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Beginner's Portrait Photography Tips—Background

What makes a good headshot photograph? We prepared this headshot photography tips serie to help you promote the skill and getting into portrait photography.

We shared the first part before, it is about head picture. Today, this tutorial we will introduce you tips of portrait or selfie background.

Beginners headshot photography tips

Bokeh effect

In photography, bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in out-of-focus parts of an image. To create a bokeh effect in shooting a portrait , we have 2 ways.

  • Large Aperture

The first way is to use a large aperture. The larger the aperture, the fuzzier the background, and the smaller the aperture, the clearer the background. Here, we use two photos directly to deepen our understanding of the effect of aperture size on depth of field.

A wide aperture has a shallow depth of field, which is good for close-up portraits. If you want a dreamy background, use a wide aperture.

large aperture: long blonde hair at carnival

This photo uses a wide aperture to blur the background and focus on the girl's face to highlight the main figure in the picture.

A smaller aperture has a larger depth of field, which allows the background and portrait to be clearly displayed, making it more suitable for environmental portraits.

Small aperture: woman pauses at foot of waterfall

In this photo, the waterfall and the main character are set off against each other, so a relatively small aperture is used to clearly record the environment and characters in the picture.

We can use the aperture flexibly according to the actual shooting environment. If we need to highlight the figure, we can choose the large aperture. If we want to shoot the portrait with the environment, we can use the small aperture to shoot.

  • Focal Length

We can also create a bokeh effect by adjust the focal length, it is the 2nd way we introduce here. The first picture, the 70mm focal segment of the lens was used to record the girl's environment by the river. 

shorter focal length: girl by the river.

The medium telephoto lens can blur the background, better highlight the subject, and keep a proper distance from the girl. The girl will not show shy or unnatural expressions because she feels the photographer is too close to her. Therefore, we can finish the shooting in a relaxed atmosphere.

With a longer focal segment, it is easier to blur the background and has obvious space compression effect, making it more suitable for close-up shooting. In particular, when shooting portraits in a chaotic background environment, long focal length can be used to blur the chaotic background and reduce the impact on the subject.

longer focal segment: young woman drinking tea

The longer the focal length is, the more obvious the background blur is, while the shorter the focal length is, the weaker the background blur is.


The backlight can highlight the environment and give people a warm feeling. With the help of the ambient light, the subject can better combine with the scenery and express their emotions.

Because of the large contrast between light and dark in the backlight scene, it is easy to produce the effect of dark face in outdoor shooting (wide-area metering). In order to prevent the character's face from dark face, point metering is usually chosen, and the metering circle is placed on the skin of the character's face to ensure normal face exposure.

backlight example: girl stand on a frozen lake

But if you can’t control the exposure, try edit your photo. A software like Photoshop or Fotosifter is a good choice.

before adjust the exposure
adjusted exposure with fotosifter

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Using point metering, you can get normally exposed photos of the face in a backlight scene and create a bright and fresh atmosphere with a slightly overexposed background. In addition, there is a golden contour light on the edge of the hair when shooting under reverse light, and the side face makes the facial features more three-dimensional, making the photo more moving.

  • Tips

    • Use warm white balance tone when shooting against the light, which can make the photo more warm.
    • Point metering is best used in conjunction with exposure lock (AEL). Aim the middle metering circle at the facial skin to obtain the accurate exposure of the human face.Hold down the AEL and press the shutter button to ensure that the exposure does not change.


These are the 2nd part of headshot photography tips, to shoot a nice portrait, you have to memorize the tips above. Practice makes perfect, practice more, you can take better portraits.

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