4 Tips for Creating Portraits with Impact

4 Tips for Creating Portraits with Impact



Since the birth of the camera, an overwhelming number of photographers have concentrated on portraiture. Capturing the personality, mood, or expression of a fellow human is sublimely beautiful. Because of this, many of us have thousands of portraits saved on hard drives, and eagerly await the next portrait contest. Honestly, how many of these portraits actually have visual impact? How many of our portraits are powerful enough to hold a viewer’s attention longer than a couple of seconds?

We can continue to produce countless portraits that are stale and void of visual power, or we can step back, evaluate our work, and begin to strategically create portraits that do have impact. Whether you are shooting on location or in a studio, begin adding some punch to your portraiture to captivate your audience. Here are a few ways to start creating portraits with impact immediately.


When we pick up our cameras to snap a portrait, we almost instinctively move close to our subject. Yet, constantly shooting tight portraits can put us in a close-up rut. Simply moving your camera body closer to someone’s face, or using the telephoto aspect of your lens, doesn’t always lend itself to powerful photographs (the selfie is a perfect example of how easy it is to botch a close-up portrait).

Jun Temple

By physically taking several steps back, or by retracting your zoom, you allow context to enter the frame. Suddenly, what was just a photograph of a person’s face, can become an image rich with balance and environmental information. Additionally, a portrait with contextual information can easily appeal to a much wider audience by relating a story.

Steve wide

Shooting tip: When shooting wide portraits, make smart lens choices. Many wide-angle lenses (such as Canon’s 17-40mm L-Series) come with a great deal of distortion and will exaggerate a subject’s features. So that your subjects are not distorted, use a standard portrait lens (i.e. 85mm) and move your body in relation to your subject.


Negative Monks

Stepping back and including environmental information can add impact to many portraits. However, the surrounding environment can also distract from your intended subject. At times, photographs are more powerful if the environment is minimal or void.

To draw the viewer’s eye directly to your subject, strategically add abundant negative space (area around or between a subject) in your frame. The use of negative space can be a key element in artistic composition in that it emphasizes and defines the main subject of a photograph (positive space) and adds impact.


When we think of portraits, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a frame filled with a face. We can agree that there are many positives to this approach to portraiture. In a headshot we can see facial features, skin tones (unless we wipe them away in Photoshop or Elements) and the catchlights that draw us into the windows of the soul.

Alessa s Leg Grandmother s Hands

Luckily though, all of our photographs do not have to follow a headshot-only, antiquated view of portraiture. It is important to remind ourselves that a portrait is simply a representation of a person. Photographers are given the artistic license to determine how their subjects are portrayed. Instead of snapping a run-of-the-mill headshot, try shooting hands, feet, necks or even the cast shadow of a person. At times, moving away from a person’s face can lead to a frame that carries a tremendous amount of visual impact.


IMG 5902

Another way to add impact to your portraits is to experiment with cropping. This is one of the simplest ways to add impact to a portrait and to showcase your aesthetic as a photographer. If you are finding it difficult to see fresh or unique frames while you are actually shooting, experiment with the crop tools in post-production.

Focusing on smaller portions of your subject can have much more impact than if you neglect to adjust the original frame. Moreover, a cropped picture can completely alter the photograph’s intention or interpretation. The more you experiment with cropping, the more apt you will be in spotting unique and powerful frames in the field.


Shooting tip: If you are photographing with particular frame in mind, it is better to take photographs that are a bit wider than your intended crop. You can always crop tighter, but you cannot widen the original frame.

Whether you are an amateur or a seasoned professional, rethinking the way you shoot portraits will inevitable invigorate your craft. The next time your camera is pointed toward another human, try something new. Experiment with a variety of strategies that will add impact to your portraits.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Andrew Faulk is an educator and freelance photographer based in Seoul, South Korea. He specializes in portrait and travel photography. Andrew also serves as an adjunct instructor for Flashlight Expeditions for their Korea based photography tours.

  • Adedotun Ajibade

    Well appreciated 🙂

  • Thanks very much Adedotun. Glad you enjoyed the content.

  • nieka-san

    nice tips

  • Michael_in_TO

    Good stuff Andrew. I keep doing the same things over and over. This is a nice little shake-me-up.

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    I agree that these tips can result in some stunning images. But are they really portraits? Or just images with human content? Surely a portrait is an attempt to portray the essence of a specific individual – if you are instead including a wider scene, or omitting the identity of the person, it becomes something else.
    On the other hand, if your story is about that person, it can be one of a set of images building up the story – grandmother’s hands is a good example. On its own, it could be about the human condition, relating to anyone; combine it in an album with other images of the person, and it becomes a powerful statement.
    Is this photo a portrait of a lonely youth, or an image of a winter scene?

  • Cheers Michael. I would love see what comes next for you.

  • No worries Nieka.

  • Graham Payne

    I agree with Bob Bevan Smith. Not all of the images are portraits although they are all good.

  • seun adeboye

    I can see a new way to portrait

  • Awesome to hear it Seun!

  • Thanks for chiming in Graham. I think it all depends on how one defines a portrait. To me, a portrait is simply a representation of a person. Though, I acknowledge that we all can view the subject differently. Thank you for your kind comments on the imagery. Be well!

  • Thank you for taking the time to read my post Bob. I think you bring up some really good points in your response to my article. I admit that my interpretation of portrait might not be traditional. I love the image you posted. In response to your question… I think that that your shot could be both a winter scene and a portrait of a lonely youth. Why does it have to be one or the other? Again, thank you for your response addition to the conversation.

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  • jao118

    I really enjoyed reading your tips. Some of my favorite photos are based on these tips but I wouldn’t have been able to but words to them. Putting the words there enables me to incorporate it into shots I take. I am currently printing it out so I can keep it in my camera bag.
    Thanks very much for these tips!

  • My pleasure. Happy to be part of your camera bag. Happy shooting!

  • Hirgum

    Thanks for a great article! Even if not all of your photos are traditional portraits you certainly remind me to think a bit wider and catch more than just the face when photographing people.

  • No worries at all Hirgum!

  • Dominic Bolaa
  • Dean Arek

    I started off with capturing images of people but moved to urban photography as at the time it was what intrigued me. Now I leaning back towards people to cover weddings and so forth, I’ve always been one that likes my pictures to tell stories and was worried i wouldn’t be able to do it when its just soneones face. These tips however have put me at ease!

  • Dean Arek

    I think its a matter of Perspective.

  • Nicki

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  • Andrew Wilson

    love ur pics <3

  • Nicki

    Nicki ticky czerwin gets big biddies on and off the field #roids #football4life #beast #elyssa

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