portrait photography

Corsham portrait photographer Rob Auckland explains how to take better photos of those people closest to you. Your children all the way up to the older members of your family and the  group photos that all photographers are asked to take at family gatherings. Whether you want to learn to use studio light or  prefer to take photos in natural light, I can help you take better photos of the people in your life!

Ever wondered what gear you will need to take better photos of people? Which camera and lens are best for photos of people? We'll cover gear and technical aspects from the best f number and ISO for people photos all the way through to how to process images of people and some ways to convert portraits to black and white so the emotions and character of the sitter come to the fore. How do you direct a model infront of camera? There are lots of ways to do this whilst still getting natural, unposed, genuine images that truly reflect the personality of your subject.

What are the compositional rules to do with posing a model? There are definitely a few simple rules which can help you to make better portraits of men, women and children. I will do my best to outline some possible answers to these questions here, often with links to video or other websites , where I think others can explain clearly.

In the last section of this blog I will look at my own journey as a photographer, at how I stay creative and who influences me as a photographer.

What lens do you use when taking portraits?

Wide lenses are great for Environmental portraits to show people and the place where they spend time , often their home or workplace. Using wider lenses with people is not easy , however and if you have a low or high viewpoint and position people at the edges of the frame it can be very unflattering.

If you want to flatter a person. Shoot a longer lens: a 50mm,85mm,135mm or 200mm lens(or their equivalent if you have a mirrorless camera).  You have to balance the choice of lens carefully. Most wedding and portrait photographers would probably pick a 200mm lens to really flatter a bride in full length portrait. However, on a 200mm lens you could be so far away from the bride that she couldn't hear your directions! If you are a photographer who interacts a lot with your sitter then being close to your sitter might be the best way to build a good relationship. In which a 50mm lens could be your best choice. My go to portrait lens is an 85mm.

What f-number should you use for portrait photography?

I have a nice explanation of how to set your f number and depth of field  in portraits here.

In general for portraits you need an f number between f1.4 and f5.6. 

Pye Jirsa explains how to use these wider apertures to photograph people well in the You Tube video linked here(7 mins):


Which software and plug ins do you use for processing portraits?

I typically shoot 500 hundred images in a 1 hour family portrait session and will then cull these images down to 50 of so to deliver to the client.  My style is to shoot a lot of images to help me get the most real and natural expressions. For this reason I use programs that I can cull images quickly in. I used to use Photomechanic (most newspaper photographers use this eg after photographing a football game) but have managed to set up Lightroom to cycle through lots of images quickly ( by using smart previews) so I now use Lightroom for culling. I also do 95% of my editing in Lightroom.  On the best 5% or so of my images I will then use plug-ins to access Alien Skin, Luminar and Affinity Photo. Alien Skin to add film looks to some shoots and to convert images to B & W. Luminar to retouch faces very quickly. Affinity for tricky retouching jobs and colour correction that I just cannot do in any of the other programs. Here are the links to the sites selling these software




What phrases do you use to pose models in a portrait shoot?

For groups:

"Just get as close as you possibly can and then go a bit closer"

I will then watch the group and just slightly reposition the barest minimum number of people, often just two so it looks right.  Essentially in a group I am looking for a number of different levels and trying to make the heads lie at the corners of triangles NOT at the corners of a square grid.

 "stand more side-on"

if people in a group are facing too  head on to me. The simple effect of this is to make everyone look a little slimmer and the whole group look more unified.

"Tuck your hands so I can't see them, behind your back or in a pocket"

Hands so often look messy so this radically improves most groups in an instant.

For full length individual portraits:

"Put your weight on your back foot, and lift your front foot just off the ground."

It is impossible to get the body to look good if the feet are positioned badly ( bad  feet positioning is shoulder width apart facing head on toward the camera).

"Chest out, shoulders back"

Stops people slouching, as most adults do.

"Float your arms, slightly away from your body" 

makes arms look much slimmer

For  individual portraits of the face:

"Move your chin forward and shoulders back"(like a turtle or an egyptian!)

This transforms people , removing any double chin and giving men and women a great jawline. Peter Hurley, the American headshot photographer taught me this technique.

Often asking people to do things that make them feel self conscious creates tension. To diffuse any tension you MUST model the thing you want them to do. In an instant you have showed that its fine to do silly stuff infront of camera. You've given them permission to be silly too!

The other key thing to do is shoot straight after giving your directing words. Why? Because it so often makes your model laugh. If you shoot a number of images as they laugh and keep shooting (on continuous) , you will capture that lovely relaxed expression that comes just after laughter.

Are there any compositional rules of posing that you use?

Yes, cropping portraits in camera, as you shoot, really matters. Pye Jirsa explains this so well in this You Tube video:


I basically try to crop right smack in the middle between two  joints, NEVER ever crop on the  ankles, knees, hips. 

One of the reasons for facing side on and putting weight on the back foot is to make an hourglass shape. Always crop at the narrow points on the hourglass . NEVER crop through the wide points of the hourglass.

What is your preferred light set up?

For a headshot ( a tightly cropped portrait) I use the set up in this Peter Hurley video with 2 or 3 flex light led panels or soft boxes used to evenly light the sitter from the front. It is my go to set up to get a great shot of anyone within 5 minutes


Which photographers do you regard as special?

I am a member of Fearless photographers and often look to this group for inspiration


I also attend workshops by the Washington based Wedding and Portrait photographer , Sam Hurd. 


How do you stay creative and avoid solving problems in the same way?

Here are a couple of techniques I use to say creative:

Walk the same route near your home on three consecutive days at the same time of day with the same camera and lens. Each day with the intention of looking in a certain way eg Day 1- just photographing any composition including a triangle, Day 2 -  any composition including perfect symmetry and Day 3 - Any composition that just has repetition of a shape or texture. The only thing you are changing is the way YOU are choosing to see.  This is a great technique for forcing yourself to see the world differently. It is quite eye opening!

Find a photographer whose work I like. Try and work out how they made a shot. Recreate that image. I will try to work out how the image was made myself first. If I simply can't get near I will find out by asking the photographer. I have actually rung photographers up and surprisingly they are always willing to share their techniques and they are often flattered that someone admires their work enough to imitate it. Even if you don't manage to make a great image. No matter. The process of straining to learn a new approach to the same thing is hugely beneficial and going through the  process will very quickly improve your photography.

This blog post was based upon a Portraits workshop which I gave over Zoom to a small group of keen photographers from Yate and Chipping Sodbury Photographic Club. I think we all benefitted a lot form the learning processes involved and I do hope one day to give this workshop in person. It would be wonderful to show some of the principles in real life situations!

Do leave some comments below and feel free to share the post and links with other photographers.

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