Improving your portrait photography – Photography tips for beginners

Lesson 1 – Drawing attention to your subject and away from the background.

Disclaimer:  This is meant to be a fun and simple series of blog posts aimed at photography beginners, parents or anyone interested in taking better portrait photos.  I do not claim to be an expert and if you see any mistakes please feel free to set me on the right path.  Any-one who uses manual mode on their SLR need not read on as you already know everything I am going to write in these posts.


Here’s a few different ways to create that “blurred” effect that makes your subject stand out from the background.


  • Beginner: (point and shoot camera or slr users) – Put camera on portrait mode.  This will automatically change the settings to make it more ideal for a blurred background.  Also zoom in on your subject.


  • Advanced: (slr user) – Buy yourself a “nifty fifty” lens.  Google 50mm f1.8 lens and you will get one for less than $150.  This will be your best investment to get you really on your way to creating better portrait images.  This is a “prime” lens which means it does not zoom in and out (you move your legs to do the zooming), it stays at a fixed focal length (zoom) of 50mm but allows you do get much shallower depth of field (pretty blurred backgrounds).  Just trust me on this one.


  • Advanced: (slr user) – Blur background by turning your mode to A/Av, aperture priority mode, and selecting the lowest “f” number that your camera will let you.  The lower the number the less of your image will be in focus.  The higher the number, more of your image will be in focus.  You can see here when the number is increased, more of the (cluttered lounge room) background comes into focus.blurred background at different f stops
  • Advanced: (slr user) – If you don’t have a nifty fifty, take your biggest zoom lens (the highest “mm” number) and zoom in as far as possible, stand back to get your subject in the frame and set the A/Av to the lowest number that you can.


  • All users: Use the tips above plus position your subject further away from the background and shoot closer to them.


Week 1 Challenge – See if you can use the above info to make a portrait photo of someone with the background blurred out.  I would love to see any photos if you want to send them to me.


Further reading:

Digital Photography School is the best place to start learning more about your camera and photography.