Portrait Photography Tips

It is comparatively easy to capture portraits when you have complete control of the lighting. But what about when you have no control and the available light is limited? The following portrait photography tips are intended to offer some lighting and photography concepts to make a low lighting situation a bit easier.

Common situations dealing with low level lighting are conferences or weddings at the moments where something important is happening and a flash would be a rude distraction. In order to shoot portrait photography reasonably well in this situation you must know quite a bit about the characteristics of your camera.

The Camera
To take portraits in low lighting it is imperative that a single lens reflex (SLR) camera be used. SLRs allow complete control over the major characteristics of the camera: size of aperture opening, shutter speed, and the ISO setting of the image sensor (using a digital SLR).

The Aperture
The aperture is the iris like opening in the lens body that controls the amount of light that is let into the camera; the smaller the setting, the bigger the opening. Without a flash, the necessary setting of the aperture will depend on the amount of light in the room. There are lenses available that have very small aperture settings (large opening) but they can be very expensive.

The point here is that if you have a limited light source, start with the lowest aperture setting and adjust higher as needed.

Shutter Speed
Allowing the shutter to stay open longer will allow more light in but it also allows for any motion to be captured; motion to a camera translates to blur or streaking. Because of this, a tripod or some other stabilizing device will be necessary. The longer the shutter is open, the more necessary the tripod (this is one of the key elements in all of my portrait photography tips). If you are expected to move about a crowd, a unipod may be a better choice.

Try to keep your shutter speed slow enough to let enough light in but not so slow as to capture movement. This can take quite a bit of practice but can make the difference of having to buy an expensive large aperture lens or not.

ISO Setting
The ISO or film setting of your camera determines the sensitivity of your image sensor. The larger the ISO setting the quicker it reacts to light. Using a high setting in limited light will allow your sensor to react quicker to the light that is available. The balance here is that ISO settings above 400 tend to result in grainy pictures with some cameras; this is becoming less of a problem with the progressive development of image sensors but it still happens.

Balancing out your aperture, shutter, and ISO settings in different lighting environments can take a bit of practice but it is better to do this than to use a disruptive flash during the I Dos of a wedding or when the boss may be making a presentation at a conference.

I hope these portrait photography tips have shown some of the concepts to keep in mind when shooting portraits in limited lighting without a flash