Tips for Shooting Still Portraits with Your Nikon D5300 - dummies

Tips for Shooting Still Portraits with Your Nikon D5300

By Julie Adair King

Sometimes, you won’t have ideal conditions for shooting still portraits with your Nikon D5300. Here are some tips to help improve your shot. When flash is unavoidable, try these tricks to produce better results:

  • Indoors, turn on as many room lights as possible. With more ambient light, you reduce the flash power that’s needed to expose the picture. Adding light also causes the pupils to constrict, further reducing the chances of red-eye. As an added benefit, the smaller pupil allows more of the subject’s iris to be visible in the portrait, so you see more eye color.

  • Try using a Flash mode that enables red-eye reduction or slow-sync flash. If you choose the first option, warn your subject to expect both a preliminary light from the AF-assist lamp, which constricts pupils, and the flash. And remember that slow-sync flash modes use a slower-than-normal shutter speed, which produces softer lighting and brighter backgrounds than normal flash.

    Using slow-sync flash can improve an indoor portrait. When the regular flash was used, the shutter speed was 1/60 second. At that speed, the camera has little time to soak up any ambient light. As a result, the scene is lit primarily by the flash.

    That caused two problems: The strong flash created some glare on the subject’s skin, and the window panes and frame are much more prominent because of the contrast between them and the darker bushes outside the window. Although it was daylight when the picture was taken, the skies were overcast, so at 1/60 second, the exterior appears dark.

    In the slow-sync example, shot at 1/4 second, the exposure time was long enough to permit the ambient light to brighten the exteriors to the point that the window frame almost blends into the background. And because much less flash power was needed to expose the subject, the lighting is much more flattering.

    In this case, the bright background also helps to set the subject apart because of her dark hair and shirt. If the subject had been a pale blonde, this setup wouldn’t have worked as well. Again, too, note the warming effect that can occur when you use Auto White Balance and shoot in a combination of flash and daylight.

    Using a slower-than-normal shutter speed increases the risk of blur due to camera shake, so use a tripod or otherwise steady the camera. Remind your subjects to stay absolutely still, too, because they’ll appear blurry if they move during the exposure.


  • For professional results, use an external flash with a rotating flash head. Aim the flash head upward so that the flash light bounces off the ceiling and falls softly down onto the subject. External flashes can be pricey, but the results make the purchase worthwhile if you shoot lots of portraits.

    Compare the two portraits. In the first example, using the built-in flash resulted in strong shadowing behind the subject and harsh, concentrated light. To produce the better result on the right, a Nikon Speedlight external flash was used.

    Make sure that the ceiling or other surface you use to bounce the light is white; otherwise, the flash light will pick up the color of the surface and influence the color of your subject.

  • Invest in a flash diffuser to further soften the light. A diffuser is simply a piece of translucent plastic or fabric that you place over the flash to soften and spread the light—much like how sheer curtains diffuse window light. Diffusers come in lots of different designs, including models that fit over the built-in flash.

  • Pay attention to white balance if your subject is lit by both flash and ambient light. If you set the White Balance setting to Auto, enabling flash tells the camera to warm colors to compensate for the cool light of a flash. If your subject is also lit by other light sources, the result may be colors that are slightly warmer or cooler than neutral.

    A warming effect typically looks nice in portraits, giving the skin a subtle glow.