How to Take Better Portraits: 11 Professional Tips

In this post, I’ll be sharing 11 professional tips to take better portraits.

In fact, these are the exact same tips I use. (To see real life examples, check my Instagram)

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Portrait photography is getting more and more popular professionally, with photographers using high-tech gear such as DSLR cameras to achieve stunning results.

But even the ordinary person can use their smartphone or an entry-level camera to create portraits that are worth keeping.

While portrait photography grows increasingly popular, it actually isn’t as simple as we think. With these 11 professional portrait photography tips, you, too, can be a better photographer.

Let’s dive in:

How to Take Better Portraits: 11 Professional Tips

1. Pick Just One Focus Point

All good portrait photography techniques involve focus.

When you choose to use autofocus on your camera to allow the camera to choose its own focus point, then you aren’t going to get the best results.

This is because the autofocus is usually designed to select whatever object is closest to your camera’s lens and set its focus near that position.

In some cases, using autofocus is not a wrong choice because by doing so, your camera will choose several focus points to make the “best photo” result based on the average distance between all the points selected.

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But, using one focus point in the shooting will give you full control. That is, you are free to choose or determine the focus point you want.

Therefore, use manual focus and consider everything well before taking a photograph.

2. Always Focus on the Eyes

How to take better portraits? Start with the face and eyes of your subject. “Eyes are the window to one’s soul; that is why eyes must be the focal point of every good photograph.”

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Indeed, the eye is not the only important part of producing good photos, but the eye is the sharpest and most beautiful part of your face, and it cannot be denied.

When you shoot using a wide aperture by taking focus on the eyes, the bokeh lens (blurring of dots of light) will help in softening the look of your photograph.

Other than that, focusing on the eyes also highlights the symmetrical features of our faces, which makes us relatively more attractive. This is particularly effective for those with oval face shapes.

3. Use Long Focal Lengths – 70mm or More

Most of the people who ask how to take better portraits need to look for technical solutions.

Never take photos using a focal length of less than 50 mm; try to use focal lengths of 70 mm or more.

Because focal lengths below 70 mm can change one part of your photo’s subject/model, they will almost always result in a distorted picture, and who really wants that?

4. Photograph in the Right Lighting

Sunlight works well for photos, but if it’s harsh, direct sunlight, it can harm your photos, because the eyes of your subject will “flicker” or close.

Besides that, direct sunlight can create hard shadows that are distracting and do not serve the photo as a whole.

You would be better off shooting in a shady place to creates subtle shadows that are naturally produced by your subject (as opposed to unavoidable shadows as a result of direct sun).

By choosing the right lighting, you can make your photos look clearer and convey a specific mood.

5. Setting the Light

One of the variables in how to take better portraits is lighting composition.

Getting lighting that makes the subject look natural in the photo is very challenging for every photographer.

Using excessive light in a picture is not a bad thing, but light that appears suddenly without being planned for, like direct sunlight, will create shadows and uneven lighting effects on your subject.

Ideally, if you want to use multiple light sources in shooting, bring a few light units to increase the power of your lighting.

But it must be remembered that lighting is one of the factors that give impact and sharpness to a photo. That is why it is essential to use the best possible light.

6. Composition and Settings

To become a better portrait photographer, pay attention to your camera’s settings to suit each situation you find yourself in.

Taking a good picture isn’t just about having a good camera; it also requires good composition and suitable settings.

creative portrait photographer

Most cameras include a portrait mode. This is a good place for beginners to start when trying to become a better portrait photographer.

7. Select Creative Subjects

Become a better portrait photographer by knowing the subject of your photo.

A creative subject does not always mean a person who always throws his smile in front of the camera.

The subject is someone or something that interests you; that could be your pet lying on the ground, your baby trying to grab his toy on a chair, or people playing ball in front of your house.

The right choice in subject will have a clear effect on the quality of your photos. Take advantage of everything that is around you to produce good quality photos.

8. Managing Shutter Speed

Another possible answer to the question of how to take better portraits is shutter speed management.

When adjusting the shutter speed on your camera, the focal length will be a problem if you experience vibrations or shake when shooting because it will harm your photos.

To overcome this, make sure your shutter speed is higher than your focal length. For example, if your focal length is 200mm, then set your shutter speed to 1/250 seconds or faster.

how to take better portraits

It also means you can make your shutter speed slower when you want to take pictures on a broader area such as 1/20 seconds with a focal length of 18 mm, although this won’t help enough if your subject moves too fast.

Don’t forget to use the anti-shake system on your camera. Not every lens will feature this technology but, if you have it, use it.

9. Lens Configuration & Selection

One of the most simple portrait photography techniques is all about choosing the right lens.

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Selecting a camera lens to use in shooting can have a significant effect on every shot. To get a visual appearance that is pleasing to the eye, a wide-angle lens is a must.

Use it to shoot from a lower angle to make your subject look higher and taller than they really are. This is a good technique to trick the eyes of your photo lovers and change their perspective.

But, be careful not to be too close to your subject, as this could negatively affect your picture.

In addition to using the wide-angle shooting technique, try to tilt your camera slightly when shooting. For a photo lens at a size of 70-200 mm, f / 2.8 is one of the best apertures to create stunning photos.

10. Positioning

Another portrait photography technique tip is positioning. In photography, the idea that placing the subject in the middle does not always give good results.

That’s why you should use framing to position your subject appealingly. If done correctly, you can produce excellent and exciting work.

how to take better portraits

11. Intentions

Intent might seem like the least important point because it has less to do with photography itself, but still has a deep influence on the photo.

Photography is an art, and not all art should be aesthetically pleasing. We can always experiment with specific messages to convey feelings or even thoughts.

Every frame is a painting and allows us to express something new.


Taking a good portrait photograph isn’t as simple as it seems.

Many things must be considered in connection with getting good results in every shot, ranging from determining the type of camera used, lighting settings, shooting techniques, even to the small things such as carrying a reflector, flash-light, etc.

DSLR cameras offer many features that simplify the process of preparing the shot, so knowing the advantages and disadvantages of the camera will help you make the best photographic decisions. Knowing what you can and can’t do, as well as what you should and shouldn’t, will make it easier for you to excel in every type of shooting, whether indoors or outdoors.

Now go out there and try!

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