defeated your own purpose. Don?t let that moment slip away?forever.

Thanks everyone for creating this article, keeping this net going with such great opinion and experience! -Shawn

ps- Sorry about the question marks. I have no idea why they appear, but can't change them, either.

DEBBIE MORTON , November 13, 2004; 09:17 A.M.

When I finally took the plunge and went digital the salesman who sold the camera to me summed it up best. He said people come in the store and ask "Does this camera take good pictures?" He wants to tell them "That depends on who is standing behind it." I don't know a lot about the technical parts of photography, being self taught there is a lot of it that I just don't get. I find for portraits a long lens gets the best results. It is intimidating to the subject to be right in their face.

JuanCarlos Torres , December 04, 2004; 08:10 A.M.

It is nice to come back after a couple of years and see people still excited about this article.


Arlin Geyer , December 09, 2004; 06:38 A.M.

I love Debbie Morton's comment about good pictures. It's not the camera that makes a good picture, but the photographer. And, as Philip commented in the article, the photographers who most consistently make good portraits are people who are genuinely interested in their subjects.

Whatever equipment you have, learn how to use it. Learn it so well that you don't have to think about it. Every camera and lens has its strengths and limitations. Utilize the strengths of your equipment.

My father was a very challenging photographic subject. He put on his "camera face" whenever a camera was aimed at him. I finally made a good portrait of him with a $2.50 plastic camera, because he didn't take it seriously.

I am sympathetic to Rich Jacobs' plight. (The first comment in this thread.) Indeed, there are many fine twin-lens reflex cameras in the used market. I began photographing with a 1940s-vintage Kodak Twin Lens Reflex that had been my mother's. It was a fine camera, albeit with its unique set of limitations.

One challenge I've had making portraits with a twin-lens reflex has to do with the fact that you look down onto a ground-glass viewer rather than through an eye-level viewfinder. I've found that often my subject is looking at me rather than at the camera, so that in the photograph he is looking above the viewer. Generally this is not a good thing. (Recently I've used a digital camera with a tilting LCD display. Working with children I often hold the camera down at the child's eye level and look down at the tilted display. This produces the same challenge as the twin-lens reflex.)

Regarding the disadvantage of a point-and-shoot camera of always having much depth of field, the same is true of many digital cameras, particularly those without removable lenses. Most digital cameras on the market have very small sensors and therefore very short focal-length lenses. Short focal-length lenses produce great depth of field, even at a relatively wide aperture. With such cameras, to get the least depth of field (for a blurred background), zoom all the way out and use a wide-open aperture (small f/stop number).

There are as many ways to make portraits as there are people making them. Be creative!

Heather Thivierge , December 18, 2004; 10:38 P.M.

I own a Canon EOS 50mm/1.8, and a Sigma 70-200mm/2.8. The first lense I bought new for ~$75.00. The Sigma I bought used for ~$400.00.

I've taken fantastic portraits with both.

Emily Rose Bennett , January 03, 2005; 12:36 A.M.

That picture of your gandfather with the dog...I don't like it. I personally think it is an example of a horrible portrait. Not that I can say much, i've only been shooting for a year, but i am practicing, and I would never use that photo as an example for anything. This is just my personal opinion on the content and execution of the photograph...not on you as a photographer.

Patrick MacDonald , January 06, 2005; 10:52 A.M.

In his wonderful book "Once" photographer/author Wim Wenders provides a brillient and gritty perspective on capturing images. Of importance to this thread on portrait photography, Wenders notes, "Taking pictures is always an act of presumption and rebellion."

I have observed through the years that the formula for a good portrait requires that the "permission" of the subject be in equal or greater measure to the "presumption" of the photographer. So too, the photographer's rebellios drive to capture an image must be accompanied, again, in equal or greater measure, with respect for the soul within the subject.

A good portrait, of course, will exhibit good light and composition, but if it is to capture the imagination of anyone not related to the subject, it will exhibit passion and respect.

Image Attachment: So warm PN.jpg

Oleg Volk , February 09, 2005; 10:43 P.M.

A good portrait can tell a lot about the subject, not just show the forms. For that, it helps if the subject is comfortable with the photographer.

Having some attribute of the subject can help establish the person's character also.

Maria Bostenaru , March 26, 2005; 12:12 P.M.

Grandmother and granddaughter playing cards

I think nothing equals spontanous photos of people, when these are not aware of being photographed. Here is my favourite (me on the right, long ago), photo by my father.

Magdalena B. , April 08, 2005; 05:05 P.M.

Portrait in red

I was surprised to read about the recommandation to take pictures of people in black and white.

And there is an aspect not mentioned at all in the article regarding the so-called environmental photography: the accordance between the colours of the background and those concerning the clothes, hair, eyes of the subject.

I try to illustrate this with a photo of my daughter (thanks to her for the translation, I speak no english) in the Japanese Garden in Monaco, taken in April 2003.

marília campos , September 15, 2005; 03:44 P.M.

well, I'm new here and when I came across into this section I was captivated because I think it's the first time I see tutorials of specific categories of photography and with room for people to comment so freely about it.

I do most portrait or body photos and when I started photography this was something I was very afraid doing. So just after 2 years of doing every kind of photography I've tried seriously the portrait.

then I've realized something: to do a portrait is about love. loving humanity in each face, in each person.

well, I love people so, I love taking portraits and to show how that person touch me and I try to make others be touched by the same feelings I am:)

and the camera or the film or the lens, they are not so important as they seem to be:)

Hayley Tritel , March 08, 2006; 05:44 P.M.

Great article, very helpful for an ammateur like myself. I love taking photos of people and nature. Here's a candid shot of my nephew.

Hayley Tritel , March 08, 2006; 05:52 P.M.

Sorry the previous photo is so large, but I'm not sure how to resize it.

Stefan Lubomirski de Vaux , April 06, 2006; 11:58 A.M.

A very useful and enjoyable post with many good comments added by readers. All good portraits in my opinion need a quality of light that makes them stand out from the page or screen. Often they reveal as much about the photographer as about the subject. I now oscillate between "lit" portraits, with flash, reflectors etc. with everything under my control and ones taken more spontaeously using available light, as per the example shown below, which was taken during a pilgrimage to Lourdes several years ago of one of the helpers. There is no "right" way to take a portrait as right is different for every viewer, but some people still manage to please a lot of people nearly every time and thats what makes photography so much fun.

Maxim Rapoport , October 27, 2006; 11:42 A.M.

AGFA 160

AGFA PORTRAIT 160 is nowhere mentioned here in the comments and the article. I find it the most suited 35mm film for portaits that I have ever used. Below are a few samples:

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Rachel Derrick , November 21, 2006; 01:08 A.M.

Re-invent your portrait photos

Have been clicking through some of your work - there are some beautiful images. I loved the work by P r a d e e p R a g h u n a t h a n.

I'd like to add an alternative perspective on photo portraiture... striking, bold, different, unique and personalised artwork is created using digital and fine-art techniques. The result: portrait photos re-invented as canvas-printed and framed Pop Art

Image Attachment: download.jpg

Julie Fulsher , November 29, 2006; 02:09 P.M.

I come to photo.net as a source of information and inspiration. Now this tutorial and the comments following simply reinforces my belief that photography is just like life...eveyone is entitled to their own opinions. I cant often come here, read some directions and go out and produce magnificent portraits. I think a lot of my successful photos have been driven from feeling and instinct. And the more I practice the better I get. I just last week bought a Nikon D80, and am happy with it. But I took just as good pictures with an ancient Pentax K1000 and then a Minolta Maxxum 5. There are many digitally enhanced photos that take my breath away on photo.net. Sometimes I wish I knew how to acheive certain effects with my photographs. But there is nothing I like better than a portrait, virtually unaltered, that captures a certain "je ne sais quoi" in the eyes. You can practically see the subject's spirit dancing in the frame, like the one picture tells their whole life story. Perhaps I am naive, inexperienced, and old-fashioned. But I like to play with my subjects and camera. Once it becomes all simply about technicalities...all the fun disappears. My opinion may change in a few years, but I hope not too much!

Image Attachment: simplistic.jpg

Sairam Sundaram , December 12, 2006; 01:03 P.M.

my nieces

This picture of my nieces was taken with a 50 mm lens (Actually this is a digital camera picture of the film camera print, since I couldnt access a scanner)

Kerry Roberts , February 03, 2007; 04:23 P.M.

...and now for something completely different. This is a light and shadow representation of a photo that I cut in wood with a scroll saw. :)

Alex Surrey , February 06, 2007; 11:25 P.M.

This artical is great help thanks!

Mark Miller , February 17, 2007; 07:28 P.M.

Baptism Nap

For me, portrait photography is as challenging as it is rewarding. I make this comment without any reference to camera equipment. I firmly believe that the photographer and his/her subject together create art or the moment. Whether using a point and shoot camera or top of the line professional equipment, capturing someone's essense or personality is a true art. The challenge for me beyond composition and light is my own struggle with guilt for capturing that person's spirit. I am able to overcome this guilt by sharing my pictures with my subjects, and watching them see themselves through someone elses eyes. The picture below is one that I shot by sneaking into my neice's room the day of her baptism. I had to use natural light because I didn't want a flash to disturb her and that required me to shoot at 1/60 shutter speed. I did not have a tripod handy so I hand held my Yashica D TLR directly over her crib, and took the shot. Simple, correct? :-)

Mark Monteverdi , February 21, 2007; 07:57 A.M.

Life and love

Took this of my brother a few seconds after his first born was handed to him. Just thought of sharing this pic with you all. I love the realism and the emotion this created for me personally. I felt very luck capturing this moment in time because she's the first child of my famlies' next generation.
On a techinical point of view, I used a Nikon F3 with a fixed 50mm lens at 1/60, f2.8, and asa 800 film. No DSLR here.

Kristin Lincoln , February 23, 2007; 04:34 P.M.

great article. As for the argument about the importance of equipment. I think Photographers like to talk about their equipment, because our cameras and such are our toys! As for other artists, I have had a lot of conversations with painters about paint and brushes and canvas and such. I also think having good equipment can be very useful. However, I have seen amazing photos taken with very simple cameras (I took a couple of great sunrise photos on a Canon Powershot P&S) and I have seen some terrible photos taken on high end pro equip. It really does all come down to the talent and eye of the photographer, but good equipment + a talented photographer = amazing photos! So dont be angry when we want to talk about our toys... we are all just kids at heart! again, very good article and comments!!

Claire Dominic , March 03, 2007; 05:39 A.M.

As usual I come back to learn via Photo.net. I always find the experience rewarding, & to read other peoples views on what is right for them ,is facinating. I studied photography years ago & left it alone for years. On revisiting I find I owe alot to instinct. I agree with Debbie. You can know all the facts & specs but still take a terrible shot. But if you have the eye & use your instinct to tune into your sitter , you can get a fantastic shot, & capture the moment with the simplest equipment. Claire Dominic

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Mohan J , March 05, 2007; 06:55 A.M.


I like to catch the imotion of the human face. I've 18-70mm f3.5/4.5 lens with D70s. I took lot of potraits, but my concentration was not in the techniques or lights or equipment, I always see the composition, balance and frame of the subject and expression of the Model/Person. Although I heard that Nikkor 80-200mm f2.8 is a good lens, so I'm planning to buy it. I like the blurred background and sharp features of the Model. In this portrait, the girl was working in frontbend position with some stuff. I was standing behind her. I already decided how to take the potrait of her. When I was ready with my camera, I called her she rised and turned towards me with quizzical look, I was waiting for this . . . .ckicked and the result is this. (If u have time, Pls give a look to my Photographs)

Kaushik Chatterjee , March 06, 2007; 05:45 A.M.

I love to take portraits. You can see my works and share your thoughts.

Thank you.

Cherie Bell , March 28, 2007; 09:26 P.M.

This is one of my first portraits I took. Iwas taught by my husband to get down to a child's level when taking images of children so I practiced on my own son. i think it came out well. http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=5777193

Image Attachment: Elijah-at-the-Race.jpg

Abhishek Shandilya , May 04, 2007; 11:49 A.M.

Hi Phillip,

I must say that your articles are very useful for a beginner like me. I have recently bought a SONY DSC H2. I make a point to practice what you recommend. Hope to read more from you!

Yuri Przhepjurko , May 16, 2007; 12:24 P.M.

Combining soft effect and warm sepia tones with hard, one-side "drawing" light with silver lightdisk at opposite side, and one-side back modelling light will produce romantic pictures, styled like 20's of XX century.
Jewish beauty

Photo2020 . , June 10, 2007; 12:00 P.M.

I usually use Canon 20D + lens 16-35mm F/2.8 to take portrait photography in room without flash, above photo is one of the examples.

Wm Gatesman , June 13, 2007; 10:15 A.M.

On the Dressing Table

This page shows a lot of face shots -- the traditional form of portraiture to be sure. My view is that a portrait photograph should embody some element that reveals the true character of the individual. I strive to do this with my photographs. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on my comments above after you view the examples I have posted on the website. Each of the galleries: Portraits, Shadow Portraits, Surreal Portraits, etc. show a number of examples. Even the gallery photo for the Focus On Religion gallery is a portrait. Let me know what you think about this perspective.

Andrew Feldstein , July 02, 2007; 08:35 P.M.

"Roommates. Sadly marred by a technical flaw: the reflector edge in the lower left corner of the frame."

I disagree. Before reading the caption, I thought that what I now know was the reflector edge was a stair bannister or something.

In my opinion, this so-called "flaw" actually balances the composition in that parallels and offsets the woman's left arm. Without this corner element, the picture becomes unsettlingly unbalanced. Cover it up and her arm becomes a gangly, gawking appendage--just another picture--with it, I see magic.

Neil Merchant , July 10, 2007; 07:21 A.M.

How are dark portraits accomplished? Are they done through specific lighting or through editing?

Suresh Paripalli , August 09, 2007; 07:14 A.M.

Can this pic be rated as professional

Image Attachment: DSC_0422.JPG

Dave Blake , August 17, 2007; 04:40 P.M.

I think the conversations about the equipment and location/lighting is great and all, but portraiture isn't about taking pictures of a wall. It's a lot more of capturing a particular mood (something the article alluded to.) You can have a wonderfully boring technically correct portrait beat out by a moody technically incorrect picture.

It's really about three things, lighting, shallow DOF, and most importantly, expression and pose. Sadly, the last one is very hit and miss unless you are working with a professional model. It is also the most important one.

Push the extremes, don't do smily portraits in the sun. It's the edges that get an emotional response, since they are so different.

gonzalo roca , August 27, 2007; 11:27 A.M.

Also, some p&s do some good bokeh, if they have big apertures, even with a small sensor. Panasonic FZ-20, 6mm-72mm (36mm-420mm 35mm equiv), F2.8 through all the range.
This picture was taken at 200mm, handheld, 1/60, F2.8

luca patrone , September 18, 2007; 06:05 P.M.

I think that the most importat think, above light and camera, is the mood.

Dale L , October 07, 2007; 04:08 P.M.

Good point about expression, Dodge - here's one of my own fave shots:

Dennis Hussey , October 10, 2007; 12:46 A.M.

My middle daughter

I like closeup portraits of kids (here are some of my kids) - I can get more natural expressions and emotions. Adults are sometimes too self conscience about their appearance and are nervous alot. I use a mix of lenses -

Old Russian Industar 50mm f2.8 on a Rebel XT:


This was a vintage Nikkor-P 10.5cm f2.5 on same Rebel XT

http://www.flickr.com/photos/djh_cinemas/1439620131/in/set-72157600025902535/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/djh_cinemas/1440865566/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/djh_cinemas/1439895673/

This was with a Sigma 28mm that focuses very close on Rebel XT:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/djh_cinemas/1111033652/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/djh_cinemas/1109928876/in/set-72157600025902535/

Olympus 50mm f1.8 Zuiko:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/djh_cinemas/1502552144/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/djh_cinemas/1439591307/

Tamron 200mm f3.5 with 2x tele-converter (maybe 3x - can't remember - was trying the setup for zoo pix and it worked quite well)


Vivitar Series 1 70-210 f3.5 with Vivitar 2X


All these are manual focus with vintage lenses adapted to the Rebel XT. I have Olympus OM, Nikon and M42 adapters for the Rebel XT.

I think it all depends - the equipment is not that important for it as the method and the subject. Like I tell my son (very type "A" personality), photography is not "black and white" (I know - sounds like a bad pun; which works; but it got my point across. Photography is more abstract and there are all kinds of methods, not just one. I like to experiment and break some rules for fun). He is an aspiring photographer at 8 years old, but thinks there is one way to take a photo.

I have alot to learn on portraits - I shied away from it for a long time because I really don't like a posed portrait rather a candid one for a more natural expression. I am starting to take some now. I haven't got to a point of photographing strangers asking for their permission though I would like to as different people can be very expressive with their faces and life experience effect on their faces. I am just too chicken to ask (and a bit introverted for it - I can make a joke to a person that is a vendor/serviceperson and talk to them, but that is because there is something in common).


Les Jones , October 10, 2007; 08:33 P.M.

The info on equipment is valuable and I appreciate the thoughts, tests, photos and options available. I like the way Philip writes in his reliable straight forward way with his opinion and rationale. I am glad that not everyone agrees and that this forum offers such a great opportunity to share!

Perspective, perspective! Isn't that what differentiates us? That is what is so wonderful about this. I love people and others love buildings or animals, plants or insects.

I see such a fantastic variety on this site, thanks to everyone who contributes.

It's great!!

I hope you like this picture of my girl, but some won't!

This is an opportunistic portrait of my daughter(3) who took a break and lay down on her outdoor table/bench and mused (about - who knows!).

How do you put pics inline?

Image Attachment: IMG_0454small.jpg

Qadir Sherif , November 08, 2007; 10:11 P.M.

What I observe as a flaw especially in this site is the focus on the film photography that, I think, is obsolete now and instead digital photography with a greater dimension is in place.  Almost the majority, if not all, of the learning articles on this site and as well as on the others are contemplating on the film camera and process thereon.  The question of true colour and 16.77 million colours were rare in the past especially in film photography while it is a prevailing reality at the present time. The quality of image, I believe, depends upon the bit depth of the image that comes from a camera in-put that supports more than 8 bits (1 byte) in single channel and more than 24 bits (3 bytes) in three channels of RGB.   Even if we calculate 256 shade of different colours in three channels, it equals (256x256x256=16 777216 ) or say 16.77 million colours as normally we hear.  Things are not staying here and are ascending beyond.  This is only practicable in digital photography alone.   Now it is the prime time that we should understand and learn the mechanism and technicalities of digital world of photography that leads this art in future.   I believe that the forum may focus on the new ways and step forward.  

I added two images of film taken with a very famous Rollie and common digital Canon just to show the contrast/difference in between the most high class film camera of the time and a common digital camera.   Hope it may make a sense.  Any one who may like to discuss the topic can write to me

Stefano Crivellari , November 23, 2007; 06:50 A.M.

Lobo & Marina (Brazil)

Here my portrait example

Michelle Maor , November 27, 2007; 05:58 P.M.

I think that the most important aspect of portrait photography is how well the photo can represent the person. whether it is a candid or a posed shot, I think that if the photo can make you feel something when you look at it, then the photographer has done his or her job right. I think that is what differentiates a good photographer from a non-photographer. This is especially important in portraits. For me it starts with understanding my equipment, then using the right equipment and then following up in Photoshop and using what ever it takes to really capture the person. I hope that I have been able to evoke emotions when people see my photos. I'm not sure if I am successful, but that sure is my goal.

Anna Shawver , December 07, 2007; 02:29 A.M.

I just wanted to say that I agree, Michelle - I enjoyed looking at your work.

Dennis - Of all the portraits I viewed today, yours of your daughter got my attention the most - it is GREAT. Her expression speaks volumes! Keep up the good work!

Dennis Hussey , December 11, 2007; 11:46 P.M.

Thank you Anna! I appreciate it! Dennis

Steven Easton , December 30, 2007; 09:52 P.M.

The interesting thing that I find about portrait photography is that there are two types of subjects - those that are comfortable posing (meaning you get a pretty good shot most of the time) and those that are inhibited by a camera pointing at them (meaning you have to work for a good shot). I find the best way to take great shots is to spend a lot of time with the person just hanging out and snaping shots when they aren't expecting it. Sometime's it's good if they bring a friend to make them comfortable.

As for what makes a good shot - I'm a "natural setting" freak. I ask my subjects what they enjoy doing, and tag along capturing them involved in their favourite activities. This takes some of the feeling that they are being stalked by the paparazzi out of the equation. I become secondary which is perfect.

How I capture a shot - I check the lighting, adjust the shutter and aperture and get to work. I like close-ps because that makes the shot more personal. I also like action, so I might eliminate them altogether just to capture a moment of action they are involved in. I find this helpful at sporting venues.

In the end, I crop, adjust, and revise colour in Photshop. I know there will be purists out there that think this is not how it should be done, but I can tell you, the darkroom has adjustment secrets. Also, I consider this an artform. An artist is entitled to take liberties with his/her work. The end result is always, "is the client happy." Some of my work I do for me and some for them, always depending on who's footing the tab.

Nice comments, keep up the good feedback.


Image Attachment: Tree's Mum.jpg

Luca Sichel Turco , January 05, 2008; 10:38 A.M.

Hi, I am an interested reader, at this time I am not taking picture (yet), but I like to look at them a lot and portraits are my favourite.

I would like to make a general comment here. I like to distinguish between portraits where the camera 'engages' the subject and portraits where that does not happen. Not a good/bad dicothomy, to be clear.. but just a very different feel.

I would like to point the attention to a couple of examples of the two approaches all taken from this thread.

The camera engages the subject:

http://photo.net/learn/portraits/alan-ginsberg-by-elsa-dorfman.jpg http://philip.greenspun.com/images/200606-california-helicopter-trip/picnic-at-ankas-19.tcl http://photo.net/photo/pcd2898/harry-and-katerina-wedding-81

The camera does not engage the subject

http://img-2003-09.photosight.ru/21/304336.jpg http://photo.net/general-comments/image-attachment?comment_id=5547288 http://photo.net/general-comments/image-attachment?comment_id=5678900

I did not pick those pictures because I like them. For one the picture by Elsa Dorfman in the original article does not appeal to me.

I would like to point at the differences between those portraits. The distinction is not between having the subject looking into the camera or not (although I think the second picture shows how powerful can a confident and relaxed stare straight at the photographer be).

The distintion has more to do with the question if the subjects 'respond' to the camera (photo 3, the groom does not look into the camera but he's definetely responding to it!).

The other three pictures are example of 'non engagement' (although the last one is not clearly so..)

Now my own personal view: I think that a good portrait that engages the subject has more power, more intensity, more interest then one that does away with that relationship between potographer and subgject.

This is not always true (I think the last picture, by Stefano Crivellari, was an outstanding example, while I mentioned my lack of enthusiasm at Elsa Dorfman's portrait).

But when I think of portraits I usually tend to think at engaging, powerful pictures.

One for all: the very famous portrait of the Afghan refugee girl with the green eyes that was the cover of National Geographic (the subject was Sharbat Gula, pictured by Steve McCurry).

It is true that quite a few subjects in front of a camera get tense and 'posy' as a friend of mine like to say. So all the tricks that can be used to make them relaxed and look more natural are in need.

But I love the description in the article of the way Elsa Dorfman works. She spends time with the people she is going to portrait, and then she takes 2 pcitures, two!

I like to think that she engages the 'models' personally, from a human point of view, so that the camera is not an obstacle any more. And that magic is very much needed in order to make powerful portraits.

If I am off topic I am sorry and please ignore this message; but I would very much like to see more discussion on the way we feel about photoraphs, or better on what we would like good pictures to tell us and how.

Luca Sichel Turco , January 05, 2008; 10:58 A.M.

Adding the links to the pictures mentioned above for ease of use:

The camera engages the subject:

Foto 1

Foto 2

Foto 3

The camera does not engage the subject

Foto 4

Foto 5

Foto 6

Marco Taje , February 12, 2008; 03:03 P.M.

It's good to talk more about the creative aspect of the image, rather than gear & co. But I believe the premises were pretty bad here: how can you write and article about a portrait photographer and her human approach to her subjects, and then asserting that

"Our advice to digital photographers is to fill the flash card with at least 50 images in hopes of yielding one that captures the essence of a subject's expression."


No wonder you don't know that much about your sister's life, is there? ;-)

Cheers (lovely thread anyway)

Emily Buikema , February 29, 2008; 12:46 A.M.

I'm so glad I read the comments on this page! The article was quite depressing for me, a poor student who can't afford more than the point and shoot that I own at the moment (albeit a very nice one - canon powershot A640 - one of the best out there, I think.) Nevermind that I'm just getting into photography in a more serious way, and if the quality of the portrait depends on the equipment, then I probably would not be continuing with my artistic photography.

A number of commenters have mentioned the necessity of showing emotion and spontanaeity in portrait shots, and I cannot agree more.

When I take pictures, I feel the most successful when I manage to capture the essence of a subject's personality. It's so rewarding to take a picture that is going to mean something to the subject as well as to the viewer. If the audience can see the emotion of the person in the photograph, then my job is done.

As for lighting, I love outdoor photography, especially in the late afternoon sun - it's incredibly beautiful and natural and compliments subjects the best. Good/unusual settings help too, even for just that little bit of blurred background in a close-up!

I'm going to see what I can do to attach some of my favourites (completely unmanipulated, fyi.) Perhaps a better camera would bring out sharper images, but i think the A640 has done an incredible job for its capabilities! Hopefully I can get a Rebel soon to gain more flexibility...

Image Attachment: mother and daughter.jpg

Emily Buikema , February 29, 2008; 12:57 A.M.

wow! sorry...that picture was huge. I've resized it...hopefully this will make for easier viewing. Also,if its of any interest, that portrait is one shot of a few I took in a spontaneous informal photoshoot with my sis-in-law and my youngest niece. It is completely unposed. I'm going to upload another example or two as well...just too show a larger range of what the A640 can do.

Emily Buikema , February 29, 2008; 01:02 A.M.

One of my best indoor shots - a friend of mine meets another friend's little girl for the first time. Please keep in mind, this is point and shoot.

Emily Buikema , February 29, 2008; 01:08 A.M.

I think this may be one of my best indoor shots with the A640 - a friend meeting another friend's little girl for the first time.

Image Attachment: js46_Oct 26-27 007.jpg

Meredith Kazaras , March 10, 2008; 10:58 P.M.

test test

Gary Beilby , April 06, 2008; 09:46 A.M.

These are nice shots Emily, but with due respect they demonstrate clearly the limits of the hardware you are using. The biggest issue is the on camera flash. I'm sorry, but it cooks those shots.

Here is a student super budget tip that will turn any point and shoot into a studio setup.

First you need to source a cheap off-camera, optically triggered flash unit. I found a Vivitar DF-200 'digital flash' in my local shop for about $90. Sadly they seem to have been taken off the market, but if you can find any flash that is optically triggered by the burst of another flash, you are in business.

Second get a strip of black exposed film (yes, real film - go to a photo shop if you don't have envelopes of old negs hanging around in a drawer). Fully black exposed film (neg or tranny) is still clear to infra-red light. Trim a piece of this down to the size of your on camera flash and stick it in place with blu-tac or sticky tape or whatever.

Third, set up your off-camera flash pointing either directly at your subject (harsh shadows), or bouncing off a nearby wall (soft shadows) and illuminating them.

Then shoot your subject with your on-camera flash masked from affecting the exposure, but still able to trigger the off-camera flash.

You will need to experiment a lot with exposure settings as clearly your camera's automatic metering will be useless and you will need to manually set your aperture and shutter speed. If your compact camera does not have any manual overide, all is not lost; you will instead modify your exposure settings up and down either by changing the output power of the flash (if possible) and/or simply moving the flash closer to or further away from the subject.

willis proctor , April 25, 2008; 10:40 P.M.

The need to know

I started shooting with a canon AE1 a little over 20 years ago. I had a 28-70 zoom that I used. I concentrated on existing light but added flash when needed.

9 years ago, I bought a canon A2 (EOS Line)film camera and a 28-105 usm. The shots looked sharper, better grain and detail, but lost their creativeness. They were mostly flat and uninteresting. I succumbed to a 9 year run of flat, but necessary photography.

The equipment was good, it just did not work in my hands. I have never known this camera. To top it off, local places that cared how they processed film, and who actually shot film have vanished.

As a result, I have now made the purchase of a new DSLR and high quality lens. Being able to experiment with a lot of shots and techniques, and view the results almost instantly, and knowing that what I see is what I shot, I believe will allow me to get to know this new camera. Once I know it, then we, as a team, can make good photography together.

In the hands of a good photographer, my Canon A2 and 28-105 would have been able to create great portraits. In my hands, they were not worth much. Great portraits are made by great photographers. Their abilities will test the limits of a camera and lens.

Better cameras and lenses allow those limits to be expanded. The photographer adds what the camera cannot. Character.

I hope to have some great portraits soon.

The sample portrait I included is what I would consider more creative and interesting than most of my portraits with the A2. It was shot with a video camera that would do 1 MB stills on a mem stick.

Image Attachment: DSC01951.JPG

Ron Underwood , May 18, 2008; 09:52 A.M.

Wow, what an article. Tough to get through it all and soak it in. I am a newbie and have a simple question. I am using a Canon 50/1.4 usm lens and trying to capture up close pics of my kids. I am struggling with the depth of field, especially for half profiles. I am managing to have a portion of the face in focus, but not all the face. Any suggestions??

Let's see if we can get a reasonable picture size here.

Image Attachment: Mei out of focus.JPG

Ari Marks , May 19, 2008; 05:56 P.M.

Ron - try using a slightly smaller apeture. Maybe something f/2.8?

Thanks for all the info on these pages

Daniel Tong , June 01, 2008; 05:46 A.M.

There was an article about using a Canon 70-200mm at 200mm But it was without the crop factor. These are from a 200mm with the crop factor almost wide open at F3.2. Is that long? Other link of the same series http://forums.steves-digicams.com/forums/view_topic.php?id=591500&forum_id=5 from Daniel, Toronto

Matias Gutierrez , June 08, 2008; 09:34 A.M.

IMHO for portraits I prefer to use film, the grain gives an special touch to the picture

Image Attachment: manenita3.jpg

Magdalena Soszka , June 13, 2008; 09:49 A.M.

your dog is absolutely beautiful!

Greg Isaac , June 26, 2008; 11:49 P.M.

Suddenly I know almost nothing at all .... :(

Angela Whitten , June 27, 2008; 10:08 A.M.

I am going to be taking pictures inside at a wedding. I took a look at the place and realized that there are a mixture of different kinds of lighting. Florescent, white Christmas lights and Chandler lighting.

Any ideas on filters or settings I should use?

Gordon Holman , July 13, 2008; 11:10 P.M.

I am a newbie to portrait Photography, I have a canon 30D, what is the recommended setting for studio lights on my camera? I have a basic set up, It's a Inter fit system, 28 inch soft box, and a threw umbrella strobe flash . please tell me my camera setting?

Trevor Miller , July 18, 2008; 12:10 P.M.

As someone with a Nikon D80, 24-70 F2.8G and 70-200 F2.8G I can honestly say that you dont need fancy equipment to take great portraits. I could quite easily take amazing portraits with my old Pentax MZ-50 and its 35-80mm kit lens. Use what you have to your advantage. To all the students out there who cannot afford expensive high tec equipment, dont worry, any camera can be used to take portraits, you just have to know how to use it!

Clare Smith , July 29, 2008; 04:22 A.M.

Beauty Shot - Nikon D50 with Nikon 70-300mm lens

I have revisited this thread at least three times now, so good to see it is still current and manages to incite such passion in members. Personally, I am on the threshold between amateur and professional...have been paid for a few commissions but also work full time in a job which pays the mortgage & bills, so hard (and scarey) to cross over completely. I must agree with the earlier comment that we are all just kids with our toys... I love new equipment and mastering how it works, for me it is one aspect of photography that gives me much pleasure, as does learning about the tweaking process of using photoshop..again, I love developing and creative skills through technology, however, above all else, the greatest satisfaction comes from capturing the emotions a child or adult feels within a moment which honestly reflects their character. So I win on all fronts, enjoying everything about photography, the equipment, the capture, the processing and then presentation to a satisfied client, how lucky am I !!! I am getting by with a Nikon D50 with a few lenses..2 of them came with the kit: Nikon 70-300mm & Nikon 18-55mm and now a newly purchased Sigma 10-20mm wide angle which I use for Real Estate Photography, also using a Nikon SB800 Speedlight, with reflectors to help bounce and fill. Just investigating a faster piece of glass so I can get less depth of field and less hand held blur for my portrait shots and keen to get a Nikon D300 too. You can check out my work at www.connectphotography.com I will truly appreciate your comments on both my work and which to go with next: a new fast lens or upgrade of my camera body?

Angela Smith , August 16, 2008; 04:49 P.M.

This is a great article! Portraits can be a lot tricker then most people think. I'm a professional photographer and the biggest recomendation I can make is to know your location well before you ever take a picture. Doing a walk through before a wedding has saved me several times.

Isabelle Delcourt , October 02, 2008; 10:03 P.M.

Another technical question, sorry! Because indeed I believe that a good portrait is about emotions and feelings rather than technicalities but when combined with perfect technique it's even better! Wherever I browse, I can never find anything related to group portrait photography. Shallow depth of field, tele lens for a blurry effect, fill-light, wide aperture.... all this is fine when you photograph one subject. What would be your recommendation when it comes to photographing 4 moving children outdoor, sharp, well lit with a blur background and a good ratio between the light on each face and the background? Any ideas are welcome! Thanks!

Jerome Zaba Knyszewski , December 01, 2008; 10:52 P.M.

This article was a real eye opener, thank you for the wonderful tips and advice.

Jerome Zaba Knyszewski

pradeep gill , December 12, 2008; 08:34 A.M.

I must confess that this a wonderful article and the participation has been really very outstanding everybody is contributing in one way or the other... i would like to add my two cents simply by saying... "what matters the most is the man behind the machine.." having said that i would like to share a portrait of my friend i had taken with a P&S shoot olympus sp 570uz ............................................... The Paratrooper.... My Friend... this is another one with the same camera of my daughter i had taken when she was just 2 months old..................................................... Tezal .. after 2.5 months ... what i want to convey here is simple and straight is that what matters the most is the person handling and how he is handling that peice of equipment with him.... and the available resources i mean the lighting the subject the background and similar aspects... i am new to this art just been 4 months since i picked up my 1st camera the same i am handling.... hope this might help the beginner's like me to belive in themselves and not merely in machines... gill

Muzamir Shah Mohamed Shariff , December 13, 2008; 11:11 A.M.

I keep hearing people saying the prime lenses are sharper than the zoom lense. So, I put my bet on 24mm f2.8 and 50mm f1.4.

After few months using both lenses, I found that the 50mm 1.4 is remarkably sharp but the 24mm 2.8 is really dissapointing.

Is this because of the in-camera settings that I need to configure.

Appreciate any help here.

Thank you.

Sean Breadsell , December 28, 2008; 10:45 A.M.

I myself am getting into portrait photography and being paid for it which is always a bonus. I bought a 50mm f/1.8D for my Nikon D90, very cheap lense but damn sharp. To be honest it was more for waist up/full body shots but I was playing around with lighting and my new remote and I captured this self portrait....nothing special but shows the power of the lense in my eyes

Image Attachment: fileufa9kp.jpg

Curtis Copeland , June 11, 2009; 09:18 A.M.

Great insight into professional portrait photography! Thanks for the tip!

Image Attachment: fileuKwxYY.jpg

Jose Alvarez , July 03, 2009; 05:25 A.M.

Gracias Excelente

Scott Murphy , October 20, 2009; 01:58 P.M.


Sometimes the best light is natural backlight. I used my Flashmeter in the incident mode to get the best meter reading. It pretty much blew out the sky and washed out the background a bit, but both of these helped isolate her. I used a long (300mm lens) with a wide aperture, f/5.6, to further isolate her from the surroundings. She was about 100 feet away, walking towards me when I took this photo. Depth of field was less than 3 feet. The railroad tracks provide great leading lines and draw your attention right to her.

Nikon D700, 300mm f/4.5 Nikkor. 1/250 @ f/5.6

Rashed Abdulla , November 27, 2009; 05:40 P.M.

This is a wonderful artical and very educational.

I love people a lot and I beleive that people chreactors makes the real photos, that why people can only give the best they have to those they admire and love and to gain the people love , I have to love them first and respect them and be good to them.

Thank you for this artical my friend.

Starvy Goodfellows , December 24, 2009; 08:37 P.M.


for me, portraiture is not just about the lens, exposure, depth of field, light or backdrop, it is all about capturing 'dignity of the soul'. sometimes, one can get a little too technical and focus on the obvious variables like lighting and lens choice. however, i have seen a few talented photographers with very basic setups create marvelous imagery. here is my paltry effort..

Ehimaya Oza , January 26, 2010; 05:05 P.M.

Smooth Folds

For me, portrait photography is all about capturing the expressive nature of a person in soft light. The effect of light and shadows on a model is much more valuable to me than the essence of the surrounding.


Meir Samel , February 12, 2010; 02:44 A.M.

I photograph people, this is what I love to do, and I photograph them in their natural environment. People that usually I have never previously met. They are what I call "informal location portrait". I do not consider what I do to be "portrait" per se as in portrait photography on photo.net; nor is it "street"; but rather somewhere in between. I cannot compete on a technical level with "Portrait Photographers" nor on an "Interest Level" in the "Street" catagory. I wish there was a catagory "People" on photo.net for what I attempt to do.

Ehimaya Oza , February 20, 2010; 10:14 A.M.

Thanks Bob, I agree with you. Portraits are more appealing if they are dramatic, and this is a very subjective perspective. The portrait of an active person would be dramatic if shown in peaceful, quiet form, while another portrait of a quiet person would be dramatic if he/she is shown in action. At least that is what I try to achieve. The mood, the light, and the nature of the person is what draws us towards drama. You can see more examples of my work at the website http://softlight.us

Image Attachment: filewc2zkb.jpg

Mathieu de Gironde , September 03, 2010; 07:17 A.M.


Very interesting article and comments.

Here's some portraits I did at:


Very happy to take constructive comments in the Blog section 

Andreas Øverland , September 11, 2010; 02:31 A.M.

I'm preparing for a wedding shoot today by getting my mindset into portrait photography by reading  articles like this one. It's fascinating to see the so little has changed over the years in respect to what it is that makes a portrait a good one. Not just in the 11 years since article was written, and not even since the birth of photography. But we strive for the same qualities in portraits now as the grat painters did hundreds of years ago (save perhaps the blurry background). I recommend looking at the masters of portrait painting and studying the light that they used/painted. 
On a technical note, my favorite portrait lenses are the Canon 85mm f/1.2 and the Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8. I have a portrait project shot with these going on over at www.phx.no

johan ingles-le nobel , September 24, 2010; 04:03 A.M.

Sometimes it's nice to break the rules. This was taken with a 55 year old 85mm Takumar lens.

Sobiesław Mazurski , October 19, 2010; 08:21 A.M.


I have mady digital ordinary Canon EOS 350 but people for it thankful very

more in:


Image Attachment: fileJ6gytN.jpg

dan dinu , October 21, 2010; 05:08 A.M.

I love to photograph people.



Shadforth Stephen , November 06, 2010; 09:11 P.M.

As we all strive to learn, and so practice our art with more sensitivity and skill, I want to relate a lesson which I only learned this morning.

I was looking for some of Dylan Thomas's works and encountered a link to Richard Burton reading "Under Milk Wood" on Youtube. Why is this got anything to do with portrait photography? Please indulge me.

There was another Youtube link of some further poetry read my Richard Burton. One of the images in the slideshow accompanying the reading was a portrait of he and Elizabeth Taylor. It was such a stunning portrait (not allowed to reproduct it here), that I went to Google Images and searched on "Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor".

In the search results you will find a treasure trove of classic portraits tracing their lives from young to old. Many are stunning in the way that they convey the passion between these two immortals of stage and screen.

I recommend everyone do this to see for themselves, and be gobsmacked as I was.

Cy Cyr , July 14, 2012; 07:09 P.M.

I love making portraits with a Profoto 7B and a 6' Elinchrom Octobank.  Beautiful light!  http://www.cycyr.com

Frank Tawiah , June 17, 2013; 03:50 P.M.

Great website, I will return very often


Frank Tawiah , June 18, 2013; 02:51 P.M.

great and useful website


Ela Mikosz , June 02, 2014; 10:46 A.M.

These are some useful tips.

I would like to recommend this fanpage: https://www.facebook.com/JudytaPapp

These are not my photos, I love this photographer for her intuition in choosing the right moment. I love tha grain of the photos.

Aaron Shumaker , December 13, 2014; 10:06 P.M.

This is a really great article, Your explanation of lighting is spot on.  I pefer to use natural light myself for my website at www.taabphotography.com.  But, If I can start making money doing this thing I love then studio lighting is my next goal.  In fact, my buddy who doesn't even own a studio makes a good living as a photographer because he travels to others locations and sets up a small studio in their homes.  This is really a fine article.  

Andrian Nahot , May 23, 2015; 05:09 A.M.

Various info has been given to me, I am very grateful to learn about the most difficult and low levels, probably all my knowledge gained will be developed in <a href='http://www.photographyportraitideas.com/'>Portrait Photography</a> mine.

There are some pictures that might not be too good because I'm still learning
I hope this website can help me in the future to learn more developed.
Best Regards

onur pınar , September 18, 2016; 02:20 P.M.

Very useful tips for beginners and who wants to develop their photographic skills. Please have a look at my website for some helpful articles. www.onurpinar.com

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