Here we answer some of the basic but commonly asked questions about taking portraits:
How do I set up and light the shot effectively?
You don't need an expensive lighting kit to take good portrait shots, In fact, if you are just starting out, experiment with window light
and use a relative or friend as your model. Cloudy days are good for portraits as the light's diffused and if you have a window that's not in the direct path of the sun even better. Before you start, make sure you clean your window as a dirty one can be a full f/stop darker and turn your house lights off.
Plain backgrounds work well and you can use various materials including paper, curtains and sheets to create your backgrounds with if you don't have one that's designed specifically for photography. If your background is busy you could try positioning your subject so there's some space between them and the background as this makes it easier to throw it out of focus.
Try shooting so that your model is at least a few metres away from the backround to create some depth to the shot.
What about posing?
To pose a shot effectively, you need to think about the person you are taking photos of. The shot ideally needs to represent something about them. If you know them well, it should be fairly easy to pose the shot so their personality is represented. Also, don't be afraid to talk to your model and avoid long silences. Have fun and try some silly expressions as well as more series looks as this can help break the ice or make your model feel more relaxed.
Music can help as it will fill moments when you're not talking and do give direction as after all, you are the one taking the shots. This isn't to say your model won't have any suggestions but you can see what's working and what's not and if you want them to move position slightly, you can so long as it's in a polite and friendly way.
The shot can be of them sitting down on a simple stool, or standing up. If it's kids, try and keep items such as toys to a minimum if you're using them in shot, and perhaps capture them playing rather than looking at the camera for something a little different.
The person doesn't always have to be in the centre of the shot; try taking the shot with them to the left or right of the frame to make it more pleasing to the eye. This is called using the Rule Of Thirds which is the most basic of all photography rules. For more tips on using the Rule Of Thirds can be found here: 12 Top Photography Composition Rules
What camera settings do I need?
Contrary to popular belief, you don't need a DSLR camera to take good portrait shots. Many compacts, such as Nikon's Coolpix S3300
, have a Portrait Mode so that settings are optimised for taking a good portrait by the camera. This means you can think more about composition etc. without having to worry about what aperture you need. Switching to this mode will also mean the camera knows you want your background to, ideally, be out of focus, meaning all attention will fall on your subject.
The S3300 also uses a Smart Portrait system, to help you get a perfect shot every time. The smile timer is a great feature to use as it takes a shot when it detects that your subject is smiling. The camera also has blink protect, which tells you if someone's eyes were closed and its red eye fix feature corrects false eye colour due to flash.
Does portrait work have to be indoors?
The short answer is no. Outdoor shots work just as well and this is especially true at this time of year as the quality of natural light can be superb. The light of early mornings and late afternoon compliments the autumnal colours really well and when you throw in subjects wrapped up in coats, hats and gloves, you have a great portrait in the making, Head to the woods or parks full of fallen leaves and shoot candids as well as more formal shots.