In portrait photography, one of the main differences between a happy snapper and a professional, besides the number of years of experience and accumulated skills, is that the professional takes control of the camera settings and has a good knowledge of lighting aspects. They also understand what makes for a good composition. Professionals also tend to use a lens with a focal length of 85mm equivalent or slightly greater. This puts the camera farther away from the subject and produces softer results. Here are the top three portrait photography settings employed by professionals.


In portrait photography, you very rarely see the background properly, as it is usually out of focus, allowing the viewer to concentrate on the subject.

portrait with blurred background

The subject can be in sharp focus or have a softness to it, which is kinder to some subjects. This effect is created with the judicious use of aperture control on your camera. If you set Aperture Priority on the camera, you can control the aperture setting while the camera sets the shutter speed. Selecting Manual mode allows you to set the aperture and shutter speed yourself. If you select the largest aperture, which is the lowest f-stop value (e.g. f/1.8), it creates a very limited depth of field. In fact, at the largest aperture, the eyes can be in focus while the nose may not be — or even just one eye might be in focus. You have to reduce the aperture slightly to get the result you want. I have a tendency to shoot at f/5.6 or f/6.3 most of the time inside a studio. Outside, I could increase that to f/8 if I want to show a bit more of a particular background. If you find that focusing can be a problem, change from auto focus to manual focus to give yourself more control.

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