4 Best Tips For Portraits That Pop

What You Need:

  • The camera body of choice (a Nikon D800 was used for these images)
  • A really long lens, such as a 70-200mm zoom lens (a Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 lens was used for these images)
  • Photoshop for post-production editing

How It’s Done:

I adore child portrait photography. My goal at each shoot is to tell a brief story about my young subject and get the viewer thinking about who the subject is and what makes him or her tick.

One of the hallmarks of a good portrait is that it draws the viewer’s eye to its subject. So while it’s important to scout a good location for your shoot, ultimately the image should be about the child, and not just the setting or the props.

To create portraits that pop, I like to use vibrant, moody colors, and separate the subject from the background.

There are innumerable ways to achieve this, but here are some techniques that have worked for me:

1. Use a Long Lens

I shot the images here using a Nikon 70 – 200mm zoom lens. I chose this lens in particular because it is a long lens, and long lenses create something called lens compression, which blurs the background of the image and makes it difficult to tell how far it is from the subject.

This has an effect that is somewhat similar to shooting with a shallow depth of field but doesn’t increase your odds of shooting out focus.

2. Zoom In and Stand Back from the Subject

If you’re zoomed in, you’ll achieve great lens compression and your subject will pop more. Of course, with a lens as long as a 70 – 200mm, you’re going to have move pretty far back in order to get the shot.

In fact, a lens like this won’t even focus close up, so forget using this lens in a cramped setting. Take this baby outside! It might seem a little odd to shoot far away from your subject, but sometimes it can allow the child to relax and be more natural – some children understandably feel a bit shy or self-conscious with a big lens in their face.

3. Shoot Wide Open, or Almost Wide Open

To enhance the blurred background, set your aperture to a low number. Shooting wide open is tricky, and takes some mastery: it’s easy to screw up the focus. Focus on the subject’s eyes and take a couple of photos – it can be difficult to tell in-camera if you got it right.

4. Amp It Up in Post Production

There are endless ways to push your photo farther in photoshop, but a good starting point is to use a curve layer to darken the entire image, then take it off your subject using a soft brush and a vector mask.

Here are a few more images from the same session that I used these techniques for:

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