What Camera Settings Should I Use for Portrait Photos?

AT to make good portraitsyou must use the correct camera settings. Let's see what combination of lenses, aperture, shutter speed and ISO give you the awesome portrait look with a clean subject, focus and a creamy and blurry background like the photo below.

The equipment you need for portrait photos

Although you can take portraits with any purpose, get the classic portrait, you need a wide-open lens. Something with a maximum aperture between f / 1.8 and f / 2.8 is perfect although f / 5.6 can work, especially with longer lenses.

Ideally, you will also use a normal goal or short telephoto, in other words, a lens with a focal distance between 50mm and 90mm on a full frame camera or about 35mm to 60mm on a crop sensor camera.

The good news is that there are excellent cheap 50mm f / 1.8 lenses available for virtually all major camera brands. This is one of the lenses we recommend you buy first for your camera (check our guides gun and Nikon).

Aperture for portraits

Aperture is the key to the portrait look. A wide opening creates a shallow depth depth of field who keeps your subject in clearness while blurring the background, so it's not a distraction. The openings that create this effect depend a little on the focal length of your lens. In general, if you do not use an extremely long telephoto lens, you should use an aperture of f / 5.6 or lower. In reality, you will probably want to use f / 2.8 or f / 1.8 to maximize the amount of background blur.

The photo below was taken at 5.6 degrees with a 50mm lens on a sensor. As the background begins to fade, it's not quite indistinct.

The next photo, however, was taken with the same lens and the same camera, but at f / 1.8. This is the look we are looking for!

The exact aperture depends on the lens, the camera and the distance to the subject. Your images will often be sharper if you use an aperture whose aperture is two narrower apertures, so f / 2.2 or f / 2.8 on an open lens at f / 1.8. This will also give you a little more depth of field to play with which facilitates the development.

Shutter speeds for portraits

The shutter speed does not have so much importance for portraits as long as it is fast enough that neither the shake of the camera nor the movements of your subject will blur your image. In most cases, any shutter speed greater than 1 / 100th of a second will work. If you shoot a subject that dances or moves in another way, then 1 / 500th of a second is close to the minimum.

I recommend you use aperture priority mode and use a combination of ISO and the compensation of the exhibition to make sure your shutter speed does not go down too much.

ISO for portraits

For portraits, the normal rules of selection of an ISO applyKeep it as low as possible and increase it when you can not adjust anything without negatively affecting your shot. As you use a large aperture, maintaining a low ISO should be relatively easy as long as the light is good.

If I know that I will work in variable lighting conditions and that I do not want to be forced to continue to move in the camera settings, I will set the ISO to 400 before you start. I'm losing a small amount of picture quality but not enough for me to really notice it.

At night, you will need to raise your ISO much higher. I did good portraits at 6400 ISO, so do not worry too much if you push it up. As long as the photos are strong, no one will notice the digital noise.


To recap: the settings appropriate for the classic portrait appearance are a normal or short telephoto lens with an aperture of f / 2.8 or wider. The shutter speed and the aperture do not have as much importance; they must be maintained above 1/100 of a second and as low as possible.

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