Top 5 basic camera settings for portrait photography
People Photography Portrait Photography Street Photography
January 11, 2019

Portrait photography takes a lot of effort to master. Like most other genres of photography, a lot of technical expertise is required to make attractive portrait images. You need to be thorough with the basic concepts of photography. Portrait photography is actually quite a vast genre of photography. When we hear the term portrait photography, we may be limited to thinking about the studios and the lights within but in reality, there can be several types of portraits. While shooting portraits in controlled lighting conditions in the studios is a type of portrait photography, the same can be shot outdoors in natural lights. You can also have a combination of a landscape and a portrait to build a beautiful final image. Any image in which the portrait of your subject has the priority focus, can be called a portraiture. Let us take a look at the basic camera settings required for portrait photography…


Image courtesy: CreativeLive


  • Settings affecting the depth of field: The depth of field remains the single most crucial factor that affects the quality of your portraits. You must have seen beautiful portraits in which the subject is in sharp focus while the background is a combination of colours and the famous bokeh effect. This bokeh or the background blur effect is achieved by a combination of several factors. Depth of field of your image depends on the aperture of the lens, the focal length you are shooting at and the camera to subject distance. The aperture is the opening of your lens. The wider this opening is, the shallower your depth of field will be. This is the reason why prime lenses with apertures f1.4 or f1.8 are always recommended for portraits. The wide open apertures are not only for allowing more light to enter the camera but to ensure the amazing bokeh effect. In case you don’t have a prime lens, you can achieve the same results with a zoom lens. Zoom lens with high focal lengths can help you get a shallow depth of field as well. Zoom lens also gives you the flexibility which a prime lens cannot. The camera to subject distance is another factor that affects the depth of field. If the distance is quite large the depth of field increases significantly. Portraits are not only shot with very shallow depth of field. You may want to include the environment too. In such cases you will require a larger depth of field. The depth of field in your portraits actually tells the viewers where to focus on.  Experiment with these factors to control your depth of field.
  • Action control and Shutter speed: We all know that shutter speed is mainly controlled to capture action. Portraits can be moving too. In case you want to freeze the action of your subject, you need to use very fast shutter speeds. Shutter speed like 1/250th of a second is fast enough to freeze the action of your human subject. In case of child, you may want to speed it up by a stop. In case you are shooting a portrait of a bird, the shutter speed need to go up and above 1/1000th of a second to freeze the fickle movements of a bird. Not all portraits are frozen though. Portraits with motion blur are quite attractive as well. For this, you need to have very slow shutter speeds like 1/5th of second or slower. In these portraits, you need to have your subject absolutely still since even the slightest movement will get recorded in your image. These portraits are mainly used to record all the drama and movement in the environment while your subject stands still. In case you are shooting at very slow shutter speeds on a bright and sunny day, you will require a neutral density filter to manage the exposure.                                                                                                                 
  • The focusing: This is possibly the most important part of your photography. Exposures can be adjusted in post processing, at least to some extent. Focusing can never be done. You have to get your focusing right in the camera itself. It is always suggested that you aim for the subjects eyes. Eyes having sharp focus actually pulls all the attention of the viewer. The glitter of the eyes lends the spark of life to your images. This is also called catch light. Whether you should use the manual focusing or the auto focusing will depend on the conditions. In conditions of very less contrast, the auto focusing of the camera often falls short. In such cases, use manual focusing. In controlled environment with still subjects, manual focusing can be used too. For all other scenarios, auto focusing is preferred.
  • Metering and exposure compensation: Metering is a crucial advanced concept of photography which tells us how the camera is actually calculating the exposure of a particular scene and how it is reacting to that. Metering modes like spot metering, evaluative metering etc. are used more frequently. In case of evaluative metering, the camera calculates the tonality of the entire scene while in case of spot metering, it calculates the tonality of that particular spot. You need to choose this depending on the lighting conditions of your portrait shot. In order to override your cameras metering decision, you can use the exposure compensation option.                                                                       
  • Composition: This may not necessarily be a basic camera setting, but no photography blog is complete without the mention of composition. Portrait photography requires a lot of prior thinking to be done. This can be with respect to the environment, the attire etc. composition is the key element that can separate your work from that of the others. Use different types of compositions to convert a normal portrait in to a story telling one. This can straightaway improve your work.


Portrait photography is perhaps the most common genre of photography. People are shooting amazing portraits every day. How can you actually stand out of all the clutter? Analyze all the above points to find out what suits you the best. None of them are definitive and hence you can tweak everything in your favour!

People Photography Portrait Photography Street Photography
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