The very first thing you need to know about getting people to look awesome, is that their eyes have to be in focus. This is absolutely, completely non-negotiable. If they have their eyes open, get them in focus. If they have them closed – get them in focus. Is your model wearing sunglasses? Well, get them in focus. You see where I'm going with this.
The reason for focusing on the eyes is simple: Whatever your photo, this is really where you want your audience to be looking. In a good portrait, the eyes are a window into the soul, and if you want to move people with your shots, it's important to get (make) that 'connection'.
As you are starting out on your journey of improving your portraiture concentrate 100% on getting the eyes right. Trust me: everything else will eventually fall into place.
Focusing and composing your portraits
If the eyes are so incredibly important, how can you ensure that you get them in focus? Taking a photo is a multi-step process. First of all, check your camera settings. Is your camera in the right file format? Are you in the correct auto-focus mode? Is your camera in the camera mode you were planning to use? Is your ISO set correctly?
Next, Check your exposure. If you're shooting in Program, Aperture-priority or shutter-priority mode, you need to ensure that you haven't changed the exposure bias. If you have ventured into manual exposure, you should check whether you've dialed in a useful aperture. And if you are in a fully automatic mode, you should buy my book and turn to chapter 3 - and be deeply ashamed of yourself.
The final steps are to focus and compose your image:
The first step to get your focus right is to zoom in all the way on the eyes of your subject. This helps the camera's focusing mechanism get the focus right, and it reduces the risk of the camera focusing on the wrong thing. Obviously, if you are shooting with a prime lens (i.e. a non-zoom lens), this step doesn’t apply.
Now, half-press your shutter button. Your lens will attempt to focus. Since you've zoomed all the way in, it will be very clear when your subject is properly in focus. If your lens gets it wrong somehow, let go of the shutter button and half-press it one more time. Once your subject is in focus, keep the shutter half-pressed.
Now, whilst keeping the shutter button half-way down, you can zoom back out, and compose your photo. Take your time, there's no rush.
When you're happy with the way your photo looks through the viewfinder, all you need to do is to press the shutter all the way down, and your camera will take the photo.
Finally, you edit your photo to your liking, and bonza - you're ready to go. How you can edit your portraits for best effect is, of course, also covered in Focus on Photographing People.
Like this quick tip?
If you enjoyed this quick tip, there's loads more where this came from. My newest book, Focus on Photographing People, is chocker-block with hundreds of photos, tons of tips, and fist-fulls of advice: All to help you become a better Photographer of People. Find out more about the book on my website, and then head to your nearest brick-and-mortar or online bookshop to buy yourself a copy!
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