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10 Simple Tips for Stunning Portrait Photography

portrait photography tips

Want to spice up your portrait photography?

In this article, we’re going to give you 10 easy-to-follow tips that’ll get your portraits looking beautiful in no time at all.

Let’s dive right in, starting with…

1. Frame Your Subject

portrait photography tips

Framing is a technique where you draw attention to one element of an image by framing it with another element of the image.

Framing gives an image depth and draws the eye to a point of interest in the image.

You could do it by placing your subject in a window or doorway, have them look through a small gap or even use their hands around their face. See more examples of framing in photography here.

2. Go with a Wide Angle

portrait photography tips

Shooting with a wide angle lens attached to your camera can help create some memorable shots when you’re doing portrait photography.

At very wide focal lengths you can create some wonderful distortion. It might not be the type of shot you take of your wife or girlfriend (unless she’s in a playful mood) but using these focal lengths will enlarge parts of the face or body that are on the edge of the frame more than what is in the centre.

It can also give a wide open and dramatic impact when your subject is in an impressive setting.

3. Play With Backgrounds

The person in your portrait is the main point of interest – however sometimes when you place them into different contexts with different backgrounds you can dramatically alter the mood in a shot.

Sometimes you want your background to be as minimalistic as possible.

portrait photography tips

While other times a dramatic or colorful background can help your subject really stand out.

portrait photography tips

The key is to experiment.

4. Change the Format Framing

Many photographers get stuck in a rut of only ever shooting either in ‘landscape’ (when the camera is held horizontally) or ‘portrait’ (when the camera is held vertically) modes. Look back through your images and see which one you use predominantly.

Just because a vertical framing is called ‘portrait’ mode doesn’t mean you always need to use it when shooting portraits. Mix your framing up in each shoot that you do and you’ll add variety to the type of shots you take.

portrait photography tips

5. Hold Your Camera on an Angle

Horizontal and Vertical framings are not the only options when it comes to shooting portraits. While getting your images straight can be important in when shooting in these formats holding your camera on a more diagonal angle can also inject a little fun into your images.

This type of framing can add a sense of fun and energy into your shots. Just don’t ‘slightly’ do it or you’ll have people asking themselves if you might have mistakenly held your camera crooked.

portrait photography tips

6. Take Unfocused Shots

As photographers we have ‘sharp focus’ drummed into us as an ultimate objective to achieve in our work – but sometimes lack of focus can create shots with real emotion, mood and interest.

There are two main strategies for taking unfocused images that work:

1. Focus upon one element of the image and leave your main subject blurred. To do this use a large aperture which will create a narrow depth of field and focus upon something in front of or behind your subject.

portrait photography tips

2. Leave the full image out of focus. To do this again choose a wide aperture but focus well in front or behind anything that is in your image (you’ll need to switch to manual focussing to achieve this).

portrait photography tips

These kinds of shots can be incredibly dreamy and mysterious.

7. Introduce Movement

portrait photography tips

Portraits can be so static – but what if you added some movement into them? This can be achieved in a few ways:

  • by making your subject move
  • by keeping your subject still but having an element in the scene around them move
  • by moving your camera (or its lens to achieve a zoom burst)
portrait photography tips

The key with the above three methods is to use a slow enough shutter speed to capture the movement.

The alternative is to have your subject obviously move fast but to use a shutter speed so fast that it ‘freezes’ their movement.

8. Experiment with Subject Expressions

In some portraits it is the expression on the face of your subject that makes the image.

Get your subject to experiment with different moods and emotions in your image. Play with extreme emotions:

portrait photography tips

But also try more somber or serious type shots

portrait photography tips

9. Fill the Frame

One way to ensure that your subject captures the attention of the viewer of your portrait is to fill the frame with their face.

It’s not something that you’d do in every shot that you take – but if your subject is the only feature in the shot – there’s really nowhere else to look.

portrait photography tips

10. Find an Interesting Subject

I have a friend who regularly goes out on the streets around Melbourne looking for interesting people to photograph.

When he finds someone that he finds interesting he approaches them, asks if they’d pose for him, he quickly finds a suitable background and then shoots off a handful of shots quickly (if they give him permission of course).

The result is that he has the most wonderful collection of photographs of people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds.

While many of us spend most of our time photographing our loved ones – perhaps it’d be an interesting exercise to shoot interesting strangers once in a while?

portrait photography tips

What Did I Miss?

So there you have it. 10 ways to add variety to your portraits. But what have I missed that you’d add? I’m sure if we put our heads together we could come up with plenty of other techniques and ideas to add a little variety to our portrait photography. Looking forward to reading your suggestions in the comments below.


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Darren Rowse
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+.

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