The Basics

A camera captures light.  

Learning to be a portrait photographer is about working with light to create beautiful imagery; imagery that tells a story.


Aperture, or f-stop, is a setting on your camera that controls depth of field.  It controls how much of the image is in or out of focus.  

The narrower your f-stop (the higher the number!), the more of the image will be in focus.  Narrowing your aperture also lets less light into the camera, so you have to compensate with your other settings.

The wider your f-stop (the lower the number), less of your image will be in focus.  Think blurry background/foreground.  Opening your aperture wider lets more light into the camera, so you have to compensate with your other settings.

Things like distance to your subject, and the focal length of your lens also control your depth of field and the bokeh you'll get in the background.

shutter speed

Shutter speed is how quickly your shutter fires to take the picture.  It also controls how much light you let into the camera.  A slow shutter speed allows more light into the camera, but can risk motion blur depending on the situation. A fast shutter speed lets less light into the camera.  

Usually I try to keep my shutter speed as high as possible when working with moving subjects outdoors.  This varies if I'm working in a dark reception venue, using flash, or working from a tripod.

If you're shooting a moving child or sports, you're going to want a higher shutter speed so that you don't get motion blur in your image.  When I'm working with children, I usually don't go slower than 1/200.


ISO is how sensitive your camera is to light.  If you raise your ISO, you are increasing the sensitivity, and letting more light in the camera.  If you decrease the ISO, you're letting less light into your camera.

Depending on your camera, you can run the risk of getting grain in your images if you raise your ISO too high.  Test it out at different ISO's to see what you're comfortable at.  


Your Camera

Tips & tricks

  1. Shoot in RAW format
    • This lets you have more flexibility when editing, because the file isn't compressed.  If you under or over expose, you can correct it easier during post processing, than if you were working with a JPEG file.
  2. Shoot in Manual
    • Get your camera off automatic mode!  Learn the settings I talked about above, and play with them in manual. 
    • Read your camera manual.
  3. Get at least one good lens
    • Having good equipment does not make you a good photographer, and a good photographer can rock it with old gear.  However, having one lens that allows you to have a wider aperture gives you more flexibility to create the image you want.  I suggest a 50mm 1.8 lens if you don't already have one.
  4. Practice
    • Get out there and shoot until you're comfortable changing settings on the fly!  
    • Shoot in all types of light & weather so you know how to adjust when you're actually with a client.