Tips For Taking Fantastic Portrait Shots

Image: DDK Portraits

Look at the portrait above. What’s the first thing your eyes are drawn to?

I’m guessing it was the face! That’s what we tend to look at first in photos. So unless you’re going for modern art, you’ll want to make sure the face shines through in any portrait you take.

There are a lot of slight alterations you can easily make that will go a long way in enhancing your portrait shots. Keep these tips in mind the next time you’ve got someone on the other side of your lens!



Eye level or slightly above works best for most people. (Image: Leah Schmalz)

Chin out and down. A lot of people (especially women) want to keep their faces looking slim in photos. Sometimes they’ll lift their chin higher, causing the head to tilt backwards. This actually achieves the opposite effect!

For a slimmer look, have them push the chin out and then down. Don’t believe it’s that simple? Go ahead and try this yourself in front of a mirror. My, how slim you look!


Adjust your camera angle. Just as you don’t want your subject to tilt his head backwards too far, you also don’t want to shoot up his nose!

The most flattering camera angle will typically be at eye level or slightly above. It also has a slimming effect and emphasizes the face over the body.

An aperture of f/2.8 blurs the background and foreground to make the face the focal point. (Image: Olesia Kliots)


Work with aperture. When choosing your aperture setting, consider what you want to convey. An open aperture, like f/2.8, will blur the background and foreground, bringing just the face into focus. Going wider to f/2 will give you a very short depth of field that could throw some of your subject out of focus, so you might want to avoid it.

By contrast, a higher number will allow you to see more of the background clearly. That can work well when you want to convey something about your subject through the background, like a mechanic in his shop or a family member on vacation at the beach.


A longer focal length eliminates background clutter, while a shorter one allows you to see more of the details.

A longer focal length eliminates background clutter, while a shorter one allows you to see more of the details. Either can work- it depends on what you want to convey. (Image: Leah Schmalz)

Choose a reasonable focal length. Shooting portraits with a wide-angle lens works if you want an artsy feel, but the distortion can make things look a little wonky. Ditch the 18-30mm range and increase your focal length for a more normalized photo.

Increasing the focal length even more will compress the background and take away some of the 3D feel. Once you get up to about 200mm, you won’t be able to see many details in the background, which places the emphasis on the subject instead. However, that can also make your subject look flatter. Use a higher focal length to your advantage when you can’t avoid a cluttered background. Otherwise, it often works better to remove any distractions so you can stay in the 50-88mm range.


Have females tilt their heads towards the highest shoulder, while males should do the opposite. (Image: My 3 Boybarians)

Cater towards each gender. When you’re shooting females, you’ll want to position them in a way that creates a softer, more feminine look. Have her tilt her head towards the higher shoulder. Turning to a ¾ view so you can no longer see the far ear can also be flattering for women. Just watch out for any long earrings that may hang down below the face — it looks strange when you can’t see the ear!

These techniques will also make men look more feminine. Instead, have guys keep their heads straight or tilted towards the lowest shoulder. You can use the ¾ view or have him turn his head directly towards the lens.

Of course, you can also take awesome portraits by breaking all of these rules, so never limit yourself. But keep these tips handy in the back of your mind to make an otherwise average portrait spectacular!

Got any favorite tips for taking portrait photos? Let us know in the comments below! 

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Leah is a freelance writer, photo junkie, and avid traveler. When she's not chipping away at a story, you can find her exploring the outdoors or planning her next adventure. Read about them on her blog, Relentless Adventure.

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