How To Get Great Portraits by Emily

Friday, September 07, 2012
Hey guys! It's me, italics. I'd like to introduce the newest contributor to the blog:  Emily! (Read a little more about and where to find her here.) She is a photographer and will be sharing her expert tips and tricks every month. If you have any questions for her or topics you want to see covered in a future post, let her know in the comments! Welcome, Emily!!!

“I wish I looked that good!” Come on.. Who hasn’t said that at least once while surfing through fashion blogs, Pinterest, and the like. It’s the outfits and cute hair we’re talking about, but have you ever considered that the photograph itself is part of what makes it all look so.. good? Here I have a few key tips for getting great portrait photography -- whether you’re a blogger, photographer, whatever! (Oh, and I guess I should introduce myself. I’m Emily and I’m a photographer over at Emily Susan Photography.)


First, we’ve got to get those camera settings right before we even start snapping. The most important feature for portraits is adjusting the camera’s aperture, or depth of field. There’s lots of big fancy words and numbers, but even I tend to refer to it as “the blurriness of the background” (Yes, really professional terms here). Switch to "Aperture Priority Mode" which allows YOU get to choose how blurry the background is in your picture and the camera will figure out the rest.

Check out the picture above of Ron and Hermione Andrea and Travis. For that picture, my aperture is at the lowest number my lens allows:  f/1.4 (lower number = blurrier background). It’s a good thing because if those trees behind were just as clear as the couple themselves, it would have been distracting and POSSIBLY looked like branches were coming out of their heads. No good.


Okay, second tip is about the background, or setting, of the portrait. Above is my beautiful friend Sarah -- see how the winding road creates a triangle frame around her? The dip in the mountains almost seems to point down in her direction as well. It's all about creating a focal point.

Now, you don’t need a beautiful mountain vista to do that. I love Elaine’s outfit pictures in this location because the perspective of the sidewalk, building, trees, and street all fading into the distance lead up to Elaine’s beautiful face (Focal point!). Don’t be afraid of a “cluttered” background, as long as you can blur it with that aperture and frame your subject!


So after you’ve got your camera settings in place, you’ve chosen the perfect location, there’s one more SUPER important point:  lighting. Lighting lighting lighting. In the right light, every location can look great. In the wrong light, you can get crummy pictures even in the most beautiful place.

Try to find places where the light is “soft.” That can be in the shade from a building, on an overcast day, or right around sunset (my photoshoots are usually an hour and a half before the sun sets). Another huge help is investing in a REFLECTOR (like twenty bucks) for reflecting light back onto a subject like I did in this picture of Emily... Elaine's younger sister!

Give these tips a try and let me know how it goes! Maybe it’ll be your portrait all over the Pinterest world next week. ;)

What other photography tips have you guys found helpful?


  1. These tips are SO helpful! I really don't have time to take a photography class and whatnot and small, simple and quick tips like these are really easy to understand!
    I'd love to see a series of posts like these, even dedicated to simple camera stuff because there are many of us out there who are camera-illiterate, me included :)

  2. I absolutely love these tips! =) Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great tips! Love it.

  4. Looking forward to this column!

  5. This post is fantastic! I loved reading it! I know like, nothing, about photography, but the main thing I have always heard is lighting. I've never played around with other settings on my camera, but now I'm determined to! Thanks for all the great tips!

    perfectly priya