A Few Pro Tips to Help You Produce Sharper Portraits

When I first started out in photography, one of the things I personally struggled with was producing sharp results consistently. There are a lot of factors that can cause your images to appear blurry or appear to lack detail. Over time, as you develop your experience, you can minimize the number of shots you take that aren't as sharp as one would prefer. 

In a recent video by Tony and Chelsea Northrup, they offer a few essential tips to help you prevent missed or blurry shots. If you're a seasoned professional, then some of this information may seem obvious to you, but I still think it's useful to be occasionally reminded. If, on the other hand, you're someone who's still developing their skills as a photographer, then I highly recommend you check out the video linked above. Many of the tips are super useful and can ensure you have more usable shots from any given shoot. It can be an absolute pain to return home from a shoot to find that the shots you liked just aren't as sharp as you'd prefer. Unfortunately, most cameras don't have the best screens on the back to review images properly and effectively. And sometimes, it's not convenient to spend lots of time chimping during a shoot. For this reason, taking some extra care and following the advice outlined in the video above can lead to some huge improvements in the kind of results you end up producing. 

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25 Comments

Cliff Lawson's picture

I would add that using a tripod can help that whole camera shake thing.

Wolfgang Post's picture

What happened to the good old rule of thumb shutter speed = 1/focal length? Or does a 60 megapixel sensor overrides it? Other topics missed: tripod, proper camera holding technique .. And yes, some of their points are only applicable to mirrorless cameras and manual lenses. Or where do I open up the aperture on an AF lens on DSLR for faster AF ('more light')?

Pierre Boudoir's picture

That's one of most stupid videos, i've seen.
First of all - complete misunderstanding portrait photography, which is not the product or ad photography at all. Portratits do not denmand to be tack sharp. Mostly is better, they aren't.
Step by step - cleaning... single dust does not make photos blurry. Don't get crazy about it.
Next - light/iso/aperture - use max wide.... that's crazy, because higher iso does not mean blurry photos. Worse - wide open lens is going to make picture more blurry - because of its softeness and big risk of beeing out of focus.
Harsh light in portraits is useful only sometimes. Do not tell newbies to use harsh light. Never. It needs a lot of experience to use it.
Next - demand of shutter speed as of 1/50. Mercy!!! Don't you know, that studio flash, is giving less than 1/500 s so it does not matter, mostly, what shutter speed U use (watch synchro only).
And you really do not need 60 mpix. And 24 mpix as well.
That's terryfiyng.
Dears - go back to any photo course.... or workshop...

Usman Dawood's picture

Couple of things,

Portraits do need to have the eyes sharp in focus. It's not about having the sharpest lens in the world it's about having the focus correctly applied so the eyes are engaged.

Secondly, you will lose a lot of detail in your images as you start bumping up the ISO. In many cases it's better to shoot with a wider aperture than it is to increase the ISO.

David Love's picture

If you're using strobes there's no reason to boost ISO. I shoot f8 at 100. Clean image and catches people bouncing around. I'd just like to be able get the eye in focus and not the eyelash most of the time.

Usman Dawood's picture

Most portraits are not shot with strobes and this is aimed at beginners.

But the title says: "A Few Pro Tips to Help...". The point here is that self exclaimed professionals "teach" for the one and only reason: To get more views. That is why we see such a lot of "always the same" contributions. They even call it "pro secrets". This is abject.

Usman Dawood's picture

And teachers teach in school to make a living, do you work for for free?

Pro tips aren’t necessarily for experienced professionals.

No, I do not. But, please, that is not the subject here. So it may be that fstoppers.com earns money with promoting this kind of pros then? That would be all right and completely up to you, please go ahead as you like. But I'd prefer to know that. The question to me is: is this information here because it is new or never told so brilliantly or is it here because it pays well. To me that makes a big difference. Looking at the above I think it is the latter. There would be much, much better videos to promote if it'd be the first.

Usman Dawood's picture

Fstoppers is a community and a platform which allows writers such as myself to post videos and content that I personally find interesting and useful. As long as it's relevant it's fine to post. That's the great thing about Fstoppers I have the freedom to post what I like. I wasn't told by anyone to post this I put it up myself.

Also if we did have some paid promotional relationship then we'd be breaking the law by not disclosing it. Seriously, that would be such an incredibly stupid thing to do.

In the simplest of terms, I personally like Tony and Chelsea Northrup and I think they have great content and that's why I decided to post their video up.

Usman Dawood's picture

Sorry, which comment are you replying to?

David Love's picture

That most portraits are taken without strobes.

Usman Dawood's picture

You’re being silly now and just trying to be a smartass. Seems like you just want to win a discussion for the sake of it so I’m gonna stop talking to you about this.

David Love's picture

Usman Dawood
Most portraits are not shot with strobes and this is aimed at beginners.

You posted a video where they are using strobes.

Usman Dawood's picture

Yes, but surely one can see that the use of strobes was to assist with the production of the video.

Are all of the points specific to shooting with strobes?

David Love's picture

And my point was I was able to avoid focus problems because I was able to shoot at f8 using strobes. You said it was for beginners. If beginners are having focus problems, strobes.

Pierre Boudoir's picture

NO. They don't. Don't to be super sharp - even in eyes. That's the theory from sunday school for beginners.

Usman Dawood's picture

I never said super sharp I said sharp in focus. That’s a very different.

Robert Montgomery's picture

Lol Actually still have a Mamiya -Sekor soft focus lens for studio portraits for my RB67. I might be a dinosaur but what ever happened to a studio stand or a tripod at least. Does wonders . Also eyes as focus point not to mention hold your camera steady.

Edison Wrzosek's picture

Why is Fstoppers still giving these two idiots so much coverage? It’s been PROVEN time and time again they are click-bait liars, and often claim something as gospel, only to redact that gospel claim the next week!

And their advice is mostly CRAP...

Does Fstoppers have an ad revenue sharing agreement with these two that require them to plaster their garbage so frequently??

Johnny Rico's picture

I think it's more just and echo chamber of all the educators sharing each-others free content to drive clicks/ad revenue. I hate also, but that is their business model, I can not fault them for that. Just remember, the majority are educators, not working photographers. That line right there will rustle their Jimmies and they will vehemently deny it

David Love's picture

I see a lot of teachers on youtube and not many showing actual work. Even worse for video people telling me what to buy when it's free stuff sent to them in exchange for good reviews.

Vincent Alongi's picture

I'm embarrassed for these two with the advice they've thrown out here.