Every photographer has their own take on the best camera settings for portrait photography.
Some prefer to use a shallow depth of field to blur the background and focus attention on the subject.
Others like to use a higher shutter speed to freeze motion and capture candid expressions.
Regardless of your preferred method:
There are basic techniques that every portrait photographer should know.
In this guide, I will explore the best camera settings for portrait photography and provide tips for achieving great results.
So whether you’re just starting out in portrait photography or you’re looking to improve your skills, read on for some helpful tips!
Table of Contents
Best Camera Settings for Portrait Photography
The best camera settings for portrait photography are a shutter speed of 1/250 second or faster, an aperture of f/2.8 or wider, and an ISO that allows you to achieve the desired exposure and depth of field while minimizing noise and maintaining image quality.
These settings will give you a good starting point for taking portraits.
Here’s an example photo using all these settings:
These are my go-to settings for portraits both for an outside portrait on an average sunny or overcast day as well as inside because they give me a sharp image with a shallow depth of field.
I like to use a fast shutter speed to freeze any movement and prevent blur.
I always shoot in RAW to have the most flexibility when editing my images.
But if you’re just starting out, don’t worry about shooting in RAW.
Just focus on getting the hang of the basic settings, and you can always switch to RAW later.
Of course, every situation is different, and you may need to adjust these settings to get the best results.
If you’re photographing a moving subject, you may need to use a faster shutter speed to avoid blur.
Or if you’re shooting in low light, you may need to increase the ISO to prevent camera shake.
Experiment and see what works best for you!
Now let’s take a closer look at each of these settings (aka the exposure triangle) and how they affect your portraits.
Best Shutter Speed for Portrait Photography
The best shutter speed for portrait photography is the one that allows you to capture them in sharp focus.
I personally like to use at least 1/150s.
This is because people tend to move around a lot and you don’t want to risk getting blurred in your images.
The shutter speed is the amount of time that the camera’s sensor is exposed to light.
A faster shutter speed will result in a shorter exposure time and a sharper image.
You will need to use a faster shutter speed if you’re photographing a moving subject.
Otherwise, you risk getting blur in your image.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule.
If you’re photographing a very still subject, you can get away with using a slower shutter speed.
But if you’re shooting in low light or with a long lens, you may need to use an even faster shutter speed to avoid camera shake.
Best Aperture for Portrait Photography
A good starting point is to use an aperture of f/2.8.
But if you’re using a long lens or shooting in low light, you may need to use a wider aperture to avoid camera shake.
Why is this:
The aperture is the size of the opening in the lens when the photo is taken.
A wider aperture (smaller f-stop number) will result in a shallow depth of field.
This is the most popular choice for portrait photography because it allows you to blur the background and focus attention on the subject.
Best ISO for Portrait Photography
The best ISO for portrait photography is the one that allows you to achieve the desired exposure and depth of field while minimizing noise and maintaining image quality.
If I’m using a long lens or shooting in low light, I may need to increase the ISO to avoid camera shake, but be careful not to go too high or you’ll introduce noise into the photo.
The ISO is the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor to light.
A higher ISO will result in a brighter image, but it can also introduce noise into the photo.
So, you’ll need to experiment to find the right balance for your particular situation.
White Balance for Portrait Photography
When shooting portraits, I usually leave the white balance on auto.
The white balance is the color temperature of the photo.
A warmer white balance will result in a yellowish tint, and a cooler white balance will result in a bluish tint.
However, you may need to experiment with different settings to get your desired look.
What Factors Influence the Camera Settings for Portraits?
So we just talked about “general” rules, but I think it’s important to understand the factors that would affect changing these settings so you know when on a photoshoot.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- The amount of light available
- The type of light (natural or artificial)
- The color of the light
- The direction of the light
- The distance between the subject and the background
- The type of lens you’re using
- The focal length of the lens
- The size of the sensor (full frame or crop sensor)
- The type of portrait (headshot, half body, or full body)
All of these factors will affect the camera settings that you use for your portraits.
If you’re shooting in low light, you may need to increase the ISO to prevent camera shake.
Or, if you’re using a long lens, you may need to use a faster shutter speed or wider aperture to avoid camera shake.
And, if you want a shallow depth of field, you’ll need to use a wider aperture.
If you’re shooting a headshot, you may need to use a different setting than if you’re shooting a full-body portrait.
The point is to use these numbers as a general guideline, but they are not hard-set “rules,” and you should eventually experiment with mixing different values into the exposure triangle to develop your own personal style while still producing great images.
Do Camera Settings Change for Full-Body Portraits?
The answer is yes! For full-body portraits, you’ll need to use a slightly more narrow aperture (larger f-stop number) to get the entire subject in focus.
I like to use an aperture of f/4 – f/5.6 when shooting full-body portraits.
This gives me a shallow depth of field while also capturing the details of my subject’s body.
If you just want the face to be sharp and the body blurry then it’s fine to use f/2.8 instead of f/4.
Just make sure to place your focal point on the subject’s face.
Do Camera Settings Change for Group Portraits?
Group portraits are very similar to full-body portraits.
The main difference is that you’ll need to use a narrower aperture to get everyone in focus.
I like to use an aperture of f/5.6 – f/8 when shooting group portraits.
The worst thing that could happen is to have only one person in the group in focus.
If this does happen, it’s usually hard to see on the camera, and you’ll only notice it when you edit the photo in post-processing, so make sure to use a higher f-stop number as mentioned.
In conclusion, these are my best camera settings for portrait photography.
If you’re learning more about portrait photography, be sure to check out my in-depth guide covering my portrait photography tips and tricks.
Nate Torres is a portrait photographer servicing the Orange County and Los Angeles areas. He specializes in portraits of individuals, couples, groups and headshots. Nate Torres is also a photography writer and content creator and educates other photographers on portrait photography, composition, editing, gear, and business. You can find his content on his personal website, social media, and YouTube Channel, as well as on blogs such as Fstoppers, Photofocus, and Imaginated. Being a former SEO consultant, Nate also teaches other photographers how to use SEO to grow their own photography business on his educational blog, Shutter SEO.