Learn new photography techniques – and master old ones – with this essential photographer’s resource. This list of 77 photography techniques to try covers some of the most popular types of photography.
Whether you want to improve your portrait photography or learn how to take better landscapes, discover the secret to sharp close-up photos or start out in street photography, you’ll find some essential tips and tricks here.
Words by Marcus Hawkins
Portrait photography techniques, tips and tricks
Improve your photos of people with our quick and easy camera techniques
Portrait photography technique 01: focus on the eyes
While eye contact is not always desirable in a portrait, sharp eyes certainly are. Manually select an AF point that’s positioned over one of your model’s eyes, or use the central focus point to lock focus on their eye.
Then, with the shutter release half-pressed to keep the setting locked, recompose your picture before taking the shot.
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Portrait photography technique 02: using a standard or telephoto lens
Wide-angle lenses are a great choice for photographing environmental portraits, where you want to show a person within a specific context. However, wide-angle lenses used close-up will distort facial features and creative unflattering pictures.
A better choice for portraits is either a standard lens or a short telephoto lens. The classic portrait focal lengths for a full-frame camera are 50mm, 85mm prime lenses and a 70-200mm zoom.
These will help to compress features and provide a more natural-looking result.
Portrait photography technique 03: use Aperture Priority mode
Aperture Priority gives you direct control over the aperture, and as a result the depth of field (DOF).
Fast prime lenses, such as 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.2 enable you to choose very large apertures for a shallow depth of field. This can help you create those creamy-smooth, out of focus backgrounds that give portraits a professional quality.
Working with such a narrow band of sharpness means that you need to be accurate with focusing – the entire portrait will look soft if you don’t focus accurately on the eyes.
Portrait photography technique 04: using window light
You don’t need an expensive home studio lighting kit to take amazing portraits – a window and a reflector can help you achieve stunning natural results without spending too much.
Position your model at an angle to the window and use a white or silver reflector to open up any shadows across their face. A silver reflector will give a crisper quality of light than a white one, although the effect won’t be as subtle.
Be aware of any colour casts that may be introduced by features on the other side of the glass as well – a lush green lawn can give skin tones a sickly quality, while late evening sunlight on a patio will reflect lots of warm light.
Portrait photography technique 05: high-key portraits
Deliberately choosing to over-expose a photo to create a ‘high-key’ effect results in a light and delicate look that can enhance feminine portraits and pictures of children.
The trick is not to blow the highlights in-camera, but rather brighten up the shot later in software such as Photoshop.
Shooting RAW files will give you the most editing head-room, as you’ll be able to extract more detail across the tonal range in raw compared to JPEGs.
Portrait photography technique 06: baby portraits
When it comes to lighting baby portraits, natural light is the best choice. Flash will just end up spooking them. Try and position them near to a window and use a reflector to bounce light into any shadows.
The more light you can get onto your subject, the lower ISO sensitivity you can use for the best quality photos.
To catch a baby at their best, photograph them just after a feed or when they’ve woken up first thing in the morning.
They’ll be more active and alert than at other times of the day, and you’re more likely to get the kind of cooing baby portraits that parents will love.
Portrait photography technique 07: photographing children
Taking photos of children is fun but challenging. Keep a kids’ portrait session short and entertaining. Play games with them: ask them of they can see their reflection in the front element of the lens is a good way to get some eye contact.
Fit a wide-angle lens and shoot without looking, poking the camera into their face. Get them used to the shutter sound and not having to look down the lens and smile.
Make the most of opportunities when they’re still for a moment, such as when they’re concentrating on a toy. Chat to them as you would with adults and once you’ve taken a few photos show them the results on the LCD screen, so that they feel involved.
Portrait photography technique 08: shooting in burst mode
Whether you’re taking a child’s portrait or a group portrait, set your camera in its fastest drive setting. You don’t need to machine gun the shutter release, but shooting in short bursts will ensure you capture a fleeting range of expressions.
It also improves your chances of getting a shot where everyone’s eyes are open in a group portrait.
Even if you don’t capture everyone’s eyes open or their beaming smiles, having a range of shots taken fractions of a second apart means you can easily swap faces in Photoshop.
Portrait photography technique 09: posing group portraits
When you’re arranging a group portrait, the first thing you’ll probably consider is height, putting taller people at the back and shorter people at the front.
However, keep a close eye on clothing too. It’s easy to miss clashing colours while you’re focusing on everyone’s height, and that will be more noticeable in the final picture.
To ensure everyone appears sharp, you need to use an aperture of at least f/8 with a wide-angle lens. But if you’re taking an indoor group portrait, you’ll need to use a high ISO in order to shoot at that aperture and get sharp handheld photos.
Photos may end up full of noise, and even then the shutter speed may not be fast enough for sharp images. A trick here is to arrange everyone in a line along the same focal plane, then the aperture doesn’t have to be so narrow.
Portrait photography technique 10: family photo posing ideas
Think about how your arrangement of people in a group family portrait can tell a story about the relationship between the different members.
A simple idea is to place the emphasis on the patriarch or matriarch of the family, or the newest arrival. By grouping the rest of the family around them, you’ll be able to create a clear focal point.
For larger family group photos, use furniture – whether that’s a sofa for indoor shots or a gate for outdoor portraits – to break the group up. Sit the children in front of it and have the adults standing behind it.
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Portrait photography technique 11: candlelight portraits
When you’re taking photos by candlelight, you’ll need to push the ISO to 1600 and beyond and work with large apertures if you’re to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze any motion in your model, the camera or the candle flames.
Turn your camera’s flash off and use Manual exposure mode. Switch off any lights, take a meter reading from your portrait-sitter’s face and let the rest of the room slip into darkness.
If you’re planning a candlelit portrait shoot, use more than one candle. Not only will it increase the amount of light available to make the exposure, but it will allow you to spread the illumination for softer shadows.
PAGE 1: Portrait photography techniques
PAGE 2: Landscape photography techniques
PAGE 3: Macro photography techniques
PAGE 4: Wildlife photography techniques
PAGE 5: Night photography techniques
PAGE 6: Street photography techniques
PAGE 7: Flash photography techniques
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