3 Tips for Taking Portraits that Reflect the Character and Spirit of your Subject

3 Tips for Taking Portraits that Reflect the Character and Spirit of your Subject

A Guest contribution by Hailey Bartholomew from You Can’t Be Serious.

1. Do Something

Who are you photographing? If you don’t know them well, find out what they love to do and where they relax the most.

Maybe they love to row boats or take picnics at their favourite park every Sunday.

Maybe you are photographing your grandmother who loves to be out in her garden. Go and do that with them.

Whatever they love to do to relax, tag along with your camera.

But don’t sit back on the sidelines hoping to catch a moment from far away – get down and into whatever they are doing. You need to be in IN that row boat and if your nana is kneeling in the dirt, you should be too. Get into the action and photograph your loved one or client doing what they love.

The family below loved playing music together and going on picnics… We did that!


This couple love drinks by the pool….


2. MOVE!

Set your camera settings to multiple shots so you can shoot lots of frames quickly. Then, either get your subject to move around, or YOU move with them.

If you have little kids and they keep wanting to run around, hold their hand and say pull me along! Select follow focus and start shooting. You will create natural moments but also fun energetic photos.

Your subject will forget it is about being formal and ‘looking’ good’ if you are moving and having fun. Same if they are moving around.

I love to get my subjects to piggyback each other or walk in a row or play around. Be there to catch the action and you will find your subjects are relaxed. Maybe play some music and dance!




3. Have your Camera Handy

The perfect photo opportunity occurs when a real perfect moment is actually happening!

The best way to get someone being real is to capture a real moment of joy or happiness or reflection. If I have my camera way upstairs and in it’s case I am much less likely to capture everyday perfect moments with my kids.

So I keep my camera handy. It sits out of the case on a bench or is in a bag I take everywhere. Then when the right something happens I am ready to go!

Try a week long challenge and have you camera handy all week long. Keep it on your shoulder or on the bench in the lounge – somewhere you can grab it quickly. See what perfect and REAL moments you can capture!

Below is a moment with my daughter… after hanging out the washing she came to show me her rockstar outfit… 😉 So glad I caught this moment. So perfectly her!


And another great ‘real’ moment was this recently on the beach we found an old trampoline and dug a hole for it. My daughter had the best time leaping off and onto the sand!! Lucky I had my camera with me!


Lastly.. keep it real by being real yourself. Be honest and true to who you are. Don’t try to be all professional and formal and knowing everything rather relax, explore photography and be yourself. This keeps things not too formal. Have fun!

Hailey Bartholomew is an award winning film-maker & photographer who is in love with real and fun work that hopefully either makes you smile or makes you think. Hailey works for international aid organisations, shoots TV commercials, documentaries, family portraits and promo videos. You can see some of her work at her site You Can’t Be Serious.

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Some Older Comments

  • MarineSpouse June 3, 2013 09:53 am

    I always love the candid shot where the photographer captures the pure joy of a parent with a child. The mother-baby shot is amazing!

  • arnold9w0s May 28, 2013 08:16 pm

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  • Theallimagery May 26, 2013 09:39 pm

    My focus on ”Spirit” imagery is a little different. As I state on my website, "Light itself is both matter and spirit, particle and wave. If photography is to record light faithfully and tell stories truthfully, it must somehow address not only the material but the spiritual, the non-tangible, the Energy infused into all physical objects and their interrelationships." Links to two examples of this approach are shown below.



  • Usama May 26, 2013 04:54 am

    Although I have just started out as a photographer, I'm already loving the experience.!

  • Mridula May 24, 2013 04:14 pm

    The mother and child pic is amazing.


  • Colin Burt May 24, 2013 02:25 pm

    Great advice, and it also applies to candid photography of 'models' you have no direction of. Like this one.


    (And if this turns up twice my apologies !)

  • Colin Burt May 24, 2013 02:20 pm

    Excellent advice - and it also applies to candid shots of 'models' you have no direction of. As in this one

  • Guido May 24, 2013 08:26 am

    Hi Hailey,

    Great post and I love your visual style - perfect use of DoF with the picnicking family, colourful and warm, yet far from oversaturated and everything is expertly composed. Do you run workshops? I'd love to pick up some tricks! (I'm based in Melbourne)

  • Jessie May 24, 2013 07:51 am

    Please tell me, what is follow focus? I'm using back button focusing right now. I'd love to know.

  • Cramer Imaging May 24, 2013 07:26 am

    I find that burst mode can help when attempting to capture the perfect fleeting moment. The perfect setting and the perfect props are part of what is needed but the moment is so hard to catch and can actually sneak right by. Burst mode helps to counter that issue. It's not just for sports.

  • Michelle May 24, 2013 06:42 am

    Article left me wanting to take my camera out and start shooting without posing and excited to try. Grand kids are coming over. Now is a good time!

  • Mike Kearns May 24, 2013 06:04 am

    Marvelous article I'm on the verge of picking up a small camera because my DSLR is so big

  • gnslngr45 May 24, 2013 04:54 am

    I agree with all though it is hard to always have your camera with you. Sometimes I feel like I am missing a moment because I'm behind the camera. I got it on film, but I didn't get to "see it live."


  • Toni May 24, 2013 02:21 am

    Love, love, love the beach trampoline picture! Just beautiful!

  • Guigphotography May 24, 2013 01:51 am

    Love it. Getting in among the action is so much fun!