Lower your aperture for a milky smooth background.
The lower the aperture, the better. The typical 18-55mm kit lens’ lowest aperture lies around f/3.5, which will help smooth busy background, but f-stops in the 1-2 range are ideal. Even the cheapest ‘nifty-fifty’ 50mm lens can help you take stellar portraits without breaking the bank and offer apertures between f/1.2 and f/2.8. And to top it all off, a low aperture will allow you to boost your shutter speed, making sharp, crisp images all the more attainable.
If buying a new lens with a lower aperture is outside of your current budget, a quick run through Photoshop can compensate for a background that’s more in focus than preferred. Simply duplicate the photo, run a Gaussian blur (with about a 1-2 pixel radius) and then erase over your subject, revealing the in focus photo beneath.
Take advantage of natural light.
Natural light works wonders on human complexion. Indoor lighting can be extremely harsh and hard to work with. Posing your subject next to a window can help create a light that wraps your subject softly, eliminating unflattering shadows. Indoor or out, using a reflector beneath your subject can fill-in dark spots and brighten up critical areas, such as under the eyes.
If you have issues getting the right hue in your indoor photos, take a look inside your camera’s manual. There you can learn how to set a custom white balance for tricky situations. Carrying a piece of white paper in your camera bag will ensure you’re always able to get the perfect white balance.
Communicate clearly for optimal poses.
Never be afraid to guide your subject. Unless they happen to be a trained model, posing to create flattering angles is likely a foreign concept. Have your subject angle their body, neck pushed slightly forward with the chin tilted down. This will elongate the neck, slim the waist and jettison the always-unappreciated double chin.
Placing hands on hips, or folded on the lap is great, too. Always avoid having your subject stand with their hands together in front of their belt-line, as this can make them appear eager for a bathroom break.
If you’re a little on the short side carrying a step stool along with you is a great idea.
Shooting from a perspective slightly above your subject really helps to create flattering images.
Last, but not least, it’s always a good idea to lighten the mood a bit! Many people might appear a little stiff and uncomfortable in front of the camera, so try to make them more comfortable with a bit of laughter. This will make your portrait photos far better and natural looking.
Shoot at magic hour.
Magic hour, or golden hour, is the first and last hour of sunlight each day. During this time the light has a warmer hue and is more diffused, creating a softer light for your subject and fewer hard shadows. This time allows for more natural, authentic expression on your subject’s face as well, since they can avoid the squinting that accompanies direct sunlight. Because the shadows are longer and softer, they add more dimension to your photos. This guides the eye into the piece, lending more interest and keeping things from appearing flat.
Place the light source behind your subject to score the hottest portrait trend.
To achieve photos with a luminescent background, place your light source directly behind your subject, and expose for the subject. This may look strange through your viewfinder, but it really works. Take your time moving your subject and light source around the frame in your viewfinder; doing so will let you see the different lens flares available and where the optimal light lies.
Do just the opposite to accomplish a silhouette. Exposing for the sky (or light source) will black out your subject. This works best during magic hour, or in a dark room with window light shining through.