Shooting tips > Shoot Impressive Portraits with People Highlighted

Level: Beginner

LESSON 1Shoot Impressive Portraits
with People Highlighted

Focal length: 180 mm / F-number: 4.0 / Shutter speed: 1/250 sec

If you defocus backgrounds and emphasize people, you can shoot impressive photographs with a clear theme.
These photographs are called portraits, and this technique can be used for everyday snapshots, as well as memorial photographs at birthday or wedding events.
When shooting unintentionally, we often include a person's entire figure in the frame. This results in monotonous composition, like in an ID photo.
In this chapter, you will learn some tips to highlight the person and finish up your photographs more impressively.
When shooting, set the camera to the A-mode and open the aperture as much as possible.

Shooting on the telephoto side

If you use a zoom lens, get as close as possible to the subject, and shoot on the telephoto side (with longer focal lengths). In this way, you can eliminate unwanted surrounding objects and defocus the backgrounds more, so that only the person will be emphasized.

[1] Focal length: 55 mm /
F-number: 1.8
[2] Focal length: 55 mm /
F-number: 1.8

In the examples above, photograph [2] was shot by getting closer to the subject and zooming in on the upper body. As a result, the expression of the subject stands out, rendered more expressively. Shooting at a close range makes the background more defocused and highlights the expression of the woman.
For memento shots in tourist spots, photographs like [1], which includes the surrounding landscape in the frame, may be better. However, if you want to make only the person stand out, [2] looks more impressive.

Considering the composition

Changing the composition makes a great difference in the atmosphere of photographs, even when you shoot the same subject.
In casual shooting, we tend to compose a photograph with the subject in the center of the frame. When you shoot portraits, however, try using the "Rule of Thirds" for your composition.
In "Rule of Thirds" composition, the frame is divided into 9 sections (3 horizontal × 3 vertical), and the main subject is placed at the intersections of the dividing lines. For portraits, place the center of the face or the eyes at the intersection.
The "Rule of Thirds" is the basis of well-balanced photographs. If you are not sure how to compose your shot, try using the "Rule of Thirds." By keeping this rule in mind, you will automatically be able to shoot many good photographs. The α cameras have a function that displays the "Rule of Thirds" grid lines on the monitor at the back of the camera. Use this function if you need a guide for your composition when shooting.

Focal length: 70 mm / F-number: 4.0 / Shutter speed: 1/250 sec

Just by placing the center of the head on the dividing line, the above shot has become quite impressive and well-balanced. Moreover, by leaving a space in the area where the subject is looking, the photograph even conveys the atmosphere of the moment.
Also, as the basic principle, a portrait photograph should be taken in the vertical orientation, as in the above photograph. By placing the body of the person in parallel with the long sides of the image, the backgrounds will be naturally organized, and you can easily make the photograph simple and clear. Shooting in the horizontal orientation is good if you want to include the backgrounds. However, if you want to emphasize only the person, using the vertical orientation is definitely recommended.

Using back light

Another important point is the angle of light. Especially for portraits of women, the skin and hair can be rendered softly by shooting with back light. For desirable back light, avoid the daytime when the sunlight is strong, and shoot late in the afternoon when the sunlight is getting weak, or on a cloudy day if possible. If you need to shoot under strong sunlight, try to find a way to weaken the light, such as shooting under a tree.
Conversely, if you shoot with front light, shadows will be created on the face, and the subject's expression will be grim because of the strong light. If you can control the angle of light, try to create back light.
If you shoot with back light, however, the face may become dark. In this case, adjust the exposure using the exposure compensation function to make the face bright enough. Although the backgrounds will be a little whitish, this will enhance a gentle atmosphere around the subject.

Focal length: 200 mm / F-number: 4.0 / Shutter speed: 1/400 sec

This is a woman's portrait shot with backlighting. The subject is illuminated from behind on the left side. There is no unwanted shadow on her face, and the light shining through her hair creates a soft and airy look.

Trying fixed focal length lenses

Fixed focal length lenses are recommended to defocus backgrounds more and make only the person stand out. Because fixed focal length lenses allow a large amount of light to enter the camera, they can reduce blurring when shooting in low-light situations, as well as portraits.

Focal length: 50 mm / F-number: 1.8 / Shutter speed: 1/4000 sec

SEL50F18

This is a mid-range telephoto lens with the 50 mm focal length that is perfect for portraiture. The large aperture and circular aperture design can produce beautifully defocused backgrounds. Moreover, by working together with the built-in Optical SteadyShot image stabilization system, it can shoot crisp and clear images under low-light conditions.