Portrait shoot tips

Mis à jour : avr. 21


What kind of camera lenses should be used ?

How to deal with daylight ?

How can you highlight your model ?

How to choose your background ?

Some answers.



  • Do not use a focal length below 50mm.

Do not use wide angles (28 mm or less), which will distort your subject, especially if you are close to your model.

Except if you want a stylish effect, a 50 mm lens is the limit. Take a step back as it is not a specific portrait lens like a 70 mm minimum. An 85 mm lens is ideal for portraiture uses.

Besides, a stunning background blur or bokeh will enhance your model.



  • Focus on the eye

A precise focus on the eye is crucial, mainly if you use a long focal length and a wide aperture since you will get a shallow depth of field.



  • Leave space for the eye.

Space is often left in the same direction as the model's gaze in the frame. A person looking to the side is making the viewer want to stare in the same direction. Therefore, we should not immediately bump into the edge of the frame, but rather have space to direct our eyes to the key element that the model seems to be looking at.



  • Prefer the soft light hours to shoot

Doing a portrait in the middle of the day is difficult since it draws hard shadows under the arches, under the nose and the chin, the luminosity of the model's eyes wrinkles, in summer, sweating, etc. In short, avoid this, unless you use one of the following techniques.


  • A reflector or diffuser

Light management is an essential element in a portrait photo. Even if the sunlight at midday in summer isn't really flattering, your aim is to highlight your model in the best possible way. So you need to tame the light, especially outdoors. If you want to shoot in the middle of the day, a diffuser is an essential ally.


This method will allow you to soften the light and, therefore, the facial features. You can also choose to take pictures against the sun by adding a reflector for an excellent rendering. If you do not have a photographer's reflector, you can always use a white sheet or a polystyrene board. The problem with these two techniques (diffuser and reflector) is that you need someone to hold back.

  • Find a natural reflector

If you are working on your own, a wall of a rather neutral or a warmer color (yellow for instance) would make an excellent reflector too. All you need to do is place your model close enough to take advantage of the soft light reflected from the wall. We don't think about it often enough, and yet it's a useful tool. So, when natural light is very hard, and you don't have a reflector, find an object in the environment that can replace it.



  • In case of intense light, shoot in the shade.

Some lights highlight faces, some don't. We avoid images taken in full sun : they are uncomfortable for your model that squints and frowns; the full sun also produces intense contrasts, the faces lose their shape. Diving lights (coming from above) are not flattering: they cause dark circles to appear under the eyes, marked wrinkles, hollow-out features.


Instead, position your subject in the shade, in indirect light, or, for instance, choose a fill light by positioning it near a window. If there is too much light passing through the window, a curtain in front of it will be enough to diffuse it. You should also consider using a reflector to remove shadows on the side of the face that do not directly receive the light.



  • The three-quarter pose

Depending on the morphology, some poses will be more appropriate : if you put your model in front of the lens, the full width will appear in the picture. Conversely, if you position your model at an angle, the body will be less imposing, and so will appear thinner. Besides, lowering the chin will make the eyes look bigger, taking him in a very light dive will also make him look thinner.



  • Front-facing portrait

On the other hand, if you stand fully facing, it will precisely bring out your wingspan, your build. This technic is exacerbating the masculine, square, strong side.

  • The ambiance

When you take pictures, make an effort to create a good mood. First of all, talk to your model, don't wallow in silence because that is intimidating. If you are indoors, you can even put on some music. You also have to encourage your model by staying positive and direct her/him.


Speak calmly, not with a loud voice. Finally, don't let your model stare at the lens for too long, because as the seconds go by, her face may become tense. Tell your model to look elsewhere and then go back to look at the lens when you are ready.


Unless you want to make a stylistic effect, prefer shooting at or below eye level. If you take an overhead shot, you should know that your model will look smaller. and your goal is to make your model satisfied with the result.

  • Choose the background carefully

In a portrait, your subject is your model. We often see images with a busy environment, cluttered with a lot of stuff that disturbs the reading of the shot. Instead, consider either a sober background that will fade to the benefit of your model.


Another tip for capturing more spontaneous images is to create a diversion. Get their attention to something around you and try to make them laugh. An excellent way to capture authentic smiles and create a lighter mood that will benefit the rest of the session. Don't forget that your model should have a good time to let go.



  • Keep shooting before and after the session

During the shoot, you will have to change the location or move your model around the room. Many photographers stop taking pictures at this time and put their cameras down. However, this is a great opportunity to capture spontaneous gestures made on the spot. Some of these images will have the aspect of reporting, complementing well the more directed portraits.


  • Framing details

A photograph does not have to reveal the whole face. So remember to get close and capture shots that are close to just a part of your model (eyes, hands, mouth, neck). These fragments of body or face alone could be enough to say a lot about your model, to tell a story.



  • Break free

Now that you've got the rules, it's time to break them and experiment yourself : use lots of negative space, take a portrait in top view, pin the face to the edge of the frame, focus on the back of the skull. Photography feeds on all experimentation, so let it be creative.