Photograph Portraits Professionally


Taking advantage of your lighting

A military man posing from outside his car on the open window, in a bright day and dark lit car.
NIKON D5300, f/2, 1/1600 sec, ISO-320, No flash

I don't like reading or hearing 'erase the shadows' because shadows can add emphasis to the abstraction and highlight the portrait, making them stand out.

I was lucky with this portrait, the rear and front windows of the car were blacked out, and the military man was leaning into the side window. After showing my nephew the vehicle, I kindly asked the man if I could take his picture, my settings were prepared beforehand and took one shot, said thank you and moved on.

Cloudy day

A good rule of thumb is to widen your aperture, this increases the contrast between your subject and the background. Light changes more frequently when it is cloudy.

Sunny day

On bright days, I recommend utilising an ISO of 50 to 100 and a quick shutter speed of 1/100th of a second for optimum exposure. Reduce the amount of light entering your camera by using a neutral density filter. For your camera lens, the filter functions similarly to sunglasses.

Golden Hour

You only have an hour to obtain all your images, come prepared with how and where you want to photograph. Don't use your camera's automated settings; your camera will 'correct' the light. Manually adjust the aperture and shutter speed. If you're not sure about the manual settings, try the 'cloudy' or 'shade' automatic options.

Midday sun

Use a neutral density filter to avoid washed-out images or shoot in shaded places to reduce overexposure or unwanted distracting shadows.


When taking a close-up photo, avoid using the zoom on your lens. Instead, approach the subject directly, this eliminates the shaking lens which is especially noticeable in low light. To remove blur caused by movement, you may need to use a tripod.

Using the room

A studio photograph of a musician practicing on his electric guitar, fully lit room.
NIKON D610, f/6.3, 1/25 sec, ISO-1600, No flash

I don't like using studios or operating with studio lights, I enjoy taking advantage of what I already have, studio room lights have globe bulbs and LED lights already built-in.

Finding the Right Place

You don't need to rent out a studio to take a portrait. Your living room or the outside wall of your house can be the best place. All you need is approximately 10 feet of blank wall space, the wider your wall space the more room you will have to frame your photos, this will enable you to work both horizontally and vertically.

At Home Set-Up

Set up a studio next to a window or use lamps so you can control the direction of the lighting. White or dark bedsheets can easily be hung up and draped over a door if you are looking to photograph headshots or closeups. You can use shades and curtains to block out any light you don't want. The more natural light you have the clearer and more natural your photographs will be.

Although, you may not want a blank background, I think backgrounds can emphasise the story and make the portrait pop, houses tell you a lot about a person, if you're recreating a story or personality take advantage of your surroundings.

Document in style

A drag king preparing for his performance in the evening, location Falmouth, Cornwall. Partially lit bathroom.
NIKON D5300, f/1.8, 1/100 sec, ISO-400, No flash

The first point that comes to my mind with documentary photography is, to follow your subject like a hawk but don't get in their way. You will miss great opportunities if you are half-hearted.

Don't underestimate ideas. Before the shooting day, you should already have an idea or concept of the documentary. Photograph situations that might be considered boring to you but otherwise interesting to someone else.

It's good to know the person you're photographing, for a documentary, be communicative and friendly, don't be afraid to ask questions, you will understand the personal story better and have a better grasp of what to focus on and what to photograph, you will achieve a greater story overall.

Creating stories using photos is not simple, take inspiration from film and other documentaries or photobooks. Seek symbolism, detail, individualism and relationships. With practice, you will gradually get used to the fast-paced flow.

Shooting in Black & White

An automatic black and white film portrait photograph set in a university bedroom.
CANON AE-1 35mm, f/1.8 1/60, ISO-1250, No flash

Black and white portraits can often convey a greater sense of feeling than colour portraits, there is more emphasis on tone and contrast. When colour is removed from a photo is allows for the viewer to focus on other characteristics, like the subject, textures, shapes, patterns, and compositions. Lighting for black and white is very simple, this photo is lit from one angle; the window.

For many photographers, black and white are more than a creative choice at the post-production stage, it's a mindset. IF you are having trouble imagining what your image will look like in black and white practice using the monochrome setting on your camera, over time you will get used to imagining images in black and white before pressing the shutter.

With portraits, having detail on the eye is especially true in black and white, eyes are shapes that everyone recognises and eyes immediately capture the attention of the viewers, so make sure the eyes are in-focus and are the attention of your photograph.

Expressions are also important in black and white portraits, refer to the photo example, he is very expressive, you can see the detail in his face and see every shadow on his face. Practice with a friend or family member and ask them to express love, sadness, excitement, anger, confusion.

Capturing filmmaking with unit stills

A film production, actor preparing for a scene in dim lighting, laying on a bed putting in eye drops and holding a phone
Nikon D5300, f/1.8, 1/60 sec, ISO-635, No flash

Until still photographs are a challenge because it is a very quick process, time is money when it comes to film production. If you're hesitant when photographing you won't be a good unit still photographer.

Four skills to keep in mind with unit stills are discretion, efficiency, stamina, and technology proficiency.


An employing production company trusts you not to share anything without their authorization, maintaining the confidentiality of a film can be a vital component of working as a unit still photographer.


To achieve those thousand photos across the entire production, not disrupting the actors and crew members is essential, an effective until stills photographer makes no noise, being able to complete your role without making it a challenge for anyone else is a valuable skill.


Being physically fit ensures that you can endure long days of shooting, remaining focused for several hours can help you perform your task optimally.

Technology proficiency

Familiarise yourself with editing software e.g. photoshop, lightroom. Also, having advanced photographic and digital camera skills is essential as you need to be aware of your surroundings; lighting, set, crew, actors and actresses.


Confidently shooting street portraits

A street photograph in a Poland flee market of an old woman sitting down holding onto her hand bag wearing a pink hat and a cream woolly coat
NIKON D5300, f/6.3, 1/160 sec, ISO-500 No flash

Two words that come into my mind while thinking of street photography are cunning and brave, of course, there are issues of luck and opportunity, getting the perfect photo is a guessing game, if you know your neighbourhood, the routines and events, you could be able to catch the image when you are in the correct spot and perceive the intersecting paths that will result in a great decisive moment. This is something that can be practised.

I recommend you look at Brian Lloyd Duckett 'Mastering Street photography', he has a unique technique that has energised street photography and it gave me the confidence to experiment with street photography.

People quickly notice you are taking a picture of them, to avoid that try to embrace walking casually but slowly, take in the scenery before raising your camera and capture in the environment, don't focus on the person.

You can also approach the person and request for their portrait to be taken, prepare your composition, take one to two shots, thank them and share the photo.

Is street photography impolite?

Many photographers find street photography to be perplexing. Capturing candid photos is both entertaining and meaningful, receiving negative feedback from our subjects can make us agitated, making us doubt and value what we do, however, we can learn to accept the ethics of photography.

Although street photography is not inherently impolite, it can be if your activities as a street photographer do not adhere to the social standards of the location you shoot in or the context of the incident. When capturing vulnerable people like adolescents or the homeless, be mindful and respect when someone does not want their photograph taken.

Successfully capturing self-portraits

A self-portrait photo of me standing in front of a waterfall in South Iceland
iPhone 6S automatic settings

I think self-portraits can be entertaining to create because you are putting yourself in a challenging yet fulfilling situation and demonstrating something you are passionate about.

Holding the camera at arm's length with the lens pointing at you is the easiest and quickest approach to taking a self-portrait. You may or may not end up with a skewed view of yourself, depending on the focal length of the lens but that could give a unique effect to your portrait.

When taking a photo of yourself in a mirror, remember that any lettering on your clothing or in the background will be reversed, also make sure autofocus is off, otherwise the photo will be out of focus. You will probably get a focused picture of the lingering dust.

If you're using a tripod or a selfie stick, remember you have a self-timer option on your camera, whether it is a DSLR or a phone. You can jump into the frame, pose and wait for the shutter to click.

Try wide-angle views that include you, in addition to the conventional selfie close-up; a wide-angle lets everyone see where you were when you took your photo, so if your location is appealing, show it off.

Remember this:

Why am I taking this picture?