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How to Improve Your Portrait Photography in Five Minutes

People often ask me for tips on taking better photos of their friends and family.

After much thought on photography tips that can apply to various experience levels and equipment — from DSLRs to smart phones — I present to you a short article with tips you can learn in five minutes to help you improve your portrait photography. If you have more time and would like more specifics, I’ve noted additional articles on each tip that may interest you.


Tips that will instantly improve your portraits:

1. Don’t put everyone in the center

That person may be the center of your life, but they don’t always need to be in the center of all the photos.

Aside from corporate headshots, positioning your subjects directly in the center of your frame for every image can be… yawn. And don’t just substitute it with the “rule of thirds” either. Think how boring everything would be if they were always in the same place, whether that is the center of every frame or at a third mark.

Be adventurous once in awhile – mix it up!



If you can’t break the rules because you have never heard of the Rule of Thirds, you can read this article.

2. Keep one eye on the background

If your subject is right in front of a lamppost or a tree, reposition yourself or your subject, so it doesn’t look like he is growing a lamppost out of his head.

Another example:  if your subject is wearing a green dress and sitting on the grass, have her move where the background is a different color, so she doesn’t look like a floating face in a sea of green.

Also, be mindful of distracting elements behind your subjects, like a garbage can. The background can turn a good photo into a bad one, so keep one eye on the background.


If you want to read more about the impact of backgrounds, check out Improve Your Background, Improve Your Photography.

3. Capture the story, not just a smiling face

Of course we all prefer a photo of someone smiling, but we aren’t always in a constant state of joy. Consider taking shots when someone looks pensive or serious, for example, or engrossed in an activity.

Try to resist the “look at me and smile” routine. I guarantee that photo will tell more of a story than one where people stop what they are doing to flash a fake smile.




For more tips on this, read: Don’t Wait For A Smile.

4. Change your perspective

Did you know you can create the tone or mood of an image by the angle of your camera and your closeness to your subject?

Your perspective when you take the photo influences the viewer’s perception of the image. Taking a shot from the top, looking down can paint a picture that someone is small. A tight shot of a teardrop can provide a sadder tone than a shot that was taken from a distance.

So next time, before you click the shutter button, think about what tone you want to give and what story you want to tell.



To see examples of different perspectives and when you would use them, you must read The Power of Perspective.

There are many things you can do to improve your portrait photography. I narrowed my list to four because these were the ones that came to mind first.

Do you have a good tip to share? Please comment below. We’d love to hear it.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Annie Tao
Annie Tao

is a Professional Lifestyle Photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area who is best known for capturing genuine smiles, emotions and stories of her subjects. You can visit Annie Tao Photography for more tips or inspiration. Stay connected with her on her Facebook page

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