Portraits of different people side by side showing their uniqueness and individuality

Tips for Brilliant Portrait Photos

In portrait photography, the person being photographed is the main focus of the picture. When taking a portrait, either the whole body or just the face of the person can be photographed. You can also use your camera’s focus in a multitude of ways depending on your personal preferences. We’ll give you some simple tips on how to take brilliant portraits without having to hire a professional.

The Right Lighting Conditions

For those of you who aren’t taking professional-grade photographs in your own studio every day, you probably don’t have fancy lighting equipment at your disposal. Luckily, there are some simple tricks available that will ensure you make the best of the lighting you have available and that you’ll be able to showcase your subjects “in the right light.”

Should the photo session take place outdoors, you should make sure that the subject doesn’t stand directly in bright sunlight since this can cause shadows to appear on their face. Also, the glare from the sun can cause problems when photographing. It’s better to photograph your subject in a bright location that isn’t directly illuminated by the Sun, like in front of a wall. When taking pictures outdoors, photographing during the morning or afternoon is more ideal than midday since the light shines at more of an angle during these times of day.

If you’re photographing indoors, on the other hand, you can use windows to provide a source of light. When the light shines through the windows, it is a limited amount of light when compared to lighting conditions outside. Also, this light is shining in a distinct direction and can be used to purposefully illuminate your subject without unnecessary glare. For those of you who shoot portrait photographs more often, you can always buy a cheap portable floodlight in order to provide more light in the room. It’s recommended to use at least two different light sources from different directions (in relation to the subject being photographed) in order to avoid the formation of shadows.

By altering and playing around with the image section, shadows, and colour, you can produce portraits with an alluring effect

You can of course purposefully use dark shadows or backlighting to produce photos with interesting effects. When employing the use of shadows, you can create especially dramatic photos. When doing this, however, you should be sure to use “attractive” shadows, i.e. no shadows that appear under the eyes or that block out too much of the face.

The Right Background

When shooting portrait photos, the face of the subject is the main focus. Accordingly, you don’t need any kind of fancy background. Using such a background can actually detract attention from the subject being photographed and disrupt the image composition. The background shouldn’t be too boring or too loud. You could use a background like curtains blowing in the wind or slightly textured walls. When selecting a background, you should also make sure that the colour scheme doesn’t clash with the subject you’re photographing. You can purposefully use colour, for instance, to accentuate the subject’s eyes.

The face of a smiling young woman depicted sharply in front of a blurry city backdrop

You can create brilliant effects in portrait photography by only focusing on the face of the person you’re photographing with the background blurred out. Playing around with the depth of field like this is possible by adjusting the focal length and the aperture. This kind of effect is most easily created by photographing the subject from very up close with the background as far away as possible. You can also ensure that your background will appear blurry if you use the widest aperture opening possible.

The Picture Detail

Portrait photos that appear very similar to passport photos can be quite boring to look at. To make your photos grab more attention, you can display the face of the subject really up close. Perhaps their whole face won’t fit into the photo, but the picture detail will be much more interesting. When taking such a close-up photo of the person, you can accentuate their expression and facial features.

The Right Lens

When shooting portraits, it’s best to use a lens with a long focal length. You should steer clear of using telephoto lenses when taking portraits. When using a lens with a focal length of 50 – 100mm, the facial proportions can be best depicted. If you use a wide-angle lens (i.e. a lens with a focal length of less than 50mm), the face can often appear slightly distorted.

Facial Expressions

A child playing in a pile of leaves is a perfect motif for portraitsA child playing in a pile of leaves is a perfect motif for portraits

It’s instantly recognisable when looking at photos if the person photographed didn’t feel comfortable. Complicated poses, an uncomfortable atmosphere, or being in a bad mood when photographed all have a negative effect on the photo. Thus, it’s essential to speak with the person you’re photographing ahead of time about what kind of picture they’d like and to provide the most comfortable and relaxed atmosphere possible.

Many people venture outside of their comfort zone very rarely. So, after taking a couple of photos of them flashing a subtle smile and slightly smirking, it’s the job of the photographer to make them relax a bit more and step a bit out of their comfort zone, because there is nothing better than a portrait showcasing a hearty laugh or an unexpected expression. Once you’ve got the right settings on your camera, ensured optimal lighting conditions, and have found the perfect background, it’s worthwhile to sometimes press down the shutter release without warning.

Fashion photography: use close-up photos to capture details of things like jewellery

Close-up Photos – Make an Impression with the Details

Close-up photos play a central role in the world of fashion photography. Whether you’re photographing seams and buttons or taking close-ups of accessories like a brooch, fringe, or jewellery, paying attention to the details is important. We’ll give you five useful tips how you can best accentuate all the details in your next photo shoot.

5 Tips for Brilliant Close-up Photos

Motif and Perspective

Before adjusting your camera and the lighting, you have to choose what kind of motif you want to photograph. The perspective also plays a central role in order to ensure details like necklaces or earrings don’t appear flat and boring in your photo. To photograph accessories in an appealing and exciting way, you should play around with different perspectives; there’s no such thing as the “right” camera angle in this case. You could, for example, use a bird’s eye view or perhaps photograph the subject from below eye level or from the side: try them all out yourself. Just a few degrees difference in the perspective can make your photo much more dynamic and interesting.

Besides the perspective, the image section also plays an important role. Here you should keep the “rule of thirds” in mind. Here, the main motif of the photo isn’t located in the centre of the photo, but instead is slightly offset. Most cameras have the capability of showing guidelines on the camera’s display in order to help you place the motif in the correct section of the photo. When choosing your motif, you should also pay attention to both the fore- and background. They should appear calm and balanced to make sure the main motif is accentuated and takes centre stage. It could be advisable, for instance, to choose a solid-coloured blouse or a quiet background if you’re photographing something like a loud and colourful piece of jewellery.

Close-ups of a zipper: it appears flat and boring in the photo on the left, while it appears more dynamic and interesting in the photo on the right thanks to a change of perspectiveClose-ups of a zipper: it appears flat and boring in the photo on the left, while it appears more dynamic and interesting in the photo on the right thanks to a change of perspective

Lighting

In addition to the motif selection and perspective, the lighting conditions are also a deciding factor. If you’re shooting in a studio, then you don’t really have to worry about this since the lighting is usually perfect. The set is well-lit with lighting kits in order to ensure every detail is visible. The lamps used by photographers usually allow for the adjustment of light and shadow in the photo. If you’re shooting outdoors, however, there are a few things you should pay attention to.

When positioning your motif or model, you should make sure that they’re not in direct sunlight. Direct sunlight, especially at midday, appears too hard in photos and also produces unsightly shadows. That’s why it’s a better idea to photograph in either the morning or afternoon when the sunlight is softer. If this is unavoidable and you have to photograph at high noon, then it’s recommended to at least search for a shady spot. In the shadows (or at least somewhat shadowy spot), the motif / model won’t be directly illuminated by the sunlight. This will make the details easier to see in the photo. You can also make use of a reflector while photographing. If you don’t have a reflector at hand, you can alternatively make your own makeshift reflector out of a piece of cardboard and aluminium foil. The reflector should be held near the motif or model in order to balance out hard shadows. If the sun is shining directly on the right side of the motif or model, for instance, the reflector should be held on the left side. This will enable you to balance out hard shadows and make sure the resulting photo appears more harmonious. You can also use a reflector to produce a bit of shadow in your photo; the reflector can be used to capture the sunlight and redirect it to a desired location in your image.

A close-up of high heels with playful ruffles – the image appears softer thanks to creative lighting effects

Tripod and Remote-control Release

Since taking close-up photos requires a very steady hand, using a tripod can be a good idea. This will heavily reduce the chance of your photos appearing blurry. It’s also a good idea to use a remote-control release. This gives you the advantage of being able to leave the camera on the tripod and shoot photos without disturbing it and perhaps causing camera shake. There’s an especially good chance that a photo can turn out blurry if there is a large distance between the subject and the photographer since the photographer will have to zoom in on the subject; blurry photos can also be the end result if the subject is moving. A remote-control release can usually be directly connected to the camera or wirelessly.

A close-up photo accentuating jewellery and feathers: with the help of a tripod and a remote-control release, the feathers don’t appear blurry even when blowing in the wind

RAW

In order to have full control over the editing process of your photos after you’re done shooting without having any detail go to waste, you should shoot them in RAW format. Unlike pictures taken in JPEG format, RAW format pictures contain data like exposure time, aperture, and ISO-value. Also, other things like contrast or white balance can be adjusted at a later point in time without lowering the picture quality. In RAW format, the image data is saved exactly as it was delivered to the camera’s image sensor. The brightness levels in this format are also significantly better and the transitions between shades of white and black are much more subtle.

Depth of Field and Focus

The depth of field plays a very deciding role when trying to take good close-up photographs. You can make the background appear blurry and accentuate the main motif in the foreground. In order to produce this effect, you should deactivate the automatic focus and select manual mode. With the help of the manual focus, you can choose the level of focus yourself; this also allows you to have more leeway with the sharpness. While going through the different levels of focus in manual mode, the difference is very easy to notice. To enhance the effect and depict the subject accurately, taking the f-number into consideration is also important. For taking close-up photos that should showcase the details of the subject being photographed, an f-number of f/2.8 – f/4 is recommended. This will make the background appear much more blurry and the main motif will appear especially sharp.

Lenses

A lens acts as an optical system that generates an image of an object. The simplest form of a lens is made up of a collecting lens, which gathers together rays of light and projects them onto an image plane. Modern camera lenses, however, are made up of multiple lenses and mirrors. Some camera lenses contain as many as 20 lenses that are partially fixed to each other and partially movable. The basic operation of lenses always corresponds to that of a collecting lens. The image produced by the light is depicted upside down. Digital cameras turn this image upright automatically so that the image can be viewed by the photographer as it would be perceived in reality.

A lens is largely defined by two factors: the focal length and the aperture width.

The focal length is given in millimetres and describes the size of the object in correlation to the distance from the lens. In photography, there is a difference between a lens with a fixed focal length and a zoom lens, the latter of which enables the photographer to adjust the focal length within certain limits. When using a zoom lens, it’s possible to change the focal length by shifting individual lenses and thus, focus on a certain object. This capability makes this kind of lens quite versatile. Several advantages of using a lens with a fixed focal length, on the other hand, are its compact design and the perfect optimisation of its components for that certain focal length. The larger the focal length of a lens is, the larger the photographed object will appear at the specified distance. As a result, this reduces the image detail, i.e. the visible content in the image. There are also special wide-angle lenses that allow the photographer to take pictures with an especially high degree of image detail.

The aperture width specifies the size of the opening of the aperture. This determines the amount of light that goes through the open aperture to the lens. The ratio of the focal length to the aperture width is referred to as the exposure time. The f-number is given as either 1/x or f/x. The larger the denominator of the fraction, the less amount of light passes through the aperture. Thus, an f-number of f/11 allow much less light to pass through the aperture than an f-number of f/1.4.

Lenses are categorised according to their different characteristics, which include focal length, angle of view, the type of lens mounts, as well as the individual lenses used in the objective lens. Lenses are complex and extremely sensitive technical apparatuses that function as the “eye” of the camera. Thus, these very important camera components are some of the most expensive parts of the camera. For interchangeable lens cameras, the price for an individual lens often exceeds the price of the camera itself.

Aperture

The aperture regulates the amount of light that hits the sensor. If the aperture is fully open, a lot of light is allowed through. The more closed the aperture is, the less light is allowed through to hit the sensor. The aperture is mostly a mechanical system that consists of circularly arranged blades which slide over each other to let in either more or less light.

There is sometimes some confusion when talking about the aperture since there are several different types of notation.

Basically, the aperture value is represented as a fraction, a so-called f-number. This is given as either 1 / f-number or f / f-stop. Some camera manufacturers only specify the aperture value on the lens.

The following is the standard full-stop f-number scale:

1 | 1.4 | 2 | 2.8 | 4 | 5.6 | 8 | 11 | 16 | 22 | 32 | 45 | 64 | 90

Usually, normal lenses have a maximum aperture value of 22, but some special lenses are capable of higher aperture values.

When speaking of an aperture value of 4, the real value is actually 1/4 or f/4. The representation of the aperture value as a fraction simplifies the understanding of the aperture. Just as is known in mathematics, the larger the denominator, the smaller the overall number is. 1/16 is a smaller number than 1/4. Likewise, the larger the f-number is, the less amount of light is allowed through the aperture. An aperture value of 16 means the aperture is much more closed than an aperture value of 4, meaning less light is allowed to pass through the aperture.

Important to remember:

  • Aperture value = 1 / f-stop
  • The smaller the aperture value, the less amount of light is allowed through the aperture
  • The larger the aperture value, the more amount of light is allowed though the aperture

You should choose a fitting aperture value depending on the amount of ambient light available. If less light is available, you should use a larger aperture value in order to let in the most amount of light through the aperture as possible to hit the sensor. If there’s a lot of light available, on the other hand, you can use a smaller aperture value. When using a smaller aperture value, the aperture is more closed and lets less light through to hit the sensor. By selecting the right aperture value, you can avoid under- or overexposed photos.

The choice of which aperture value to use influences other factors in photography as well. If you choose a larger aperture value (i.e. an aperture with a smaller f-number), then the aperture is wide open. Accordingly, this allows more light to hit the sensor, which makes it possible to use a shorter exposure time. If you use a smaller aperture value, less light is allowed through to hit the sensor, which means a longer exposure time is necessary to produce a good result.

Focal Length

The focal length describes the distance between the lens and the focus. A focal length is given in millimetres. The larger the focal length is, the larger the object will appear in the photo at the same distance. It is also an expression of the image magnification at a given distance. The focal length directly influences the angle of view of a lens. The larger the focal length is, the larger the object being photographed will be depicted, which reduces the viewing angle.

Many modern lenses allow the manual adjustment of the focal length (within certain parameters), which is known as zooming. A lens with a focal length of 50mm is labelled as a normal lens, since this kind of lens has a viewing angle almost the same as that of the human eye (46 degrees). Lenses with a focal length less than 50mm are called wide-angle lenses. These lenses enable the photographer to shoot photos with a very large angle. Lenses with a focal length less than 20mm are called ultra-wide-angle lenses. The most extreme kind of wide-angle lens is the fisheye lens, which has a picture angle of 180 degrees and mostly produces round-appearing photos. Due to their very high image angle, wide-angle lenses are especially ideal for landscape photography.

Lenses with a focal length larger than 50mm are called telephoto lenses. They enlarge the photographed object(s) exponentially. This enlargement, however, reduces the angle of view as well as the image detail when compared to photos taken with a wide-angle lens. A lens with a focal length of 300mm or more is known as a super telephoto lens.

Macro Lenses

Using a macro lens makes it possible to achieve a high image ratio. The reproduction ratio describes the relationship between the actual size of an object with the depicted size on the photo sensor. With a ratio of 1:2, for instance, the photographed object is twice as large as it is depicted on the sensor. Just as with the human eye, there is a minimum distance required between the object and the lens in order to produce a sharp picture. In order to achieve a bigger reproduction ratio, the distance between the lens and the sensor is increased. With macro lenses, the minimum focusing distance is decreased, which enables the camera to get closer to the object being photographed.

Normal lenses are optimised for taking pictures of objects from a distance and taking an extremely close-up photo of an object is not possible with such lenses. Macro lenses, on the other hand, are designed specifically for taking high quality pictures of objects from an extremely close distance. In order to achieve this, many macro lenses are built with additional close-up lenses or a reversing ring. Due to their complex construction, macro lenses are usually larger and heavier than normal lenses with comparable focal lengths.

Macro lenses are available in various focal lengths, usually between 40 and 100mm. In order to shoot objects with a macro lens from a larger distance, there are also macro lenses with a focal length of 200mm. A drawback of using such a lens is the operating speed of the autofocus. Due to the large adjustment range, the autofocus operates significantly slower than when using a normal lens with the same focal length.

In order to decide what focal length your macro lens should have, you need to consider what you would mainly like to photograph. Macro lenses are usually made with a fixed focal length; there are very few good quality macro lenses with an adjustable focal length.

Macro lenses with a focal length of 60mm are relatively cheap and light. Due to their smaller focal length, however, you have to get very close to the object you want to photograph. When photographing plants or insects, this is usually not problematic. When photographing certain animals, however, they might run away if you get too close to them. Something else to consider is that unwanted shadows might appear in your photo due to the close proximity to the object you’re photographing.

Focal lengths from 100mm make it possible to photograph the object from a further distance and thus solve the problem of unwanted shadows appearing in your photo. These macro lenses are, however, comparatively heavier and more expensive.

If you want to photograph animals that are shy and have a tendency to run away when people get too close to them, a macro lens with a focal length of 180mm is most suitable. These, however, are extremely heavy and come at a very high price. These lenses also make your images very susceptible to camera shake. When using such a lens, it’s almost mandatory to use a tripod.

Telephoto Lenses

“Tele” comes from Greek and has the meaning of “far.” Telephoto lenses enable the photographer to photograph objects “up-close” from a far distance. A telephoto lens essentially functions the same way a telescope does.

In comparison with normal lenses, telephoto lenses have a higher focal length. A lens is considered to be a telephoto lens if it has a focal length of between 70 and 500mm. The larger the focal length of a lens is, the larger the lens can enlarge the object being photographed. It should be noted that with the enlargement of the object in the photo always comes a reduction in the overall image detail.

Telephoto lenses with a focal length between 100 and 300mm are retrofocus lenses most of the time. Thanks to their design, where the image-side of the main plane is located in front of the lenses, a reduction of length of up to 30% is achieved. Thus, many telephoto lenses have a shorter focal length.

Lenses with a slight tele-focal length between 70 and 135mm are referred to as portrait lenses. A lens with a tele-focal length of 135 to 200mm is considered to be a standard telephoto lens. Lenses with a focal length of 200mm or more are called super telephoto lenses.

Pictures that are shot with a telephoto lens have a significantly lessened depth of field than pictures taken with a wide-angle lens. The depth of field refers to the area of the photo that appears sharp and this is influenced by both the aperture and focal length of a lens. Lenses with a lower tele-focal length (up to about 135mm) are often used in portrait photography. The shallow depth of field focuses on the face of the person being photographed and accentuates it.

Standard telephoto lenses with a focal length of up to 200mm are mainly used in nature and travel photography. Super telephoto lenses, on the other hand, are preferably used in sports and animal photography. Comparatively cheap super telephoto lenses often have a very low degree of light intensity, so they are not suitable for photographing in poor lighting conditions. If you want to take sharp photos in twilight using a super telephoto lens, expect to pay a pretty penny for a telephoto lens capable of capturing such photos.

In order to take images that don’t appear blurry, the golden rule is that the shutter speed used should correspond to the reciprocal of the focal length. For example, with a focal length of 200mm, the shutter speed should be 1/250 seconds or shorter. With a focal length of 300mm or more, you should always use a tripod since it’s hardly possible for you to take steady pictures while holding the camera when the images are so enlarged.

Wide-angle Lenses

All lenses with a focal length less than 50 millimetres are classified as wide-angle lenses. If a lens has a focal length of 20mm or less, it’s classified as an ultra-wide-angle lens. The most extreme form of a wide-angle lens is the fisheye lens. These lenses have a focal length of less than 16mm and render it possible to take photos from a picture angle of close to 180 degrees.

The focal length of a lens directly influences the camera angle, and in wide-angle lenses, this camera angle in comparatively large. This makes it possible to take pictures with more picture detail.

Wide-angle lenses are comprised of several different kinds of lenses. Thanks to this complex system of different kinds of lenses, it’s possible to compensate for imperfections in the image. With a larger angle, however, things like blurred edges, reflections, and distortions become a growing problem.

Besides these challenges and the wide camera angle, wide-angle lenses have other characteristics photographers should be aware of. In photographs taken with a wide-angle lens, the fore- and background of the image appear to be far away from each other. This effect is produced due to the fact that objects located further away from the camera are depicted to be much smaller than they actually are.

When using a wide-angle lens, it’s important to hold the camera as level as possible. If you tilt the camera up or down, so-called converging lines appear. The vertical lines in the image then appear to pass through one another. However, this effect can also be purposefully utilised to generate creative kinds of photos. If you want to avoid this effect appearing in your photos, but still want to photograph something that is higher or lower than your vantage point, you should crouch down or find an elevated place from which you can take your photo.

Furthermore, when photographing with a wide-angle lens, there is a larger depth of field that makes the image plane appear sharp even with a larger aperture. This makes it possible to focus the camera on a person or object without risking other portions of the image appearing blurry. Stylistically speaking, it’s recommended to choose something in the image as a focal point when using a wide-angle lens. Due to the potentially large amount of image detail, bland and boring pictures can be the end result when you don’t focus on anything while taking the picture.

Since wide-angle lenses are very often used in landscape photography, sunlight plays a major role when taking photos. Points of light and sun reflections can be avoided by using a lens screen, however you should be careful that the screen doesn’t show up on the edge(s) of the image.

Besides being used in outdoor photography, wide-angle lenses are also often used for photographing real estate properties. Thanks to the wide viewing angle, it’s possible to photograph larger portions of a room. This results in a much more impressive photo than something taken with just a normal lens.

Objective Lenses

Objective lenses (from now on referred to as just lenses) are translucent objects that focus light beams through refraction.

The first theories of optical magnification by using curved lenses came about a thousand years ago. These theories were further developed in the 12th century. At this time, the reading stone was created, which was placed over written text to make it easier for people to read. Already at the end of the 13th century, lenses were being used to correct vision and the first eyeglasses came about.

Modern camera objectives are comprised of individual lenses and groups of lenses. Depending on the shape of the boundary surface of the lens and the refraction index of the lens material, the refractive properties of the lens are different.

There are many different kinds of lenses; the simplest kind is the spherical lens. They are made up of rounded surfaces of a sphere. Spherical lenses can be divided into two categories: convex lenses and concave lenses.

Convex lenses focus or converge light to a single point. The point where the light converges is known as the focal point. The distance between the focal point and the middle of the lens is referred to as the focal length, which is a very important term in photography. Convex lenses are characterised by an outwardly curved outer surface, thus they are thicker in the middle than at the edges.

Concave lenses, on the other hand, are curved inward and are thicker at the edges than in the middle. They diverge the light rays that pass through them.

In addition to these types of lenses, there are also mixed forms. So-called meniscus lenses have both a convex and concave side. Meniscus lenses are used in camera objectives that are made up of several lenses and lens groups, in order to compensate for aberrations.