Whether you are photographing one person or a small group, all it takes is a little extra thought to create ­professional-looking portraits. While you can shoot good portraits with any type of camera, from smartphone to DSLR, I prefer using a dedicated camera because the files are larger and I can make bigger blowups. Here’s how to add both visual and emotional impact to your people pictures…

Fill the frame. There’s an adage in photography that when you think you’re close enough, take a giant step forward. Tightly framed portraits intensify emotions and create a more intimate atmosphere. Getting very close physically, however, can be awkward for both photographer and subject. Less invasive solution: Use a medium-telephoto zoom setting or, if you have an interchangeable-lens camera, a medium-telephoto lens (85mm to 120mm in 35mm equivalent) to fill the frame with your subject from a comfortable distance. If you are using a smartphone, get close enough to avoid “finger” zooming because that crops away part of an already small digital file.

Use simple backgrounds. For outdoor portraits, plain backgrounds (a tall hedge or grassy dune or brick wall) are important because you don’t want anything drawing attention away from your subjects. Place your subjects several feet in front of the backdrop because the distance between the two helps blur the background, making the people pop out. If your camera has an aperture-priority exposure mode that lets you choose the lens aperture setting, select a lower setting (such as f/2.8 as opposed to f/11) to “soften” (blur) the background. (The ­lower the aperture number, the more shallow the “depth of field,” or near-to-far area, that will be in sharp focus.) Using a low aperture setting can be even more helpful when the only background available to you is visually busy—the setting will blur out much of the busyness.

Choose the best daylight. Hazy or slightly overcast days produce the most flattering light because the softer light eliminates distracting facial shadows. On sunny days, move your subjects into a bit of shade, in the shadow of a big tree, for example—where the light is gentler. (Be careful to avoid dappled light on the face!) Shade has a bluish cast to it, but you can warm the scene by setting your camera’s “white balance” control to the “cloudy day” setting. More lighting tips…

Try backlighting (my favorite portrait light) in which the sun is behind your subjects. (It doesn’t have to be directly behind.) Backlighting creates a pretty “rim light” around hair and eliminates squinting. Sometimes backlighting will cause dark faces, and one way to cure that is with a bit of fill-in flash. Many cameras have a fill-flash mode that will fire just enough flash to lighten dark faces without creating an obvious fake lighting look. Another simple fix: Have a helper aim a sheet of white poster board to bounce sunlight onto your subject’s face and “fill” shadows.

Shoot during the golden hour. Late-afternoon light (starting about one hour before sunset) is warm and flattering and produces noticeably softer ­contrast—a favorite with fashion shooters.

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