This website uses cookies. More details
This website uses cookies. More details


Learn Photography

Beecher's Handouts >

Assignments >

#5 – Portrait Sitting

Why Are You Doing this Assignment?

In the first four assignments you experimented with the major photographic tools:

1) Light and color

2) Contrast

3) Depth-of-field

4) Shutter speed

Now, you'll explore two photographic genres in the next two assignments: portraiture and interiors.

Do the Following

Make a portrait.


It should be a planned sitting, not a spur of the moment event.

This will allow you to think about the portrait ahead of time.

Your Goal

The goal of the model may be to have a flattering portrait made by you.

This may be a difficult challenge for a beginner.

Instead, I suggest that the goal of your portrait should be to communicate something about the person.


• The lighting will be easier if you're outdoors.

• Previsualize some of the emotional details.

What is it about the person that interests you?

What do you wish to communicate about the person?

• Exposure

How will you set the exposure?

Aperture priority exposure mode or shutter priority mode?

Is there strong light from behind the person that will affect the exposure?

• Depth-of-field

Do you want the background and foreground in or out of focus?

• Location

Where will the model the most comfortable?

Where is the best background and lighting?

Use only one or two locations, unless you, or your model, get a great idea during the sitting.

• Lighting

Is the light casting shadows or is it diffuse?

Shadows will appear darker on your photographs.

Maybe you'll have to "fill in" the shadows with another light source.

A white cardboard reflector or flash can be used to reflect light into the shadows.

Light coming from the direction of the camera will tend to flatten the model, and conceal skin flaws.

Light from the side will give the model more volume and texture.

Skin imperfections will be more evident, though.

Backlighting will make the subject stand out from the background.

• Color

What color is the light, and the location?

Sunset light is very warm.

If your subject is wearing a red sweater, they will stand out even more if you put them against a blue sky.

An orange pot on a table may be distracting.

• Composition

Does everything in the viewfinder contribute to the portrait?

I've noticed that many portraits done by students would be better if the subject filled more of the frame.

Avoid centering your subject all the time.

Keep an eye on the edges and corners of you viewfinder.

Use the foreground as well as the background.

Place something between the model and the lens, such as an archway or flowers.

• Focal length

If you're using a digital SLR or mirrorless camera, use a focal length from about 50mm to 70mm for headshots.

With other cameras, use a slightly telephoto focal length.

• Please avoid using an employee as your model.

The Most Important Tip

Be open to changing your expectations during the session.

You've done lots of planning and previsualization, but be open to new ideas.

A portrait session is collaboration.

That said, remain in charge.

You're the director.