Perfect Portrait Photos for Beginners

portrait photo basics for beginnersOne of the reasons I fell in love with Scrapbooking apart from the incredible beauty and fun of it all – was the impact it could have on my photos.

From the greatest photos to the worst ones – adding just the right matt, frames and elements around your photograph can make a world of difference.

In fact, because of Scrapbooking, I’ve been able to do some really great things with some really horrible photos.

But the truth is, if I could do nothing but walk around perfecting the art of taking photo’s all day – that would probably be a choice I would make for a good portion of my life. At least for a while.

I just love the fact that you can do so many different things with the same objects / subjects but different photo settings.  I just had to learn to take better photo’s to make both the images and the scrapbook pages better.

Truthfully though, what a good camera can do to your pictures is amazing!!!

I also love what good software can do to your pictures, but that’s a different post all together.

Today I am going to leave my fellow Canon T3 Rebel DSL camera owners with some of the most important tips I’ve ever learned about taking the perfect portrait photos so that you too can join me on the quest for getting the perfect portrait photo’s – onto the perfect scrapbook layout! (I know that that you can take similar photo’s with similar settings on your Nikon too – I just don’t know what to call your settings as they do differ slightly for different cameras).

Lesson #1: It’s all about light and FOCUS.

photography tips for scrapbookersWith your standard 18-55mm len, on AV mode,  Auto Focus set to center lock (where the red dot is centered between all of the focal point selection options) – and the right white balance/image settings and ISO to offer up just the right amount of light on your subject – you can effectively take the perfect photo every single time!

No joke!

I didn’t believe this myself until I went on a photowalk with a pro (courtesy of my family).


My new favorite teacher taught me a lot more than I ever expected I could learn in 2 hours and I am about to share the cliff notes version of it with you.

Lesson #2: Light is your master – until you master it!

how to take the perfect photo everytimeThose are my words not my teachers’, but I really got a handle on this concept during this lesson and I think I “get it” enough to help you now.  So here it goes…

Light is usually one of the main reasons some photo’s turn out great, while others not so much. It seems that if you can learn how to work with light and how your camera responds to it, you can create masterpiece photo’s that everyone will envy.

Therefore when getting ready to take photos (especially indoor photos), your white balance, image settings and ISO settings will likely dictate how much light you get overall.  These are your three primary light sources.

Going in order of importance here however, I am going start with ISO.

The larger the ISO – the more light your camera lets in period.  That’s why you can get away with low ISO photos outdoors but need higher ISO’s indoors.  But be forewarned, the larger the ISO value the more grain it also presents on the image itself in the end.

To me that’s a small compromise if you want to get the right sort of shot despite a high resolution but if you want BOTH then you may need to rely on extra lighting instead of ISO.

Using the built in flash can help, but you may want an external flash that you can control – extra lighting in the room and possibly even some reflective shades to bounce the light off of. It can get tricky when you have to go that route.  But no matter how you do it, once you have the light selections right, then you have to properly placing your subject(s) where the light compliments them best.

For right now, our goal is simply to start with the basics.  We want to get familiar enough with our fancy camera’s so that we can get a pretty great photo without a whole lot of extra effort.   Doesn’t that sound good?

If so, before you think you have it right and want to get your subjects in place I suggest that you spend some time in each room taking photo’s with different ISO values set to see which one gives you the best light.  (Most of my indoor shots have required either 1600 or 3200 without flash).

Once you have that, then you know what your baseline is. You should only have to go up or down with the ISO after that and very little else.  This simplifies things a great deal as Flash photo’s can change the light a great and complicate matters needlessly (IMHO).

But if you can’t seem to get the output you like, then the next settings to look at are your flash White Balance and / or Image effects.

(I for one have had to set my camera to AWB = Auto White Balance and F for Faithful image effects because my husband is West Indian and our children are half.  The Canon Rebel T3 doesn’t seem to pick up their skin tones in a favorable light – under any other settings.  I am sure there are other ways, but for now – this is my best bet and I am sticking to it).  (I still shoot most of my indoor photo’s now without a flash and they turn out great – but I realize every room is different).

So – try these settings and perfect your lighting first.

This will make a world of difference for you.

Lesson #3: Lets Focus on Focus!

portrait photo of lovebird by cijaye depradineThis technique is a lot simpler than the subject of light to me.   Especially if you are in One Shot, Auto Focus, AV mode.

I USED to think it was difficult though.

Here’s what I learned that made the biggest difference for me.

Auto focus allows you to focus the camera and lock on a subject – whereas manual focus simply focuses on the area you are focusing. (At least that’s how I have understood it thus far).

By using auto focus, you can keep your focus on the subject but blur everything else in front, behind or around it by moving a little forward, backwards or over to the right or left of it.

With manual focus in beginners mode, I have yet to figure out how to do this.

So – again, the first secret to focus in this lesson is being in Auto Focus mode.

Next – you want to choose the AV setting so that you can control your aperture.  *For the sake of this post, I will say that the aperture dictates how much light can pass through the lens.  The smaller your lenses aperture the less light you get.

I won’t get into a lesson on how to work this because it can get really complex really fast, but I will suggest that if you can set yours to the lowest possible for your current shot, with the highest ISO without losing quality – you will likely increase your chances of getting the perfect portrait photo period.

For me, Auto Focus, AV Mode with the lowest possible F stop and One Shot focus set is a winning combo.

Just remember that the trick to this (once you have your lighting correct)  is to lock on your subject (by depressing the shutter button half way until the red light flashes and you hear the beep (assuming you have beep set) and then move back, forward, left or right of the locked subject.  Even just slightly – this movement keeps your locked subject in focus and blurs the rest.

With a low F stop and high ISO the shutter opens and closes fast enough that your movement doesn’t cause massive blur – but just enough.

All the photo’s in this post have been taken with this technique in mind.  Even the love bird pic was taken outside of the cage with a good lock on the bird and slight movement forward after locking.  It is certainly a shot that I am proud of and would have never though I could have done before.

Now I know better – and so do you.

So give it a shot (yes pun intended) and tell me how it goes. :)  I can’t wait to hear from you.

xoxox Cijaye.

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