dark portrait of girl

Take better portraits

Challenging light conditions

Portraits at night can be tough, as you probably need a flash to provide enough light. However, ambient light around your subject can often be very atmospheric and something that you wish to keep in your portrait.

Night Portrait mode simplifies it all for you as it changes how your camera thinks. It will use either the built-in flash or register your Speedlite on the hot shoe to light your main subject and provide enough time for the ambient light to set the scene for your picture. It does this by using slower shutter speeds and automatically adjusting the flash time settings. You may see the background as a series of bright lights, but they are probably much dimmer than you think. Position your subject so they are lit by the flash, rather than the ambient light, and for the best results use a tripod to help reduce camera shake. It’s always worth asking your subject to remain still while you take your shot.

Bright conditions mean your portraits may end up with a too high contrast. For those moments when your subject is backlit with strong sunlight, a flash can help. Either attach a Speedlite to the hot shoe of your camera if available, or set the built-in flash to fire for every picture. Your camera will work to balance the flash and daylight conditions for a much stronger picture where both elements – the person and the background – are optimally balanced.

Pick the right lens to make your subject stand out

When shooting with an EOS, use a lens with a fast maximum aperture to separate your subject from the background. Prime lenses with a focal length of 50mm to 100mm are ideal for portraits. Macro lenses double up for portraits as well as close-ups. To make the most of the wide aperture use Aperture priority mode (Av) or Manual mode (M) and try using Auto ISO to keep your exposures just right. Switch to a single AF point, ideally not at the centre of the frame – shooting with a fast aperture means you need to focus precisely. One Shot mode is also a good choice as it allows the lens to lock focus, meaning you can recompose the frame slightly if needed.

Practice candid shooting using your smart phone

Many Canon cameras can be controlled remotely with your smartphone over Wi-Fi thanks to the Canon Camera Connect app.

For some models this remote control includes a live view of what the camera is seeing, plus the ability to take photos just by tapping the screen of your phone. Position your camera on a surface so that it is pointing towards your subject, then use your smartphone to view the image and fire at the right moment. Using this technique may help your subject relax as you won’t be looking directly at them.

Think about your print before your portrait

Portrait pictures are often printed to put on display in a frame, but why not consider the end result first to challenge the way you create portraits and prints. For a print that includes multiple images, think about a consistent element that could connect them. For example, you might choose to capture three separate views of one person, one looking left, one towards the camera and one to the right. Once you have your three separate photos, print them out – it really helps to keep the style of each print consistent. If you choose a monochrome print then all three should be monochrome. Consider how you might arrange the prints to give a much greater expression to that person’s portrait.

Experiment with a moving portrait

Capturing the whole essence of a person in a single frame is difficult, but with video you have the possibility to make a portrait film that shows many facets of your subject. Start with a story you want to tell about your chosen person. It may help to sketch it out or write it down. Consider wide shots to show the whole person and their environment, as well as close-ups highlighting the details of the person – their smile, their eyes, hands, clothes – all the things that tell the story of your subject. Use your Vari-angle screen to frame shots from different heights and to see how shooting from below or above changes the way you perceive your subject. If it’s available on your camera, experiment with slow motion to emphasise movement or to give a dream-like quality to your moving portrait.

Tip: When it comes to the edit, keep individual clips short (2-3 seconds) and aim for an overall length that’s less than 90 seconds long – this will focus your edit on to the most vital details to show the person.