How to Shoot Still Portraits with Your Nikon D5300

Taking a still portrait with your Nikon D5300 means that your subject isn't moving. Assuming that you do have a subject willing to pose, the classic portraiture approach is to keep the subject sharply focused while throwing the background into soft focus. This artistic choice emphasizes the subject and helps diminish the impact of any distracting background objects. The following steps show you how to achieve this look:

1

Set the Mode dial to A (aperture-priority autoexposure) and select a low f-stop value.

A low f-stop setting opens the aperture, which not only allows more light to enter the camera but also shortens depth of field, or the distance over which focus appears sharp. So dialing in a low f-stop value is the first step in softening a portrait background.

However, for a group portrait, don't go too low or else the depth of field may not be enough to keep everyone in the sharp-focus zone. Take test shots and inspect the results at different f-stops to find the right setting.

Consider using aperture-priority mode when depth of field is a concern, because you can control the f-stop while relying on the camera to select the shutter speed. Just rotate the Command dial to select an f-stop. (You need to pay attention to shutter speed as well, however, to make sure that it's not so slow that movement of the subject or camera will blur the image.)

You can monitor the current f-stop and shutter speed in the Information display and viewfinder.

2

To further soften the background, zoom in, get closer, and put more distance between the subject and background.

Zooming in to a longer focal length also reduces depth of field, as does moving physically closer to your subject. And the greater the distance between the subject and background, the more the background blurs. (A good rule is to place the subject at least an arm's length away from the background.)

Avoid using a lens with a short focal length (a wide-angle lens) for portraits. They can cause features to appear distorted—sort of like how people look when you view them through the security peephole in a door. A lens with a focal length of 85–120mm is ideal for a classic head-and-shoulders portrait.

3

Check composition.

Just two quick pointers on this topic:

Consider the background. Scan the entire frame, looking for background objects that may distract the eye from the subject. If necessary, reposition the subject against a more flattering backdrop.

Frame the subject loosely to allow for later cropping to a variety of frame sizes. Your camera produces images that have an aspect ratio of 3:2. That means your portrait perfectly fits a 4 x 6 print size but will require cropping to print at any other proportion, such as 5 x 7 or 8 x 10.

4

For indoor portraits, shoot flash-free, if possible.

Shooting by available light rather than by flash produces softer illumination and avoids the problem of red-eye. To get enough light to go flash-free, turn on room lights or, during daylight, pose your subject next to a sunny window.

In the A exposure mode, simply keeping the built-in flash unit closed disables the flash.

5

For outdoor portraits, use a flash if possible.

Even in daylight, a flash adds a beneficial pop of light to subjects’ faces. A flash is especially important when the background is brighter than the subjects, as in this example.

In the A exposure mode, press the Flash button on the side of the camera to raise the built-in flash. For daytime portraits, set the Flash mode to Fill Flash. (That's the regular, basic Flash mode.) For nighttime images, try red-eye reduction or slow-sync flash; again, see the flash tips at the end of these steps to use either mode most effectively.

By default, the top shutter speed for flash photography is 1/200 second, so in bright light, you may need to stop down the aperture to avoid overexposing the photo. Doing so, of course, brings the background into sharper focus, so if that creates an issue, move the subject into a shaded area instead.

6

Press and hold the shutter button halfway to initiate exposure metering and autofocusing.

If the camera has trouble finding the correct focusing distance, set your lens to manual focus mode and then twist the focusing ring to set focus.

7

Press the shutter button the rest of the way to capture the image.

Congratulations! You’ve taken a still portrait.

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