Choose the right camera
Things to consider when taking portrait photos
What to look for
Portraits are the pictures with which we identify most readily, which is why so many magazines -- particularly those dealing with health, fitness and beauty -- have a full-face photo of a model or celebrity on their covers.
Most cameras have a dedicated portrait mode, but understanding a little about how to manually get the best results will pay dividends.
Look into my eyes
The eyes are key. Get these in focus, and you can break just about every other rule in the book. They're the first part of the picture that any viewer will look at, and so the first element on which they'll make a judgement as to the worth of the image as a whole.
When using automatic focus on a dSLR, it therefore pays to set a specific focal point -- as indicated by spots in the viewfinder -- and then line it up with your subject's eyes before half-depressing the shutter.
You often have less flexibility with a compact, but many still boast a degree of manual focus for those times when you can't get the automatic focus to prioritise the eyes. Look for a model that enlarges the central portion of the frame when working with manual focus to give you the best chance of keeping everything sharp.
At the same time, you want to isolate your subject from its surroundings. The best portraits are those in which the subject is sharp, but the background is de-focused. This is achieved by setting a wide aperture by switching to your camera's A, Av or Aperture Priority mode and dialling in the smallest setting possible.
The aperture is usually specified on the lens with the widest opening at both the wide angle and telephoto positions detailed side by side, along the lines of f/3.5-f/5.9. A camera that can achieve f/2.2 and wider will give you a shallow depth of field and produce exactly the effect you're after. The larger these numbers are, the less effective the camera will be at isolating your subject at either end of the zoom. For portrait photography, prioritise cameras that keep these numbers low.
See the section on landscape photography for a fuller explanation of controlling your camera's aperture. Note that many entry-level compacts don't let you set the aperture manually, so look for a model with a dedicated portrait mode.
Face and smile detection
Many compacts are now intelligent enough to detect faces in an image and automatically focus on them. Look for those that can be set to recognise family members and prioritise them in an image where several faces are present at once. Also watch out for cameras that can detect blinks (when they do, they hold off firing the shutter), and smiles (which can trigger the exposure), for more consistent results.
If you want to appear in your own images and prefer not to look rushed as you dash into the shot during a delayed exposure, look for a model that can use its face detection feature to fire the shutter when it detects that a new face has appeared in shot, as you leisurely walk over to join your family. There's a growing breed of smart cameras that can be remotely controlled using an Android or iOS app on your smart phone too.
People and portraits wish list
- Wide aperture
- Face/smile detection
- Manual aperture control
- Manual focusing option
- Remote shooting using a smart phone app