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10 crucial elements about portraits

There are many important pieces when making a beautiful portrait, and actually making a good portrait or being a good portrait photographer is not easy, so today’s article we will talk about at least 10 crucial elements about portraits.

Many look at this type of photography only from the technical side, exposure, focus and light, while others only on the artistic side, on how to work a living subject or create impact with a good composition.

Anyway if you are an inciante portraitist, or want to be one, the best thing to do is to break all this knowledge into pieces and learn to work each at once, until the bridge on which you feel able to put all the elements together.

10 crucial elements about portraits

10 crucial elements about portraits

Here are the 10 crucial elements about portraits you need to think about when shooting:

  1. Lighting standard
  2. Lighting ratio
  3. Light quality
  4. Choice of lens
  5. Background (plane)
  6. Exposure
  7. Sharpness
  8. Subject position 
  9. Easy view and camera positioning
  10. Expression

Technical aspects

1 – Lighting standard

This is how the light falls on the person’s face. How you set up the light will determine the mood of the final portrait.

Lighting patterns are a key piece to arrive at a beautiful portrait. There are at least four had of lighting patterns.

  • Split
  • Loop
  • Rembrandt
  • Short
  • Butterfly
  • Broad
10 crucial elements about portraits
Left – Split lighting. Right – Loop lighting.
10 crucial elements about portraits
Left: Broad lighting. Right: Short lighting.
10 crucial elements about portraits
Broad Lighting Assembly Setup
10 crucial elements about portraits
Short Lighting
10 crucial elements about portraits
Rembrandt Lighting

2 – Proportion of lighting

The ratio is a comparison from one thing to another and in terms of lighting what is comparing are the light and dark sides of the face.

How much difference is there from the shadow, to the highlight side? The higher the proportion, the more contrast the image will have, and the more grumpy portrait will become.

With a smaller proportion, less contrast, and the portrait will end up passing a feeling of lighterness.

10 crucial elements about portraits
In the images above the proportion on the left side is very strong, about 16: 1 or four points. And the difference of the photos on the right side is almost 1: 1 .

3 – Light Quality

Good as this was the theme of the last post worth taking a look at it and transporting knowledge to your portraits, so just click here.

10 crucial elements about portraits
Hard Light or Hard Light

Hard Light or Hard Light

10 crucial elements about portraits
Soft Light or Soft Light

Soft Light or Soft Light

The hard light, hard light, can be obtained in several ways more the main means of achieving this are:

  • The sun
  • One lamp (no modifiers)
  • Or camera flash (no modifiers)

Already speaking of soft lighting the main methods are:

  • The sky on a cloudy day
  • Large studio softboxes
  • Great hitters
  • Or techniques like bounce flash

4 – Choice of lens

The choice of lens will not only affect the subject to be photographed, but also the background.

Using a wide angle lens you will probably introduce distortions and cause deformation in the face of the staff making it not look normal.

It will also allow you to see a large portion of the background behind the subject, thus being able to take your attention away from the main subject.

10 crucial elements about portraits
Notice how the shape of the face and its details are distorted here was used a 17 mm lens. That’s not something most people want.

However, there may be cases where you want this aspect of deformation, such as in a humorous portrait, children, or a picture of the editorial style of a street vendor in a market where you want to include the environment.

10 crucial elements about portraits
The wide-angle view (17 mm) adds to the comical nature of this portrait.

Telephoto lenses compress perspective well, and this generates two things.

It is usually a good choice to do close-ups of the subject to be portrayed.

This type of lens is also able to blur the subject background, taking it out of focus and thus giving much more emphasis to the foreground object.

10 crucial elements about portraits
Photographed with a 70mm

In the two photos above it is possible to see clearly besides not distorting the face of the person photographed the lens also helped to blur the background and puts it in less evidence.

10 crucial elements about portraits
Photo made with 105mm

The longer your lens is, the more compressed the background will be, in the photo above the background, a river that was far away from the girl, seems to be relatively close, and in this case it appears blurred.

5 – Background

One thing that many photographers forget, especially beginners, to think about what the background will be like. It is very easy to lose attention on the whole and dedicate it only to the foreground of the photo.

Two things you want to make sure about for the background are: it makes sense with the picture, and don’t distract the viewer from the subject. There are four things that can do this, to watch them in your background and adjust your camera position or composition accordingly if they appear:

  • Contrast
  • Bright colors (warm tones are the worst for distraction, such as red and yellow)
  • Sharpness
  • Bright areas
10 crucial elements about portraits
See how the bright areas, which are also high contrast, in the background draw your attention away from the couple

Anyone, or all, of these aspects can draw attention away from the main subject of the photo if they are in your background and I send you more attention than they deserve.

The eye is attracted to the brightest area of an image, so placing the subject at a certain distance from the background can be useful when it comes to giving importance to what is really relevant in the photo.

Sometimes simply moving a little to the direct or left can be all you need to create a cleaner and distraction-free background.

10 crucial elements about portraits
The use of various techniques here have dramatically improved this portrait. The background is now solid, out of focus, and does not take attention away from the couple, but rather completes the portrait.

6 – Exhibition

For portraits where the subject is not moving, you can start with these settings on your camera.

  • Manual shooting mode
  • Single shooting mode (only one photo at a time)
  • Unique focus bridge
  • Auto focus (just lock and not auto focus continuous)
  • White balance (depending on the situation you are working on)
  • Shooting in RAW

This will give you more control and freedom to work other things, which are also of such importance, as the composition of the photo.

10 crucial elements about portraits
Manual controls

Adjust your camera, take one or two test shots, check the exposure through the camera’s histogram, make the necessary adjustments, and ready to shoot.

Do not forget that as the natural light changes you will have to change the settings on the camera according to the new light scenario, such as when you change location to make new photos.

This besides being one of the best tips within the 10 crucial elements about portraits will still help you have a much faster and fluid post-production process.

7- Sharpness, achieving focus.

Working with the focus locked you won’t have to worry about the sharpness of the photos unless you were photographing someone running or distancing yourself from you so that you always need to find the focus again.

If you’re working with people moving work with multiple shots and also with continuous focus, this will help keep your images sharper.

Do not forget that in portraits the eyes of those without photographed say everything, so this is one of the areas of the face that needs to be sharp.

Artistic part

8 – Poses

Photographing people is usually complicated because they are nervous, so it is part of the photographer’s job to create a relaxed and calm atmosphere in order to guide the subject to be photographed so that the poses are natural.

Always think ahead, research a little about poses for photography in order to create in your head a bunch of data of things that look cool in the photo.

Don’t forget to put the model in comfortable question.

Don’t forget that the photo needs to have movement, just like a painting, so tell the model to move here or there in order to create movement in the portrait and thus make it more interesting.

10 crucial elements about portraits
Left – hard and boring, no movement. Right – just folding the arms and legs i create more movement and the portrait became much more dynamic.

9 – Faces and camera position

As the face is positioned in the portrait can make it a total disaster or a success, so the next tip of 10 crucial elements about portraits will be how to work the faces in the portrait.

Some people have a very large rest, in these cases it is better to use a side angle to give a narrowing on the face and not make the face of the person look like the moon.

One interesting thing about profile pictures is that usually people don’t know the view of their profile face, simply because it’s hard to see themselves in the mirror from certain angles.

So if you use these devices will always be nice to create surprises to the photographed.

The key to choosing the right angle of the face is to observe it.

10 crucial elements about portraits
Try to shoot multiple face angles and choose the nicest one.

Choosing a camera placement will always be difficult because it will depend a lot on what you would like to emphasize in the portrait.

Low angles will emphasize height, especially in full body photos, can even make the individual appear taller. But take care because you may be giving too much emphasis to the body and not to the face.

Already angles slightly above the eye line will give a great emphasis to the face and minimize the body, this is a good choice for portraits, but be careful because if the photos are full body can make the person look smaller than it really is.

And when photographing men, be careful with very high angles, as this will make the forehead very prominent and definitely will not be a choice for the portrait of a person with baldness.

10 – Expression

10 crucial elements about portraits
Try to shoot multiple face angles and choose the nicest one.

This will surely be the hardest part of the portrait, to capture a good expression, and surely it will be vital to the success of your photos.

Here again you depend on the conversation, talk to those who are being photographed, interact with the subject and the best day to be able to capture a good expression.

Never forget that there is a huge black thing between you and the photographed, yes your camera, so don’t forget the eye contact, it will be the key for you to connect with the person and get good expressions.

Putting it all together

You can try putting all 10 crucial elements on portraits together, but it may be more comfortable if you first work just a few points out of these 10 to go creating custom and portraying someone.

And from the moment you feel more confident go including new aspects in your portraits or even in the mode in which you work.

Did you like the article? Give a strength ai and share or leave your comment!

Written by Rix Mascarenhas

Rix Mascarenhas is a photographer, videographer, and drone pilot at

Art lover, always involved with crafts, design, painting etc... As a photographer, I enjoy taking pictures and creating stories that have meaning and help people to thrive. My work is guided by the stories behind each scene that really represent the moment.


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