Simply put, a portrait is a photo of an individual’s face. Why the face? Photos are frozen moments in time, and the face is the most expressive part of the body as well as the easiest to interpret. Unfortunately, today’s portraits show the individual smiling with a blurred background so that their features are highlighted. However, while these portraits are incredibly beautiful, it does not capture the individual’s uniqueness or personality. Because of this, lesson 2 of our tutorial will focus on how to take a true portrait of an individual with the intent to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the individual.

The Eyes.

It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul, and thus portraits should have sharp images of the eyes.

For a staged photo session, set your camera to single point focus mode. In this mode, you will see all of the focus point brackets when you look through the viewfinder, but you will only use one. The focus point should be set on one eye.

For a photo session in which the subject in moving around constantly (think children!), set the camera to continuous focus mode, which will allow you to choose the focal points by toggling the brackets while you camera attempts to adjust focus.

After you have captured your shot, always review your photo and zoom in on the eyes to ensure that they are indeed sharp.

For more information on setting autofocus, we recommend reading “Master your camera’s autofocus: which AF point to use and when to use them” by Digital Camera World.


Based on the individual’s level of comfort, a photographer can take several portrait depths to capture an individual’s personality.

No Background- the frame is full of face. Many people do not feel comfortable with this type of photography as it is very exposing. However, the effects, especially in black and white, are captivating and raw with emotion. These types of photos are taken in a studio with the camera on a tripod to add stability to the image.

Little- the frame is 2/3 face and 1/3 background. This type of portrait tends to feature the blurred background. Given the level of blurriness in these types of photos, most professional photographers prefer to take these photos in studio since that is where they are most comfortable with lighting, and they don’t have to haul their equipment around; however, offsite photos can be accommodated.

Half and Half- the frame is half face and half background. This photo captures the soulful aspect of the musician while highlighting his ability to sing. These types of photos are usually taken offsite at an agreed upon location.

Majority-the frame is 2/3 background and 1/3 face. These types of photos are usually taken offsite at an agreed upon location.

As stated previously, the most popular background in portraits is a blurred scene. However, using a background can help display a person’s individual traits. For an athlete, a gym or field. For a performer, a studio or stage. An avid reader, a library. However, remember to keep your background minimal to avoid clutter or distractions. This is done by using a wider aperture and/or restricting the depth of field.

Other helpful tips:

  • Natural light is the most flattering due to its soft nature.
  • Always keep the light behind the photographer to ensure natural lighting on the individual.
  • When it comes to choosing clothing and backgrounds use complimentary colors.
  • Make sure the individual being photographed is relaxed. Here is an excellent article titled “Communication: A Vital Detail Often Ignored” by Dani Diamond that offers several tips.


To continue to enhance your skills as a photographer, we also encourage taking photos regularly to increase familiarity with your camera. For learning experiences as well as personal (non-professional grade photography), we invite you to visit Cedar Creek during our normal business hours on Saturday and Sunday.

For professional grade photography sessions, including portraits and engagement sessions, please contact us.

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