Entice yourself to shoot portraits by experimenting with different materials, sculpting your portraits, adding flare and more, using our experts’ top tips

Niki Boon prefocus your picture

Increase your chances by prefocusing. Credit: Niki Boon

1. Prefocus your picture

Niki Boon

To increase my chances of a sharp result I often prefocus – this involves aiming the lens at an area I know the subject will enter into, rather than chasing movement with the camera. I prefocus, and when I see the subject entering the frame and about to do something interesting, I release the shutter.

James Abbott stay sharp with shallow DOF

Credit: James Abbott

2. Stay sharp with shallow DOF

James Abbott


Fast primes are fantastic for shooting portraits. Whether you’re going in close for a head and shoulders crop or full length, the shallow depth-of-field they can create looks stunning. The difficulty is in getting the shots sharp where they should be – on the eyes. The zone of focus is so narrow that if you move a tiny amount between focusing and releasing the shutter, the point of focus is lost. One way around this is to set the camera to burst mode, and after focusing take three shots in quick succession. This will triple your chances of getting a sharp shot.

tom Calton add some flare

Credit: Tom Calton

3. Add some flare

Tom Calton


Traditionally lens flare has had a bad reputation in portraiture. It’s often regarded as something damaging to your photographs and should be guarded against with the use of a lens hood. Although in some instances this way of thinking has its merits, flare can also be viewed in a more positive light (pardon the pun) and can be used to add a dream-like haze to portraits, giving them a wow factor. The key to achieving good lens flare is in the positioning – or more specifically, the angle at which light glances over the front element of your lens. Positioning yourself so that the sun is approximately 45° from the front element of your lens is a good place to start; then while peering through the viewfinder, slowly pivot the camera away and towards the sunlight (but don’t look directly at the sun) until you achieve the desired effect. The size of the front element of your lens will play a role in the type of lens flare you achieve. Lenses with larger front elements tend to generate a soft haze, while smaller lenses will produce concentrated rings and orbs of light.

Amanda Thomas shoot with camera tethered to laptop

Shoot tethered to see the results clearly as you go. Credit: Amanda Thomas

4. Shoot with the camera tethered to laptop

Amanda Thomas


When shooting fashion portraits, I always shoot tethered to a computer in the studio or a laptop on location. This makes the working process much easier and smoother as you can view the images on a bigger screen while you are shooting. With a clearer view you will then know instantly if you need to make any changes as you go along. Stopping to crowd around the screen on the back of the camera to view a set of images will not only slow you down, it will break the contact and flow with your model.

Yerburys experiment with different materials

Materials create fluidity, used with slow shutter speeds. Credit: Trevor & Faye Yerbury

5. Experiment with different materials

Trevor & Faye Yerbury


Very soft organza, or silks of pastel tones, can add a new dimension to your pictures. Material can be wrapped around your model in a number of ways, used as a veil or encouraged to blow in the wind, where it creates fluidity and movement when combined with slow shutter speeds. It can be advantageous to have an assistant on hand to help arrange materials in a particular way. Flimsy and light material slips off easily and having a stylist or assistant can help fix things while you wait to shoot so it doesn’t slow you down.

Jason Lanier sculpt the light

Use diffused light to add a glow to portraits. Credit: Jason Lanier

6. Sculpt the light

Jason Lanier


Budget should be no barrier to controlling lighting so that you can model and sculpt it to flatter your subject. Reflectors and diffusers are cheap to buy. Finding the best position for a reflector is a matter of trial and error but there’s one important rule: get it as close as possible. As you move the diffuser closer to a subject’s face, the subject will start to glow and you’ll get that catch light. This is applicable not just for natural light but also strobes, LEDs or anything you use. The closer you can get the light or modi er to the subjects, the more they will light up.