How To Take Professional Quality Portrait Photography

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Portraiture can be one of the most satisfying forms of photography for an enthusiastic amateur. The tips below can be of use whether you are using a digital compact, a DSLR camera, or a fully manual SLR.

"Amy 4" captured by Glass Portraits by Elijah. (Click image to see more from Glass Portraits by Elijah.)

“Amy 4″ captured by Glass Portraits by Elijah. (Click image to see more from Glass Portraits by Elijah.)

Simplicity

Background clutter will interfere with a good portrait. Similarly, use natural light where you can, and if you must use artificial lighting, use as little as possible.

Preparation

So you don’t keep your subject waiting, know which location you’re using. If shooting in a studio, have the lighting set up and the camera ready. Take some test shots before your subject arrives so that when they do turn up they won’t have to wait while you fiddle around.

Composition

It is important to master the rules before you choose to break them. One of the primary rules governing composition is the rule of thirds, which deals with where focal points, or points of interest, should be placed in a photograph.

In portrait photography, the primary area of interest is usually the eyes. Experiment by putting the eyes in the middle of the frame and then off centre to see for yourself. It can help if you imagine drawing a grid across your photograph, i.e. two vertical lines down and two horizontal drawn across the image, dividing it into nine equal squares. The four corners of the middle square in the grid make better locations for your focal points than do points with the square itself.

Again, experiment. In some shots, it might be best to place your subject dead centre, in others, on one edge.

Eye contact

The direction of a subject’s eyes has an enormous impact on a photograph. Having the subject return the gaze of the photographer can give a sense of connection for those viewing the image. However, focusing on something else can give a sense of mystery and engages the viewers in speculating as to what they are looking at, and what it is that is intriguing them, amusing them, or surprising them. An alternative is to have your subject looking at someone or something within the shot, which sets up a relationship or a story within the image and gives a second point of interest.

"Bria's Prom" captured by Yvonne Perkins. (Click image to see more from Yvonne Perkins.)

“Bria’s Prom” captured by Yvonne Perkins. (Click image to see more from Yvonne Perkins.)

Perspective

Portraits are most commonly taken at the same eye level as the subject. Playing around with the angle can give a completely different perspective, literally and metaphorically. For example, shooting down on your subject from above, or up at them from ground level can change the viewer’s perceptions of the subject’s power or vulnerability.

Lighting

It’s worth experimenting with lighting your subject, as there are boundless possibilities. Silhouetting, back-lighting, and side-lighting can enhance the atmosphere you are trying to create by emphasizing or hiding your subject’s features.

Action

Posed portraiture can look very unnatural. Photographing a subject doing something they love or spending time with friends or family can result in a much more natural image, especially if you can lurk at a distance using a powerful zoom lens. This works well with children and with people who are particularly self conscious.

Props

Adding a carefully chosen prop can both add insight to the subject and give the eye another point of interest within the image.

"Katrina at Springbrook" captured by Trish O' Donnell. (Click image to see more from Trish O' Donnell.)

“Katrina at Springbrook” captured by Trish O’ Donnell. (Click image to see more from Trish O’ Donnell.)

Close Ups

A close up on a body part can be a powerful way of photographing a subject. A section of the face, the hands, or the feet can speak volumes about what has been left out.

Covering Up

Obscuring part of your subject’s face or body is another way to draw attention to or away from parts of your subject.

Continuous Shooting

Firing a number of shots at a time gives you either a series of images that work together or it can help you achieve one image that is natural. This is useful when you are photographing somebody engaged in an activity or when you’re working with fidgety children.

About the Author:
Miranda Wilson writes on behalf of Calumet Photographic, offering information on digital slr portrait photography. Calumet is a camera retailer founded in Chicago in 1939.

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3 Comments

  1. Jk says:

    This article is meh. It could do a lot more like point to other additional resources or have images on the rule of third. At least mention that lol. I am surprised that calumet hired you to write this.

  2. Mike Penney says:

    Two things… The idea of the backgrounds coming into and going out of focus in drastic lack of depth of field is interesting as an occasional technique. However, it makes my eyeballs hurt… as in “irritating”.

    The other issue is lighting control… By just using ambient light there is not enough separation between the subject and the background… So you suffer the blandness of the pink wall, and the horrific blown out highlights along the fence rails. And I want to see some highlights in the eyes. I really dislike lifeless dark eye sockets ( an identifying feature of crappy amateur photography).

  3. If you write an article, please, please, show your images! Feels like you made a note to yourself with photographs references you like.

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