When you take a portrait picture, you naturally want the most beautiful and lifelike result possible. A good light can make the skin glow, while the wrong or clumsy use of light and shadow can make a picture end up in the trash. So what exactly do you have to pay attention to when taking a portrait picture?
As it’s well known that shadows give shape, and which also certainly applies to a face. Exposure and the direction and strength of the light can therefore have a major influence on the picture. The amount, placement and strength of shadows coincide with this and plays a major role. It is important to always keep an eye on your shadows.

Although the shadows are necessary for a good portrait, it is necessary to ensure that they are not too intense and that there is still enough image information to be found in those shadows. A closed shadow in a portrait is seldom beautiful, unless it is an effect deliberately intended by the photographer. The image comes out looking like a very strange shape if an excessively strong shadow appears in the wrong place.

Shadows Of Nearby Objects

We just talked about shadows that are on your model, caused by body shapes and the placement of the light itself.
In addition, there is another type of shadow: namely the shadow that occurs when another object is hit by bright light and your model is in the drop shadow of that object. Such a shadow can cast an annoying stain, stripe or perhaps an ugly pattern over your model’s face, and you don’t want that. So always check whether there are objects, or branches nearby that can give annoying shadows.

A step to the left or right of your model is often the solution, so do not hesitate to reposition the model  i instances like this. Getting rid of such a shadow in post-processing is not impossible, but it is extremely difficult and time-consuming. As always, prevention is better than cure.


When taking a portrait, you should always pay attention to whether overexposure occurs somewhere in your image. Shiny heads, white teeth, blonde hair and white clothing can all cause the highlights in your image to fade and there would be little or less image left to work with, which you  would always want to avoid as a photographer. Therefore, be alert and check whether all elements in your image are properly lit.
Important to note is that overexposure is not always what it seems. Based on your histogram, the real depth of overexposure is easy to determine, but the interpretation of overexposure is not the same for every photographer.
Overexposure is present when there are blown-out areas of white in the image in places where you should normally see image information (for example skin or clothing).

However, it may also be the case that image information is still available in the light parts of the image, but that the photographer still perceives it as overexposure. In that case, the definition of overexposure is a bit broader. Therefore, make sure that you also avoid ‘the appearance’ of overexposure.

Outside, In The Afternoon

Natural light can be quite strong, especially in the middle of the day. Therefore, make sure you have appropriate settings in the first instance. Plenty of sun gives you the opportunity to work with fast shutter speeds. A small aperture (large F-number) makes your image darker and a large aperture is counterproductive.

On a clear day it is therefore sometimes a challenge to work with large apertures. If you want to do that, keep your ISO value as low as possible and ensure the fastest possible shutter speed. With a little luck you can balance those values ​​so that you can still work with a nice large aperture when you photograph a model in full sun.

It is important that you prevent overexposure to be seen on the face, especially for shiny spots on the nose, balding heads, the forehead or on someone’s glasses. Try to prevent those spots from gleaming so much that the image information can no longer be extracted when you start processing the raw images. It is better to have a somewhat dark image on the spot than to come home with an image that you can no longer use.

Cloudy Weather

Some photographers belive that it is best to take pictures in full sun, but nothing could be further from the truth. A cloudy day is actually much more pleasant to photograph, because this prevents the sun from giving you different conditions every few minutes. In addition, a thick cloud cover works like a super-large softbox, so the light is beautifully soft and even.

You might say cloudy weather makes photos become so gray and dull, but that in itself is not too bad, especially if you adjust the settings right. Photographing a little brighter with a slower shutter speed or a larger aperture or higher ISO value would give a much fresher image. A correct representation and clarity of your model’s skin should always be the starting point. Therefore, ensure the correct light metering on the face.

Be Alert

Natural light cannot be controlled and therefore you will have to be very alert to changes in the light, especially on days when clouds and sun alternate. You might be surprised at how much the lighting condition changes in such weather. If you do not fix your camera settings rightly, you will come home with a bunch of over or underexposed photos. So pay close attention to what is happening, for example by setting your camera to show you each image for two seconds. If something goes wrong with the exposure, you can intervene quickly and, for example, adjust your shutter speed.


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