4 Quick Tips for Portraits

4 Quick Tips for Portraits


Quick Portrait Tips

I met Photographer George Tippet at a function recently where he was the official photographer. I sidled up to him in a quiet moment, introduced myself and after chatting with him for a few minutes asked if he’d mind sharing a few ‘quick tips’ for portrait photography (his expertise) to share here on dPS.

George has a perspective that is a little different to other portrait photographers I know (in fact you’ll see he approaches it differently to me too) so I thought it might be interesting to share them and see what you think.

Here’s what he said (and what I managed to jot down quickly on a napkin).

1. Keep it Simple

The more complex your scene is the more unlikely you are to get a shot that is the X factor. Keep your backgrounds (and foregrounds) uncluttered, work with natural light where you can, if you have to use artificial light keep it simple and use as few lights as possible.

2. Set up the Shot before Introducing Your Subject to it

Be as prepared as possible before your subject arrives. If you’re shooting in a studio have your lighting ready and camera set up and ready to go. If you’re shooting on location know where you want to shoot. Have your camera’s settings ready to go and even do a few test shots before your subject arrives. This way you don’t keep them waiting around and get to photograph them when they are fresh.

3. Shoot into the Light

George was a big fan of back lighting – particularly when shooting outdoors. He talked about how this added interest, depth and sometimes color into an image. Lens hoods are a must if you’re doing this outside in bright environments though – you’ll also need fill flash.

Read more on Backlighting and Fill Flash.

Quick Portrait Tips

4. Shoot from Slightly Below Your Subject’s Eyeline

One thing I noticed about George was that during the event he always seemed to be bending his knees slightly. He wasn’t that tall so I asked about it. He told me that he found that shooting from slightly (and only a tiny bit) below a person’s eye line was something that he found to be quite flattering for most people. He used this both with shots where a subject was standing or sitting. Similarly – George recommended lighting from slightly below rather than above a subject also.

Note: my personal preference has always been to shoot from slightly above the subjects eye line (although I think each situation lends itself to different approaches). What level do you typically shoot from?

These are George’s quick portrait tips and come from his own style. I know not everyone takes this approach though – what would you add?

Want more Portrait Photography Tips?

Check out this little collection of 10 our most popular Portrait Photography Tutorials from our archives.

Read more from our category

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Stephanie May 27, 2013 02:05 am

    Tip 4 is horrible--it doesn't make sense and there's no further explanation as to why shooting from below the eyeline is more flattering than above. More often than not, shooting from above is better for the subject. Yet another useless article by digital-photography-school.

  • Yucel March 13, 2012 12:25 pm

    Wow, that's two general rules broken... light from above and shoot from above...

    Can you share some whys?

  • leah_d_perez January 28, 2012 05:32 pm

    Amazing tips! I was fascinated with your tips and will try them myself, especially the number 4 tip. Thanks a lot!

  • randy January 27, 2012 12:32 pm

    i am a new photographer and i really want to boost my portrait photography and i WILL be using these tips..... sounds very interesting

  • Jamz December 30, 2011 05:08 am

    Be careful using #4 when shooting heavy sized clients. I learned my lesson the hard way. I did a photoshoot on a couple after the the wife had an expensive make up session done. Everything went well until after downloading and viewing the images on my computer. The wife is not even that heavy but by positioning my camera lower than her eye while she was smiling brought out the double chin factor. Unfortunately I had to thrash so many shots of her that would have been good if it wasnt for this.

  • Dewan Demmer November 9, 2011 01:04 am

    I really enjoy portrait photography, its one of the areas I find myself doing more and more.
    Perhaps drop by and let me know what you think.

  • Jessie May 2, 2011 04:10 am

    Hello! This is my first stumble upon this website as I was trying to teach myself about portrait photography. I am absorbing this information like a sponge, and I hope to test it out soon! Thanks!

  • louise November 22, 2010 06:51 am


    i love the tips here, i agree portrait shots most of the time are great results from outside. simple effective article, i like.

  • Essex Photographer October 29, 2010 10:58 am

    Tips 3 and 4 are one's I hadn't thought about. I better give them a go.

  • boudoir photography October 2, 2010 09:58 pm

    They might not be as aesthetically pleasing on some levels and could leave those viewing your images feeling a little on edge but this type of reaction to photos can be quite powerful also.

  • william amylian October 2, 2010 06:47 pm

    Good tips since I just started my hobby taking photos. My sons are nearest model. I have try a lot by the result are not like those photos published in websites or magazines.

  • Andrew June 20, 2010 04:58 am

    I personally think that when you shoot portraits, you should do it somewhere outside, in the street, in a public place, etc...studios don't suck, but they don't keep it real...Go out in the street, and start shooting...I mean...you see a great old man with a huge moustache, you don't go to him and say: Hey dude! Would you mind stopping by my place sometimes so I can take some pictures of you?
    No! You don't do that! You take out your camera, you take some pictures with him and off you go! These tips are great...by the way.
    Well, at least that's my opinion...

  • James April 16, 2010 06:56 pm

    I tired shooting below the eye lines and it does seem to look better (I'm not sure if i'm imagining). But this is something worth pursuing in my next few potraits

  • Mark April 16, 2010 08:19 am

    Simple yet an awesome article, i liked #4 i will try that! Thanks!

  • Johnny C April 10, 2010 07:26 am

    I learn more and more every time I read your articles. Not only from you but also from all of the responses to the articles. Thanks!!!

  • Karen Stuebing April 7, 2010 07:23 pm

    Short article but lots of great information. #4 does sound interesting and something that would not have occurred to me. The photos are super.

    I also found some more good tips in the comments. I like Jodie's comment about letting the subject get bored to get a natural instead of posed shot. And also the caveats for using #4.

    The only one I'm not sure about is flash fill. I've used it. Sometimes you have to. I still have to experiment with strength of the flash, distance from the subject, etc. to not get that unnatural flash look.

    A tip for shooting people with glasses I learned somewhere is to have them look slightly to the left or right to avoid reflections on the lenses.

  • Kyle Bailey April 7, 2010 03:01 am

    I have not shot very many people yet as I am still somewhat intimidated by the scrutiny that portraits seem to evoke in people. This article had some great points that I will keep in mind as I journey from Rookie to Pro.

    Here is one of my people captures that I like so far. Lots of learning still to do and need to invest in some lighting so that I can manipulate the scene better.

    Thanks as always for such a great resource.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/kylebailey/4463675863/' title='Soaked Soccer Star' url='http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2779/4463675863_26eff0cdbd.jpg']

  • paige whitley April 7, 2010 02:06 am

    I like to shoot kids at or below eye level, and am often found in a "kimchi squat". I try to shoot women at or above eye level, and don't have enough experience w/ shooting men to have a pattern there yet. I did know about fill flash, and I work a lot on toning down the flash so it doesn't blow out the face. I almost always set up the shot first, and have one of my sons (usually working as my assistant) stand in the place where i'll be putting my subjects, so that I can double check lighting on faces. A few minutes of pre-set up saves major regret later on!

  • Dannykings06 April 7, 2010 01:35 am

    Great tips thanks

  • Pierre April 6, 2010 10:33 pm

    Excellent tips especially shooting just below the subject's eye level. Have to try it out and compare shots.

  • Prime April 6, 2010 08:51 pm

    Thank you Darren for sharing these useful tips with us.

    Jodie & Gerry Vrbensky, thanks for the additional tips. These will really help in getting the right expressions.

  • Jason Collin Photography April 6, 2010 04:01 pm

    A very useful post. I often shoot more below the person's eye level than suggested, but next time I will try just the slightly below eye level method.

    Really like the writing on the woman's' hand. Makes for an extremely interesting portrait.

    My most recent portrait work, all "street portraits" taken at different perspectives:


  • Mahesh Garg April 6, 2010 12:48 pm

    I agree, must things- location,light, angle, especially comfort of subject is imp.....really like his post

  • Wendy Mayo April 6, 2010 11:22 am

    I guess #4 just depends on who you are shooting and the feeling you wish to convey. I prefer to shoot a bit above my subject. It opens the eyes more and slims the face.

  • scott April 6, 2010 07:35 am

    All of them are great tips, and #4 is one you really have to remember (even more so with children). I use #4 quite often when I photography politicians. If you exaggerate this you get what is called the "hero shot", where the subject can appear larger than life.


  • Holly April 6, 2010 06:31 am

    Fill flash for a backlit shot is not always necessary, it depends on distance to subject. For an example see the series of backlit photos in this blog posting: http://hollysissonphotography.com/2009/09/25/the-k-family-family-photography-toronto-ontario/

    Have never heard number four before either, will give it a try!

  • Glyn Dewis April 6, 2010 06:28 am

    Nice little post there Darren as always.

    #4 is particularly good when shooting male subjects for adding a bit of 'power' and 'strength' to a portrait but not something I tend to do all that often when shooting a female subject. That being said though doesn't mean I never would; all depends on the mood I'm looking to create I guess.

    Keep up the great work,

  • Ole m April 2, 2010 04:17 am

    Lighting from below isnt really a good tip, and shooting from below eyeline works best if people are decently pretty. If they are alittle bit overweight, you'll get doublechins really really fast.

  • Denver Photographers March 17, 2010 02:41 pm

    Shooting from slightly below a subject’s eyeline is something I had never thought about but now will try. -Dave Z.

  • S. M. Bahalwan September 24, 2009 01:26 am

    Darren, you're the best, kindest, smartest, most skilled photographer my life have ever witness. I'd like to introduce you to my biggest thanks to you. I hope you read this and realize that you got a bunch of fans out there.

  • Jennifer Pham September 19, 2009 03:59 am

    i think about pose for model , i dont know it :-?? i think you can help me

  • Raad A. Abdullah September 8, 2009 06:56 pm

    Thank you for the tips, they are simple and vital and number 4 is interesting.

  • Terri Peters July 24, 2009 07:41 am

    Have you covered any topics on "What to use if you don't have the equipment"? Although I've been shooting for several years I am starting to get the itch for portrait photography. I have a great camera and that is about it, everything I shoot is using natural light only (99.9% of the time) Are there common household items that can be used to give the effect of studio lighting? I am currently on a very tight budget and running out and purchasing the proper ighting equipment just isn't in the cards right now. I know that proper lighting and proper use of lighting is what makes the difference between a portrait and a snap shot, so how can I properly use what might be laying around?

    Thank You,
    Terri Peters

  • ricky May 21, 2009 06:08 am

    #4 interesting , and similar to the effect of the TLR cameras of old.

  • jeff May 17, 2009 05:39 pm

    loved tip#4. will try that one out on my next photoshoot

  • Diane May 15, 2009 05:43 am

    Thank you very much for the tips. I especially like the ones of the girl in front of the window. I would like to know where I might find tips on how to position people to take stricking photos. In particularly, large group shots.

  • freida April 3, 2009 04:08 pm

    thanks for these tips!!!they're very useful and i enjoy my photos better than ever!!!

  • gatch March 6, 2009 07:57 pm

    Great tips! I never really thought about that eye level thing would really make a difference in your portrait

  • Shep January 22, 2009 02:33 pm

    i was pleased to hear him talk about the fill flash for outdoor back lit subjects. i have seen so many "pro" photographers with pics that are so dark around the face. i was begining to think i had made it up. not many people will tell you to use a flash in bright sun light. i really like the shooting from below eye level. great advice. i have never heard that. great site.

  • Tony Hyde January 20, 2009 06:06 am

    Hi Darren

    Been a subscriber to your site for some time I enjoyed all of the old site.

    but you have exeled yourself with this new site FANTASTIC.

    the information and the content is very easy to follow keep up the good work

    from a young 64 yr old silver surfer

    Dyolch an fawr
    welsh for thank you very much

    Tony Hyde

  • RP September 15, 2008 08:47 am

    I always though, digi-cams in cellphones were enough...till i bought a digi-cam, canon ixus 950is just a day back and since i'm enjoying every moment with it, just can't seem to get enough of the experimentation! LOVE the tips and the website, on this specific page, #4 all the way!!

  • Furious Photographers July 30, 2008 04:03 pm

    Nice I absolutely love that portrait of the girl. The blown details give her an innocent feel.

  • Jack French June 14, 2008 01:12 am

    I agree with the first two comments and I have a problem with the second two. Three and four have to do more with the intended results but I almost never shoot into the light for a portrait but rather open shade and use sun for hairlight if possible. In addition for most situations camera should be at eye level- camera below risks shooting up the subject's nose. All rules can be broken but good portraiture is still good portraiture.

  • Stunner June 9, 2008 12:41 pm

    Thanks for these tips. I'm not really that good at portraits.

  • Sime June 7, 2008 09:58 pm

    I'll certainly be trying these out... thanks, great post.

    sime www.gtvone.com

  • Mathieu June 7, 2008 08:50 pm

    Really good tips, especially #4. I can imagine how that changes the perspective and how it can flatter the person who's being shot.

  • sara June 7, 2008 09:06 am

    I found out about tip #4 in a surprising way -- I have a pretty kid-tolerant digital point-and-shoot, and my nieces (ages 4-8) love to borrow it to take pictures. The first time I saw their pictures of all the adults, it was amazing! Since the kids are so much shorter, the pictures (taken pointing way up at the standing adults) had a totally different perspective, and was often flattering (except when the girls were too close, and shooting straight up). I try to remember this now.

  • Jana June 6, 2008 06:15 pm

    thanks guys!!

    I am truely learning a lot!!

  • Simon San Thane June 6, 2008 01:18 pm

    Further to Gerry.. i also found that while taking group shots in social occasion, the pre-shots before they are ready and post shots while they are relaxed are much more natural and lively than the dedicated one..

  • Gerry Vrbensky June 6, 2008 12:21 pm

    Reading Jodie's comment and her solution is ALMOST the same as mine. Instead of waiting 5 seconds to get rid of that "Shell-Shot" look, I take the initial shot, watch as they relax and take a 2nd shot which results in that "pleasent surprise" look and then take a 3rd. That's the one I usually keep.

  • gopalshroti June 6, 2008 04:43 am

    this will be helpful to the already having some tips for their portrait photography.......i feel that 50% of the photographers love backlight (contr-jour effect) because it gives them the opportunity to play with light from both sides..........somewhat difficult than plain lighting.

  • bogart June 5, 2008 10:29 am

    I,m just wondering on what part of the face should be highlighted. I believe that the eyes must be highlighted. The shine and clear color of the eyes would make a good portrait.

  • Barry June 5, 2008 07:24 am

    All great advice, but #4 will make a big difference, been trying to get a great shot of my son for months now but the misses is never happy. Will try all of these and hopefully get the result she is looking for.

  • Peter Hooper June 4, 2008 01:03 am

    Great tips.. like most here number 4 is one I will be trying out asap. Hmmmm.... maybe tonight actually :)

  • Jodie June 3, 2008 11:49 pm

    I found a nice idea was too wait about 5 seconds to allow your subject to get bored and lose their pose. People always adopt a false portrait pose for a shot, wait a few second until they drop it and be ready to snap then. It looks much more natural and you capture their mood better.

  • Michael June 3, 2008 11:32 pm

    I agree with Alex, tip #4 is great with children. I have always found that taking pictures from below or at the same level of a child's perspective will give you great results.

  • Chris Bergman June 3, 2008 11:18 pm

    Tip #5: Find an awesome mustache.

  • Robert Donovan June 3, 2008 10:25 pm

    Great tips! Thanks.

  • Alex June 3, 2008 10:18 pm

    Tips #4 works even better when photographing children....


  • Lilia June 3, 2008 10:17 pm

    great tips! #4 I have to try it out! Actually need to try out all!

  • mayk June 3, 2008 12:13 pm

    great tips thanks for sharing

  • kk+ June 3, 2008 11:01 am

    great tips. thx for the article and for including my photograph!

  • Tesha June 3, 2008 10:54 am

    The double chin factor would be less flattering for #4

  • Kyle Leclair June 3, 2008 06:45 am

    Wow, tip 4 is interesting. I've also heard that shooting from above eye level naturally opens up their eyes and reduces any double chins they might have. I'm curious as to which is right, or in which situations they both are.

  • Jill June 3, 2008 05:54 am

    Some great tips...a couple I haven't heard before. Can't wait to try them out!

  • Klaidas June 3, 2008 05:23 am

    Yes, the fourth tip is head-on! I can;t remember taking a picture without being down on my knees, or at least bending them - especially for portraits.


  • Pro Photo Show June 3, 2008 05:05 am

    Quick and good. Nice piece, and I second it all. One thing as a pro that I have not though about enough is the eye line tip.

    I'll certainly be experimenting with it in future sessions... Gavin Seim

  • cara June 3, 2008 03:55 am

    Great tips! I never tried number four but I am lookig forward to givng it a go.

  • Raymond Chan June 3, 2008 01:51 am

    Tip 4 sounds rather interesting. Would love to try it out =)

    Raymond Chan

  • Kourtney June 3, 2008 01:44 am

    I used to do the makeup for my roommates photo shoots (now I am the one taking the pictures!), and I noticed that she always made her subjects wait by setting up the lighting after they arrived. I would do the makeup during her set up instead of before the shoot, but it sometimes put me under pressure. I haven't had any serious photo shoots myself yet, but I am going to follow the advice here.

  • Chattanooga Photographer June 3, 2008 01:27 am

    Great advice! Especially #2 in my opinion.

  • taryn June 3, 2008 01:18 am

    these are great tip! i have never really tried tip #4 before. i think i'm going to try it out.