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How to Take a Portrait

A great photographer is more than a technician, but all great portraits begin with a photographer’s mastery of equipment and technical requirements. Set yourself on the road to greatness by learning the basic components of photographic portraiture.


  • Step 1: Select subject Select a subject and ask permission to shoot a portrait.
  • Step 2: Select scene Select a scene in which to shoot the person.
  • TIP: You can choose props and locations that help showcase the subject’s personality.
  • Step 3: Attach telephoto lens Attach a long telephoto lens, such as an 80- to 200-millimeter lens or greater, to your camera and set it to the widest aperture possible. This will visually set off the subject from the background.
  • Step 4: Select film & shutter speeds Select the appropriate film speed and shutter speed to accompany your low aperture setting.
  • Step 5: Place subject Place the subject in either full shade (preferable) or full sun (behind your shoulder) to minimize the shadows and contrast on their face.
  • Step 6: Stand in front of subject Stand a minimum of 10 to 15 feet in front of the subject, making sure they fill the frame.
  • Step 7: Compose shot in viewfinder Compose your shot in the viewfinder.
  • TIP: Compose your subject by using the rule of thirds, where your subject is either in the left or right third, not the direct middle, for the most interesting pictures.
  • Step 8: Meter on the subject Meter on the subject.
  • Step 9: Focus on subject’s eyes Focus on the subject’s eyes.
  • Step 10: Direct subject Ask the subject to give you their most natural facial expression while maintaining direct eye contact. Suggest that they give you just a hint of a smile to make it more natural.
  • Step 11: Count to three Count to three. Then, wait a few seconds longer until your subject has relaxed completely.
  • Step 12: Take your pictures Take your pictures.
  • TIP: The more frames you shoot, the more likely you are to capture the true expression of your subject.
  • Step 13: Thank your subject When the shoot is finished, be sure to thank your subject for his or her time. Shooting a portrait is a shared experience, and you want your subject to come away not only with a good portrait, but good memories as well!
  • FACT: Celebrated American portrait photographer Richard Avedon once said, "There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth."

You Will Need

  • A camera
  • Telephoto lens
  • And a subject
  • Props (optional)

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