8 Mistakes New Portrait Photographers Make (And How To Avoid Them)

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Everyone starts somewhere—which means there’s usually a whole slew of mistakes on the way to becoming a great photographer. The good news? Most new photographers make a lot of the same mistakes, and plenty share their knowledge so others can learn from them, or at least correct those mistakes earlier. Portrait photography is no exception. Here are eight common errors new portrait photographers make, and what you can do to avoid them.

Not focusing on the eyes.

The eyes are the number one thing to get right in a portrait. You can have a great pose, great lighting, great composition, but if the eyes aren’t sharp, it’s not a great shot. The camera’s default autofocus area mode often chooses the object closest to the camera. In a portrait, that means the nose is often sharp instead of the eyes.

To get the eyes sharply focused, use the single point autofocus area mode. Using the camera’s cursor, move that point over one of the subject’s eyes. By telling the camera to focus on the eyes, you’ll have much better chances of getting a sharply focused portrait.

Not shooting in RAW.

RAW files are digital negatives. They contain more information than a JPEG, which means there is a lot more you can do with a shot in post processing. While it’s always better to get the shot right the first time, RAW files give the photographer control over the amount of sharpening instead of automatically applying one amount to every image. It’s also easy to make small exposure adjustments and white balance changes too. A targeted brush tool is available for making edits that you don’t want to apply to the entire image.

Shooting in RAW is a simple switch—go to your camera menu and locate the file type option and switch it over. You can also choose to shoot in RAW + JPEG, so you’ll have both file types. You’ll need to process a RAW shot, whereas JPEGS don’t require editing, but the switch is well worth the extra effort, especially for portraits.

Improper depth of field.

Many new portrait photographers either use a depth of field that’s too deep or too shallow. A deep depth of field will blur out the background, drawing more attention to the subject and works great in a portrait. But don’t automatically just use the widest aperture your lens allows. You’ll want the subject’s entire face in focus—leaving the ears too blurry can look rather odd. Use the depth of field preview button on the front of your camera and adjust your aperture to find the depth that will work best with that particular shot.

Some photographers err on the opposite side, using a narrow aperture like f/11 and keeping the entire scene sharp. While sometimes when the scene is right a narrower aperture can work, many new photographers use an aperture that’s too wide simply because they’re not sure yet how to manipulate the depth of field. (Wider apertures, however, are necessary for taking group portraits and keeping all the faces sharp). Practice using different aperture settings and watch how they change the shot. Understanding aperture and depth of field is essential to improving your portraits.

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