To take good portraits, you must use the correct camera settings. Let's look at the combination of lens, aperture, shutter speed and ISO that gives you the stunning portrait look with a sharp focus in focus and a creamy, blurred background like the picture below.
The Gear You Need for Portrait Images
While you can take portraits with any lens, you need a wide aperture lens to get the classic portrait. Something with a maximum aperture between f / 1.8 and f / 2.8 is perfect even if f / 5.6 can work, especially with longer lenses.
Ideally, you also use a regular lens or a short telephoto, ie a lens with a focal length of between 50mm and 90mm on a full-frame camera or about 35mm to 60mm on a sensing sensor camera.
The good news is that there are good, cheap 50mm f / 1.8 lenses available for almost every major camera brand. They are one of the lenses we recommend you buy first for your camera (check out our guides for Canon and Nikon).
Aperture for portrait
Aperture is the key to standing appearance. A wide aperture creates a shallow depth of field that keeps your subject in sharp focus while blurring the background, so there is no distraction. Which openings that create this effect depends somewhat on the lens's focal length. In general, if you do not use an extremely long telephoto, you must use a f / 5.6 or narrower aperture. In reality, you will probably want to use f / 2.8 or f / 1.8 to maximize the amount of background sharpening.
The picture below is handled at f / 5.6 with a 50mm lens on a sensor sensor body. While the background is getting blurred, it is not completely blurred.
However, this photo was taken with the same lens and camera but at f / 1.8. This is the look we are going to have!
The exact aperture you go with depends on your lens, camera and distance from your subject. Your images will often be sharper if you use an aperture that is one stop or two narrower than at open, so f / 2.2 or f / 2.8 on a lens that opens f / 1.8. This will also give you a little more depth of field to play which makes focusing easier.
Shutter speed for portrait
Shutter speed does not matter so much for portraits as long as it is fast enough that no camera shake or your subject's movements add blur to your image. In most cases, a shutter speed that is faster than 1 / 100th of a second works. If you shoot a subject dancing or otherwise moving fast, 1 / 500th of a second is around the minimum.
I recommend using aperture priority mode and using a combination of ISO and exposure
ISO for portrait
For portraits, the normal rules apply to selecting an ISO: keep it as low as possible and increase it when you can't adjust anything else without adversely affecting your shot. Because you use a wide aperture, keeping a low ISO should be relatively easy as long as the light is okay.
If I know that I will work in varying lighting conditions and do not want to continue floating around with camera settings, I set my ISO to 400 before I start. I lose a small picture quality but not enough because I really notice it.
At night you need to increase your ISO much higher. I have shot good portraits on ISO 6400, so don't worry too much if it is pushed up. As long as the images are strong, no one will notice the digital noise.
To recap: the right camera settings for the classic portrait look is a regular or short telephoto lens with a f / 2.8 or wider aperture. Shutter speed and aperture do not matter so much; They should be kept over 1 / 100th of a second and as low as possible.