Easy ways to get started in portrait photography: 10 tips for beginners

easy ways to start portrait photography

Photography is a great hobby and an awesome creative outlet for the average person. Many people start simple and build their hobby into full time businesses.

Now, with technology getting better, smaller and cheaper, it’s easy to find ways for beginners to get started in photography.

Try different lens combinations when renting online

Easy ways to get started in portrait photography

The easiest way to get started in portrait photography is to use your smartphone as your camera and use natural light for your portraits. Find friends and family to pose for you and then work to edit your final photos from your phone. If you want to move beyond your phone, you should consider buying a used starter camera and lens combo so you can start taking photos.

It’s very easy to start with your phone as your main camera because it’s always on you. If your like me, you want to own a professional looking camera and start presenting yourself like a creative professional.

In this article, let’s look at easy ways to get started in portrait photography. From renting gear, to using available light, there are many ways to get started on a budget. Looking to follow your passion doesn’t have to break the bank so let’s check out your options.

Get started taking portraits with these simple tips

First, gather some ideas on what style of photography you want to shoot and then start doing some research. Don’t worry, you can always change your mind later, but this will give you an idea of where to start.

Collect ideas and create mood boards for your shoots. If you don’t know how to create mood boards, check out my detailed article here.

Online Lens Camera Rentals
lensrentals.com website

1) Beginner photographers should rent cameras and lenses first

If you have no idea where to start, then I would push you to find a local photography store or camera store and rent some gear.

Renting is a good option for beginner portrait photographers so you can try out multiple systems without having to invest in big purchases. Rent a camera and lens for a few days and see if you like it.

You may decide photography is not for you and you won’t lose money on gear you have already purchased.

There are a few online rental companies that will ship equipment to you and when you’re done, you simply put it back in the box and return it on time.

There are a few online companies I recommend like borrowlenses.com and lensrentals.com. Many will have recommendations or packages for beginners so take these into account when deciding what type of photography you would like to specialize in.

Canon, Sony, and Nikon tend to be the most well-known brands, but there are others you can try out as well. Figure out your overall budget for equipment and start an account online to begin renting.

This is the quickest and easiest way to get started in photography. Even professionals rent gear for different projects so don’t be afraid to try it out.

Sony a6600 Ergonomics and Buttons
Sony APSC camera

2) Start with a budget friendly camera and lens then upgrade later

There are many beginner camera systems on the market, but I recommend starting with a small budget-friendly compact mirrorless system. The Sony a6000 or Sony a6100 are both very capable starter cameras.

They’re e-mount cameras with interchangeable lens mounts. This means you can upgrade your lenses in the future if you want different looks and have larger budgets to spend on gear.

It’s a great way to grow into your photography without having to spend so much money up front. If you’re ready to buy a camera then check out my article on buying a beginner camera setup.  I go over pricing and things everyone should consider.

Sony a7ii natural light portrait shot
Natural light sunset portrait

3) Beginner photographers should start with natural light portraits

Natural light portraits are the easiest and cheapest way to start taking beautiful photos. There is nothing more beautiful and more powerful than the sun.

Shoot during the sunrise or sunset (golden hour) to get the best and most majestic results. If you have to shoot during the middle of the day, then consider placing your models in shade or next to large buildings outdoors so the direct light does not create harsh shadows in the face.

If you’re shooting indoors, then have your subjects next to large windows for soft wrap around lighting. You can also use simple white cardboard to bounce lighting back into the shadows of your subject.

When you have a good grasp on your camera and gear, then you can look into adding flash to your photos. For now, keep it simple and start with natural light.

35mm vs 55mm vs 85mm - what portrait lens
35mm vs 55mm vs 85mm

4) Start with a 50mm or 85mm lens

Beginner portrait photographers should start with primes lenses such as the 50mm or 85mm for portrait photography. Prime lenses are lenses that only feature a single focal length and do not zoom.

You have to use your feet to zoom. Meaning you will need to move around to get different shots of your subjects. Prime lenses tend to be sharper than zoom lenses and more budget friendly.

Prime lenses also tend to come with wider apertures like f1.4 or f1.8. This gives you better subject separation from the background when shooting wide open and more background blur. I’ve written a detailed article on how to get background blur in your portraits, so make sure to check it out here.

Every camera manufacturer has a budget friendly 50mm or 85mm in their lineup. There are even third-party companies that make lenses for different camera mounts and they can be even cheaper on price.

Most cameras come with kit lenses and these are good to start with, but you will want to eventually upgrade to a sharper and better lens option.

5) Edit your photos from your phone in Snapseed or VSCO

The easiest way for beginner photographers to edit photos is on their phone. You can find thousands of apps on the Appstore that will give you all types of styles. One of the best editing apps is Snapseed from Google.

You can get rid of blemishes and change colors of your photos. You can add styles to your photos or start and save your own to keep your photos consistent.

There is no need to have a large computer and professional applications. You can always upgrade later to programs like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop but keep it easy in the beginning.

If you like the film look you should try out the VSCO app. It can mimic old film style emulsions and adds a stylized look to your shots.

Most cameras can connect directly to phones or can transfer files via Bluetooth. Do a quick search on YouTube for your camera and phone and I’m sure you can find a tutorial on it.

benefits of online photography learning
online photography learning

6) Learn portrait photography online in your spare time

Think you don’t have the time to learn photography? Think again. You don’t have to sit in a classroom for hours to learn a new skill.

There are more and more online companies that specialize in creative learning and giving you the tools you need to learn photography. CreativeLive.com is one of those companies.

They offer classes for all levels. From beginners to advanced students, you’ll find what you need. Learn at your own pace, and review items over-and-over until you feel comfortable moving on.

Photography is a huge category along with design and branding. Need some help with social media? They got you covered. Check out more of the online courses here.

photographer introductions
Photography meetup

7) Join a photography meetup or local photography group

If you want to see other people in action, the best way to learn is to be around those who have the same passion as you. Photography groups are a great way to connect with the community and meet people with the same interest.

Photography groups usually hold regular meetups, and these are a good way to get started in photography. Bring a friend and go out and shoot. Ask questions onsite and observe others in action.

Photography groups are normally free to join and can be coordinated all online. You can check Facebook groups and also websites like Meetup.com for more information.

8) Ask friends and family to model for you

You don’t have to have a professional model to get started with portrait photography. Ask a friend or family to come out and enjoy a free shoot and then bribe them with ice cream or pizza to close the deal.

This works best because you will be more comfortable around people you know, and this gives you time to practice with your camera. There is nothing more stressful than looking like you don’t know what you’re doing in front of strangers.

Friends and family will also be more patient, and you will definitely have a better time on the shoot.

Aperture Priority Mode | Sony a7riii | Sony 85mm f1.4
Camera in Aperture Priority Mode – Auto mode

9) Start with Auto mode on your camera and then move to manual

Beginner portrait photographers should start in automatic mode for taking portraits. This can be aperture priority or shutter priority. I would recommend using aperture priority as you may not be dealing with too many moving subjects for portraits.

This will allow you to set your aperture and get a shallow depth of field and nice blurry backgrounds while the camera sets the other settings.

There is no need to start with manual mode on your camera. Not to be confused with manual focusing. Manual mode is when you set the aperture, shutter speed and ISO of your camera to get a balance exposure. With auto mode, the camera does it for you.

Also, many cameras have updated autofocus systems that will focus on the subjects face or eyes so keep this in mind when looking for a starter camera and make sure it has this feature.

10) Don’t forget to have fun

The biggest tip I can give a beginner photographer is don’t forget to have fun. Don’t get too caught up in cameras, and gear. Don’t worry about getting your lighting perfect on every shot.

Of course, I want you to take your time and practice your portrait photography skills, but I also want to make sure you are having a good time.

Portrait photography is not just about taking photos of people. It’s about making a connection and growing in this creative outlet. Don’t forget that the camera is just a tool, at the end of the day your creativity and ability to connect with your subject will make the best portraits.

The best time to start portrait photography is now

There really is no better time to start like now. You can get started in photography on a budget and build as you grow. The best thing to do is start practicing and get your hands on a camera so you can go explore and discover more about this creative hobby.

Don’t let technical skills keep you from having some fun behind the camera. The more you practice, the better you will become with your camera and gear. Best of luck!

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