5 Steps to Perfect Portrait Photos

February 25, 2021

Get set to capture the perfect portrait photos at your next portrait photoshoot! Get expert insight on how to familiarise yourself with your camera settings, set up the lighting and background, and help your client be comfortable and confident for the photoshoot, from Rowan Burke, a professional photographer on Bidvine.

5 Steps to Perfect Portrait Photos

Portrait photography is one of the most sought-after jobs in the industry, but getting perfect portraits is way more than just pointing your camera at someone and hitting the button. There are thousands of videos and articles on taking the best portraits out there, all with slightly varied instructions depending on the photographer’s preferences and style, but when it comes to the fundamentals of portraiture there are five basic steps to consider and to help you get started in creating beautiful portraits.  


1. Know Your Camera

Every photographer should have spent a fair amount of time getting to know their camera. Of course, some cameras are much harder to fully learn than others. The endless menus of Sony cameras are a primary example.

Yet, a good photographer should know how to change their ISO, shutter speed, aperture and white balance with little hesitation. It doesn’t look particularly professional for a photographer to google ‘camera settings’ whilst on a job, so it’s paramount you know not just where to go to change your settings, but also what they do and how each element compliments the other. 

For example, if you’re planning on shooting a subject that moves a lot such as a child, animal, or an action shot, then you need a quick shutter speed, which means you need more light. However, too much light will make your images look grainy, so it’s important to know how changing one setting will affect another. Play around with your camera before the photoshoot and familiarise yourself with what it does so you’re prepared and professional.  

Essential Camera Settings Every Photographer Should Know

  • ISO
  • Shutter speed
  • Aperture
  • White balance

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2. Let Your Lights do The Talking

To echo an earlier point, many photographers will have their own style and techniques. These will ultimately be reflected in the settings they use for portraits. The settings I stand by, and use for every studio portrait shoot, adjust the lighting which is captured so that all the light you see in the final photo comes solely from the lights I bring. 

Natural light plays no part in the brightness or darkness of my photos. I set up my camera so that without the lights, the image is more or less pitch black, so I know that whether I’ve used strobe or continuous lighting, it’s the light I’ve added that dictates the entire look of the image. 

Photo by Rowan Burke of Steal The Focus Photography

A decent lighting rig is important, but doesn’t have to cost the earth – I use two Godox V850s (£100-150 each) and two Godox softboxes (£20-30 each).  A good starting point is to set your flashes up at 1/8 and set your camera at ISO100, f5.6, and 1/200, then alter each part until it works for you.   

3. Set up Your Framing and Background 

Choosing a Background

There are many things to consider in your portrait outside of the actual subject. First and foremost, the question you should ask is, ‘what does my client want?’ If they want a portrait of their head and shoulders with a white background, do just that. 

If you’re given creative licence, consider what will enhance your portrait. Some photographers spend big money on different backdrops, whereas others are happy with a plain wall, or even prefer to go outside. If a client is not instructing you on what they want, think about the mood you’re looking to achieve, and what will compliment your photo.  

Photo by Rowan Burke of Steal The Focus Photography

Consider Framing

When it comes to framing, although you may be given a free pass to do what you want there are some fundamentals to consider.

Tips For Perfect Framing in Portraits:

  • The rule of thirds, this will draw the viewer’s eyes to the subject, creating depth of field, and not cut off random body parts such as hands and feet. 
  • Study your choices, whatever your background or your framing, take the time to consider your choices. If it doesn’t look right to you, it probably won’t look right for anyone else either. 
  • Wider photos can be trimmed, remember that when you capture a wider photo it can be trimmed later during editing. If, however, you take one that is too narrow you’re pretty much stuck with it. To ensure more room for editing later on aim for wider photos.

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4. A Comfortable Subject Makes For Better Photos 

Unless you have the luxury of always getting booked by professional models, you’re likely to face the obstacle of an awkward subject during your career as a portrait photographer. It’s perfectly understandable! Not everyone is comfortable in front of a camera. Tackle the challenge of making your subject feel more at ease head-on with the tips below.

Photo by Rowan Burke of Steal The Focus Photography

3 Tips to Help Your Portrait Client Feel Comfortable

  • Meet up before the photoshoot, something as simple as meeting up for a coffee before the photoshoot can ease nerves.
  • Be friendly, building a friendly relationship will help them be more comfortable with you and build confidence for the photoshoot.
  • Have samples of poses available to view, prepare a sheet that can be readily available with poses so that a client can easily see ideas of portrait poses and where to stand.

Whatever approach you take, making your subject feel at ease will pay off in the end.  


5. Edit, Edit, Edit

In my experience as a photographer, most subjects will often expect some form of “airbrushing” after a paid photoshoot. Even fully made up models will have some blemishes and tonal issues once you get your photos on the screen. 

Editing can be anything from a quick clean up, to a full liquify and frequency separation overhaul. Whatever the requirement, or your style, it’s a good idea to get familiar with a programme like Photoshop, Capture One, or Lightroom. There are countless videos online to walk you through a portrait editing process, and again it’s all about trying techniques out and seeing what works for you. 

Rowan Burke

Steal The Focus Photography

Rowan Burke, Photographer

My name is Rowan Burke, and I am a photographer, videographer, and graphic designer based in Reading, UK. Having studied photography, I went on to start a small independent business specialising in all things creative, meaning I get to collaborate with all sorts of people from across the world whilst doing with I love. 

I truly enjoy sharing my work and techniques with the creative community, but also learning new and exciting techniques from like-minded creatives, continuing to build on my passion for the industry. 

Interested in booking Rowan for a portrait photoshoot? Click here to visit Rowan's Bidvine profile and capture a perfect portrait!


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