How to Shoot Portraits with a DSLR for Dummies

Portrait photography is an old form of art, the original form, which originated from the paintings directly. In fact, the basic portrait lighting has all had their beginnings from the paintings or study of paintings. A DSLR makes it easier to review the images quickly, while it took hours painting a portrait, or a really long time and tedious process in the age of film. To utilize those benefits, one needs to understand the basic rules of shooting portraits with DSLR.

Using the Correct Aperture: To Include or Not to Include the Backgrounds

Aperture is the eye of the camera. The larger the aperture (or the smaller f-number), the more light it lets and the shallower depth of field it produces. Therefore, the scope of foreground and background blurring comes by opening up the aperture. Bokeh is produced when we blur out the lights by keeping them far from the focal plane.

While the common method of portraits involves blurring out the foreground and background or creating bokeh, it is also the most overused. The challenge lies in closing the aperture a bit, and using the background and foreground to create a unique image. It also helps in using the props and set (in studio), or the landscapes and environment (outdoors) more easily.

Using the Correct Shutter Speed: Motion Blur or Frozen Subject

Shutter speed is the time between the first curtain and second curtain of the camera falls. To freeze a subject, the shutter speed needs to be faster than the speed of the subject movement. To have motion blur, it needs to be slower than the speed. The normal shutter speed rule for having sharp portraits is

Shutter Speed = 1/Focal Length, in which shutter speed can’t be less than 1/100. This ensures sharp subjects. However, if you use wind or a blower to make the clothes or hair fly, and then try to freeze it, the shutter speed will depend on the speed of the blower or wind.

The Other Settings that Matter: The ISO

We know ISO as the third element that completes the exposure triangle. ISO, in the present age, isn’t much of a hindrance. It needs to be as low as possible, yet, if there’s a requirement to raise the ISO, we do have enough tools and technology to make the photo appear natural. Yet, the thumb rule is to keep the ISO as low as possible.

The Back Button Focus – Magic Ingredient

Cameras allow back button focusing, and it needs to be done via settings. Your respective camera manual can guide you through that. The biggest positive back button focusing gives is that it allows you to focus and re-compose shots. We know that center focus point is the most accurate focus point. To use that, especially in conditions difficult to focus, we need to understand the focal plane, and keep the distance constant after focusing from the back button. When we have focused, we can re-compose shot, and the distance of focus will remain the same. This allows us to create magical compositions while also using our best focus point – the center focus point.

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