You may not be too concerned with post processing when you’re first starting out. But at some point you may want to experiment with editing your images in post. When you do, you’ll want to shoot in RAW since this will give you the most flexibility in post processing, allowing you to get the results you’re after.
Shooting toward the sun is usually a bad idea. This will result in washed out images or dark shadows. If you can, try to pay attention to the direction of light and work with it to enhance your images. The best option is usually to shoot with the sun behind you since this will result in a well-illuminated landscape.
Midday is a notoriously difficult time to shoot landscape photography due to the harsh shadows and blown out highlights. It’s also difficult for shooting outdoor portraits since the harsh sun will cause your subjects to squint. For most outdoor photography, early morning and late afternoon are the ideal hours of the day. Beautiful, diffused lighting, with fewer harsh shadows can usually be found during these hours. This is also the best time of day to capture wildlife. If you do find yourself shooting in bright sun, consider moving into the shade.
When heading out into the great outdoors, make sure you pack smart. You’ll want to ensure that you bring enough supplies to keep you going and the right gear for the images that you’re after. But if you’re planning to hike to distant locations, however, you’ll want to keep things light. Bring adequate food and water, as well as sun protection or a light jacket in case of rain. As far as gear goes, when hiking, bring only the lenses that you might need, as well as a few key accessories. These include a lens hood to reduce glare and a polarizer and ND filter, if you have them. A wide-angle lens is ideal for capturing sweeping landscapes and dramatic skies. A telephoto lens, though, is best for photographing wildlife. Finally, a tripod or monopod is important for low-light photography or long exposures.
Portrait photos look best if the eyes are in sharp focus. This improves the sense of eye contact between the subject and viewer, creating a powerful and engaging photo. So, when shooting portraits, especially with a shallow depth of field, make sure you set your focus point carefully. Your camera most likely has several Autofocus / AF points which are visible in the viewfinder. Select the central AF point using the AF option in your camera, then position the central focus point directly over one of the subject’s eyes. Now half-press the camera’s shutter button to lock focus. If necessary, move the camera to recompose your shot for the best composition, then press the shutter button down to take the shot. If recomposing, ensure you don’t change the distance between the camera and the subject otherwise the eye will no longer be in focus. Many cameras offer the ability to magnify the scene in the viewfinder which is invaluable for checking focus before shooting. To really make your subject’s eyes “pop” try the following trick that all the best professional portrait photographers use. Simply ensure your light source is reflecting in your subject’s eyes, as shown in the photo below. These reflections are called “catch lights” and they’re extremely effective at turning a boring portrait into something really special. For maximum effect, have only one catch light per eye and aim to have them nearer the top of the eye.
Exposure refers to how bright or dark your image is. In portrait photography the most important part of the scene is the subject’s face. So, make sure that the face is correctly exposed – not too dark (under-exposed) and not too bright (overexposed). For portrait photography it’s better to have a background that’s too dark or too bright than to have a face which is under or over lit. Depending on which mode you’re shooting in you can easily adjust the exposure compensation (EV) setting on your camera. This enables you to increase or decrease the exposure to suit. On my Canon 5D mk ii I hold down the ISO/flash +/- button with my right thumb and adjust the exposure compensation value using the main dial with my forefinger. Alternatively, set your camera’s metering mode to Spot metering or Center-weighted metering. This tells the camera to ignore overly light or dark regions around the edge of the scene which might trick it into under or over exposing the shot.
A sure-fire way to raise your portrait photography game is to shoot with a shallow depth of field. This allows you to have your subject in sharp focus while the background appears blurred or out of focus, helping your portrait subject stand out. You can control the depth of field on your camera by adjusting the lens aperture. The aperture is the opening inside your lens which allows the light to travel through from the front of the lens to the camera’s sensor. Your lens will have a minimum and maximum aperture range. Aperture is measured in f/stops. The bigger the lens aperture, the smaller the f/number will be. The larger the aperture (the smaller the f/number) the more blurred your background will be. Generally speaking, you’ll want to choose the largest aperture (smallest aperture number) that your lens offers. F/4 is a go-to aperture for portraits as it should provide enough depth of field to have all of your subject in focus. To change the aperture on your camera ensure you set the shooting mode to Aperture Priority or AV Mode. Then use the thumb wheel, dial, buttons or menu settings to increase or decrease the aperture value. On my Canon 5D mk ii the aperture value is changed using the main dial just behind the shutter button. You can experiment with smaller and larger aperture sizes but the golden rule is to make sure your subject’s eyes are in focus at the very least, and ideally the tip of the nose too. If the background doesn’t look blurred enough, try moving the subject further away from the background. The further the background is from the subject the more blurred it will appear.
Focal length has a major impact on your images because it introduces a predictable amount of image distortion which can make or break your portrait photography. Find out what focal lengths your lens offers by examining the lens barrel. The focal lengths are displayed in millimeters, e.g. 18mm, 55mm, etc. If you’re using a fixed or prime lens there will only be one focal length. To select a focal length on a zoom lens, rotate the zoom ring on the lens barrel. If your camera doesn’t have a zoom ring, use the zoom +/- buttons on the camera body. How do you know which focal length to use? There’s no right and wrong here, but the following information will help you decide which is best for you. A 50mm focal length will give you the most accurate representation of your subject because it creates no distortion of their face. The photo above was shot with a 50mm prime lens. If you shoot with a focal length below 50mm you’ll start to see some undesirable distortion of the facial features. For example, the size of your subject’s forehead, nose and nearest cheek will be exaggerated while other features like ears, chin and hair appear to reduce in size, as shown below. While this can produce amusing results it’s not usually desirable. In addition, you’ll need to get closer to your subject in order to fill the frame. This may be too close for comfort for you and your subject! A focal length of over 50mm can make your portrait subject’s facial features start to appear flattened. In moderation this is quite flattering – but at extremes it can make the person’s face look very wide or fat. 80mm is a popular focal length for portraits although some photographers prefer 100mm or longer. Also, the longer the focal length the further away from your subject you’ll have to be in order to fit them into the frame. This can be beneficial when shooting candidly for more natural, relaxed results or if you feel your subject will benefit from having some space. However it could be a problem if you simply don’t have enough room to get far enough away from your subject – for example when shooting indoors.
Generally speaking, natural daylight is the most attractive light source for portrait photography – especially if you don’t have dedicated studio lighting. A slightly overcast day provides a lovely soft light that will be flattering on your subject. Direct sunlight isn’t usually desirable because it creates strong, hard shadows on the subject’s face. In such conditions it’s best to find some light shade to position your subject. Alternatively, embrace the opportunity and shoot (carefully) into the sun, with your subject’s back to the sun. This is called backlighting and can result in a golden glow around your subject. Keep in mind that shooting into the sun does require you to provide some “fill” light to illuminate the shadows on your subject’s face. Fill light can be reflected sunlight, bounced back onto the subject’s face using a reflector or even a simple sheet of white card. Alternatively you could use your camera’s inbuilt flash or an external flash as demonstrated above. You can use natural daylight indoors too. For best results put your subject near a window, and have your subject facing slightly towards the light. You’ll get shadows on the parts of your subject which aren’t lit by the light from the window. This can add depth and a sense of drama to the image. If the shadows are too dark try bouncing some of the window light back onto these shadowy areas using a reflector.
Now that your subject is ready, comfortable and relaxed you need to keep them that way throughout the shoot. Work quickly but confidently and calmly, giving them clear instructions as you shoot. It’s unlikely they’ll know how to pose for you so you’ll need to give them constant guidance. Don’t overwhelm them with complicated requests. Just get them to make small, simple adjustments, for example, “Raise your chin a little,” “Straighten your back,” or “Now look at me.” Let’s explore some different posing techniques that you could try. Have your subject sit down. This keeps them still and they’ll feel more relaxed and comfortable. Have the subject lean slightly towards the camera for a more engaging pose (or shoot slightly from above to get the same effect). Have their body and shoulders turned slightly away from the camera for a natural feel. Or, for a more confrontational image, have their shoulders square-on to the camera as shown below. For something a little different, shoot from an unusual perspective such as very low or very high. Waists can look slimmer if the subject turns his or her waist away from the camera. Introducing props is a great way to add something special to the shoot. These could include hats, party glasses, balloons, a pen, a flower or a musical instrument. If nothing else it will help break the ice and lighten the mood – even if you don’t end up using the props in all your shots.