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Becoming a master of portrait photography takes lots of patience and practice. It’s likely there are a few mistakes you are making with your portraits that hold them back from excellence. In this article, I will walk through eight tips to instantly boost your portrait photography game and take it to the next level.
Light is one of the most important elements to keep in mind when taking portraits – specifically how the light looks on your subject’s face. Proper lighting, or lack thereof, can make or break your image. Direct the person you are photographing to turn their head towards the main light source, whether it’s a street lamp or the sun. If you’re having them look towards the sun, tell them to look in a direction that won’t cause them to squint or be unpleasant for them. You don’t want people going blind on your shoot, right?
While the golden hour is a fabulous time to photograph portraits, you won’t always have the luxury of perfect lighting thanks to the whims of Mother Nature. In these situations, you need to adapt to the available light to maximize your portrait opportunities.
Keep in mind, there is no such thing as bad light. It can all be used to your advantage if you know what you’re doing. Here are some basic tips for different natural lighting scenarios:
Let’s face it, most people are not confident or even comfortable being in front of the camera. Providing gentle directions to the person you are photographing can help them relax. Keep your directions simple and positive. If you don’t know any poses, focus on one thing to improve each shoot. Perhaps you ask your subject to lift their chin to provide a more flattering view of their face. A little positive direction goes a long way.
Backgrounds are extremely important in creating pleasing portraits. The key role of the background is to provide context to the environment the person is occupying and make them stand out. Finding a clean background that provides contrast with your subject is crucial.
Some things to be mindful of:
This is particularly important if you’re shooting with shallow depth of field. Be sure to focus on the dominant eye of your subject, the one that is closest to the lens. If the dominant eye is out of focus, your photo will end up looking slightly off. This can ruin an otherwise good portrait.
Crooked horizon lines can give your portraits a weird look, so make sure to keep those lines straight. The same goes for environmental elements like doors and the edges of buildings. If these types of lines aren’t straight, it can give your portraits a tilted look that isn’t flattering. Of course, you can straighten important lines in post-production, but this will involve cropping, which may ruin the composition. Focus on getting it right in camera.
Hey, I get it. Sometimes you don’t want to frame up a full body shot of your subject. Maybe you want to pull in closer for an upper body profile or headshot. In these cases you will be cropping a portion of your subject’s body out of the frame, so be very careful where you crop their extremities.
Some tips about cropping:
If you’re shooting portraits on the street, get that trash can out of the corner of your frame! Or at the very least, make sure it’s out of focus and blends into the background.
When you’re photographing a person, it’s easy to have all your focus on them to the point where you lose track of the outside of the image. But having distracting elements on the edges of the frame can ruin your portrait. Make the proper adjustments in framing before you press that shutter and keep those edges tidy.
If you really want to take your portrait photography game to the next level, it’s important to think outside the box and get creative. A lot of portraits can be boring and look the same; properly exposed pictures of people just standing there.
To spice up your portraits, try incorporating some interesting props or environmental elements. Now, you don’t need to grab onto Instagram trends, like wrapping your subject in LED lights, but including props can help your portraits stand out from the crowd. Get creative and start mastering your portrait photography game.
Follow these eight tips and see how your portrait photography improves. Please share any comments or questions you have in the section below, as well as your images.