The best camera settings for portrait photography

Woman close up portrait

Do you know that portrait photography is the most common form of photography in the world? It is the most satisfying and profitable form. From commercial portraits to pursuing it as a passion, photographers widely indulge in portraits.

But only a few can capture extraordinary results. This is because most amateurs and even some professionals make mistakes while setting up their cameras. The use of wrong exposure and lenses ruins their image. So remember you must use tried and tested techniques to get amazing results.

Either you can go on experimenting with different settings which will take you ages or follow the advice of experts that have been in business for long. We hope that you choose the easy way and pay heed to every word in this article. It will help you discover the whole new world of portrait photography and help your transition from amateur to a renowned professional artist.

The best camera settings for portrait photography

From the setting of Camera’s ISO, aperture, and shutter Speed, to selecting the best lens and lightning there are many things to consider before shooting portraits. If you want excellent results you will have to ensure that your camera is functioning properly and is at an optimal setting.

You will have to first start with the camera’s ISO settings as it helps you get the most dynamic range from the sensor. You can refer to the manual for native ISO setting and then set it accordingly. Once the ISO is set, you will have to move on to aperture settings as it reflects your creative choice.

You can set it according to preference as it can affect the bokeh. From burring backgrounds to different apertures for indoor and outdoor scenes, you will have to master all that. Then there comes shutter speed which can make or break your photograph. Your choice should vary with circumstances like availability of flash, natural light ad type of lens and camera.

This is not all, some other tits and bits should be balanced as well as white balance, editing stetting and many more. It may all sound confusing now but we have made it easy for you by explaining the best of the best camera settings for portrait photography in this article. By just following these simple guidelines you will be able to transform your portraits from ordinary to extraordinary!

Choosing the camera and lens

Usually, learning settings are quite general. You set the aperture, exposure, ISO, and shutter speed according to your scene and subject. But the type of camera and lens can also effect setting. As cameras are made differently and have a distinctive feature, the setting may vary according to camera and lens sized and type as well. The quality of material used in the construction of the lens and camera can greatly influence the setting as well.

Then camera flash as well as the image stabilization also impact settings as a camera with different features require less monitoring. For example with those cameras that limit flash sync speed to 1/160 or 1/200 or strobes, Test out your maximum camera sync speed if you are working with strobes.

If you exceed your camera’s sync speed, you will see black lines will appear in the image if you exceed them. Also, some camera produces noise when working with high ISO such as ISO 800 while others may generate clear shots, other without any grain. So you have to be cautious as about the camera’s limit or your images will get ruined. Moreover, advanced cameras also have an automatic change of which detects the change in the scene and adapt accordingly.

Cameras like some mirrorless ones have a noticeable feel when capturing at shutter speeds faster than 1/1,000. This is because they have an electronic shutter turned on which causes banding with flash.


So before applying any setting check which camera and lens are you using and read their manual. This can be helpful and guide you. Basic know-how of camera and lens can lay the groundwork for mastering its advanced features. So start from there and then gradually customize by using your creative potential.

Try to invest in a better camera for portraits. Go for mirrorless cameras or high-end DSLRs. In lenses, it is best to use prime lenses.

Set as per the scene

The next thing to take into account is the scene. This is not just limited to light but also relates to background, and ambiance. For example, if you are shooting outdoors the general rule is to set the shutter speed double of your focal length.

So when shooting with more natural light or high flash inside with a 50 mm prime lens, the shutter should be at least set to a minimum of 1/100. Here are some key principles of shooting in different conditions to get a good exposure for portraits.

These are universal settings that can be tweaked according to situations. They apply to all cameras for portraits and beautifully influence your final picture.

Outdoor settings

Outdoor portraits have many problems as lighting and shadows become issues. It is easier to capture portraits indoors as lightning and background are easily controlled there. But the beauty of outdoor portraits can’t be substituted. So to get amazing shots in spite of all the difficulties. Follow these rules:

  • For the best-backlit portraits use the bright sunlight as the light source.
  • As maximum picture quality is a must for portraits use the lowest ISO preferable. The standard is ISO 100 in most cameras.
  • ISO range between 100 and 400 is a golden opportunity for portraits sunny weather.
  • Control the f-stop to maintain the depth of field. So if you want, deeper depth of field, lower the aperture. Generally, for portraits, the aperture should be set to wide, such as f/1.2-f/4 as they lead to a blurred background.
  • For more focused background and sharper shots, increase the aperture by 2-3 stops than the lowest possible. These f-stops such as those between f/5.6 and f/8, the aperture will be the sharpest point of the lens.
  • To take advantage of the camera’s meter is essential to monitor shutter speed as well. The goal should be to achieve center reading. Then just take a test picture and assess LCD screen and the histogram
  • The general rule is to set the Shutter speed approximately 2 times the focal length of the lens. If you shoot with a 24mm prime lens, you set the lowest shutter speed of 1/60th to prevent camera shaking and picture blurring. However, it isn’t the best shutter speed for portraits in all situations. In case your mirrorless camera or a lens features a built-in stabilization or you shoot with a tripod, setting lower shutter speeds is advisable.
  • If you are using aperture priority mode then the aperture will be set automatically. So just experiment with White balance. It is advised to set it at 5200-6000 Kelvin or sunny option if available.
  • Poses are important in portrait photography. But they are even more significant outdoors. You can try different positions and expressions with appropriate settings and let natural light do the rest
  • If capturing portraits in Gloomy Weather or cloudy weather ISO should be set to at least 100. It is suggested to keep it higher and as it isn’t bright outside. So the sensitivity should be increased to compensate for it. Just do not overdo it as it can lead to the creation of noise.
  • Another tip for taking portraits in gloomy, weather, waterproof camera as it may snow or rain anytime. This makes it possible to use the camera without any lags waterproof bag which may ruin images.
  • The Aperture in cloudy weather is also suggested being kept wide open but not to the highest point. It is similar to photographing portraits in sunny weather, you just have to be aware of the composition.
  • Shutter speed with clouds outside shouldn’t cross the 1/200 or 1/400. This is because other speeds may lead to insufficient light.
  • If using aperture priority mode, it will be altered automatically. Just don’t use values slower than 1/60s, as they might ruin the portraits especially if you are using a tripod.
  • Experiment with white balance but set it from 6000 Kelvin. Or choose “Shade” or “Cloudy” options if available.

outdoor woman portrait

Indoor Settings

Indoor portrait photography is not as difficult as an outdoor one but it has its issues. You have more options to play with this it makes it more confusing. Indoor photography also has its nuances when it comes to adjustments.

But here are some tips which will help you get amazing results easily when in-studio portraits:

  • Set aperture at 1.2 or the widest one possible. This is because, with wider the aperture, more light will pass through the lens and help you conquer the low lighting aspects inside. This parameter is especially important in the scene where indoor lighting isn’t limited.
  • For indoor studios with bright lights, the best ISO is 1600+ and 800 for portraits.
  • Photography at f/1.2 will lead to shutter speed becoming too slow for handheld shooting. So to regulate this shutter speed, preset it with a raised sensitivity of approximately ISO 800.
  • In low lights select shutter speeds of 1/15th if using a tripod for shooting or 1/60-1/200 if taking with hands for added stability.
  • White balance settings opt for “Fluorescent” mode as it leads to warm and bright images. It compensates for cool tones and fluorescent lighting.
  • To accent, cool colors in the shots use the “Tungsten” mode. It is used for tungsten bulb lighting.
  • Use the “Flash” mode if the lighting is unsatisfactory. Through this, the camera can choose the right white balance even with low light.
  • You can also use Auto mode to automatically regulate the white balance in accordance with the source of light available.

woman portrait indoor in studio

Tips for Group portraits

Individual portraits themselves are difficult. But when it comes to shooting a great number of people, it becomes even more difficult. You have to align them at the same time and worry about every one of them.

The larger the number of people the more challenging it becomes. You have to keep an eye on people in front of the camera carefully and think of creative poses for everyone as well. You also have to simultaneously manage settings.

One wrong footing can ruin your hard work and you will have to settle everyone again. Group photos cannot be taken again so its best now to experiment. So to make it easy for you to ensure that group portraits are motionless and in focus here are some rules you should go by. They will really give you an advantage during the large photography session.

  • Low ISO values such as 100-400 are recommended. With faster shutter speed, this should be raised.
  • Aperture also has a vital role, especially in wedding group sessions. So if you want everyone in focus, use f/5.6 or f/8. This will make the image sharp
  • Also take into account the positioning of everyone, so that they aren’t be located too far from each other or somebody may get blurred
  • Don’t go overboard and do not raise values higher than f/11 to close the diaphragm or it will cause loss of quality and degrade the accuracy of portraits.
  • For Shutter speed, set it at 1/15th for shooting if using a tripod or 1/125th if shooting with hands.
  • To set White Balance, if group photos are being undertaken outdoors then set it to “Shadow”, “Daylight” or “overcast” according to the weather. If it is being shot indoors, then take advantage of the white balance by choosing fluorescent or incandescent light photography bulbs.

wedding group with women

Some extra tips

  • Even though most cameras nowadays boast of RAW file format compatibility, rookie shooters keep using JPEG. But in reality, the RAW format is more beneficial for portraits so use that.
  • RAW not only ensures top-grade quality but also has dynamic range expansion. It is also easier to edit as you can fix any errors in camera settings.
  • It is advised to use Aperture Priority Mode. Not only is it the most widespread portraiture mode but the easiest as well. It enables the shooter to choose the f-number value, while automatically selecting shutter speed so that you can regulate the depth of field to complement background blur and fully emphasize the subject.
  • If you want to fully experiment, you can choose manual camera settings, which give you full control over shutter speed and aperture. But this alternative is risky
  • One of the essential tips for the best portraits is to mind focus settings. It is best to not to allow the camera to pick the focus itself as it will fail. So set it yourself on mostly on the subject’s eyes.
  • Prefer Single one (AF-S) t focus adjustments, to Continuous Shot (Servo or AF-C) focus adjustments,
  • Use Continuous AF mode and combine it with numerous focus points to get sharper shots when the subject is moving.
  • Mind the Metering Settings as successful portraits need spot metering for checking perfect exposure.
  • If using flash exposing the background is a must so that the person’s face is illuminated by the flash.
  • Make use of exposure compensation when needed as it will assist you in fixing lightning issues.

dramatic man portrait

Conclusion

So the verdict is that when capturing portraits you have to be very careful about settings. There are now fixed settings, but the above are generally suggested for best results. They are easy to implement and the techniques are immaculate.

They are cheat sheets combined with years of experience. So you can start with these portrait settings and then experiment with them to add more creativity. These are not rules and they can be broken according to your preference.

Don’t hold on to them too tightly. They just lay the foundation and from here you can approach things differently. What matters is whether you are ready to wear your creative hat and play around with different shooting techniques.

By the end, together with this guide and your experimentation, you will be able to define and develop your portraiture approach and style which will make you stand out. If you find all of this helpful let me know in the comments section below. The last thing is to spread these cheat sheets to others as well so that they can benefit too.

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Author: condruzmf

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