Simple Tips for Better Portraits

Whether you’re armed with an expensive SLR or just a smart phone camera, there is an art to taking good pictures of people. With some thought and some practice you’ll be the go-to person in your group for taking photos. Here’s a collection of some simple but effective tips for improving your portraits.

better portrait tips

“summer…” captured by Irina Oreshina

Get Closer

A common problem is standing too far back or not zooming in enough. Especially for head shots, get close so there’s less background to distract from the subject. Same with group photos. Instead of lining people up and having to move back, try to get people in rows.

Better Composition

A head in the middle of the photo is not very interesting; compose your shot so the subject’s head is in the upper two-thirds of the frame or a bit to one side or the other.

Depth of Field

If your camera allows it, use a low f-stop (e.g., f/4) to limit depth of field. This will make the background blur out while the subject will be sharp. This has a highlighting effect and anything behind the person will be less distracting.

Don’t Pose Your Subject

Unless you’re taking a portrait of a professional model, most people do not ‘pose’ very well. Try to get outside or somewhere your subject can move and look around. Move with them and snap photos as they look around. You’ll be amazed at how much better your portraits will look.

Posing

Okay, if you have to pose someone, try some of the tricks pros use. Have the person look anywhere but the camera and then when you’re ready to snap have them look toward you. Another trick is to have the subject bend forward for a moment and then stand up and look at the camera. Making your subject laugh can help, too. Also, don’t have your subject stand fully facing you. Head on shots are usually not flattering.

Be Aware of Lighting Conditions

Bright sun can cause deep shadows or make your subject squint. Find a shady spot or use the fill-flash option on your camera if it has one. Any strong light source can also cause shadows. Again, use a fill-flash or move the subject to softer light.

portrait photo

“Old Man on the Door” captured by Lysander Jugo

Read Your Manual

Using digital cameras is so easy that most people only take a quick look at the manual to learn how to turn the camera on. Most cameras are feature-rich and have specific settings for portraiture, groups, and other situations. Learn how to use the settings and put them into use when appropriate.

Take Lots of Photos

With a digital camera you can try lots of different techniques, angles, and locations. Don’t be satisfied with a few photos. If inside, move outside and vice versa. Try different lighting and poses. This will give you plenty of options.

Learn Photo Editing Software

Even the simplest software is very sophisticated and can make a dull photo better by enhancing colors, contrast, and composition. The web is full of helpful instructions on how to achieve certain effects.

portrait techniques

“Irina” captured by Lilia Tkachenko

These simple tips will improve your photos dramatically. The most important tip though is to practice! Keep your camera handy when people are around and get snapping.

About the Author:
The Positive View Foundation has the expertise in the field of photography, as demonstrated at the Landmark contemporary photography exhibition.

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:

4 Comments

  1. Linh Nguyen says:

    “Another trick is to have the subject bend forward for a moment and then stand up and look at the
    camera.”

    Lol, that made me laugh. Should I ask them to do open lips and head slightly tilted too?

  2. Keko Adrian says:

    This information is very useful for me, because I was studying photography, this article really was really adding my knowledge in the world of photography, especially portrait photography, thanks very much

  3. Timothy says:

    The top picture, I am trying to take this style of picture, and I find them all over the net, however, I am unable to find out what to do to get that style. Can anyone help me?

  4. John T says:

    If you are doing portraits of people, you better learn to instruct them on how to pose. The camera doesn’t add 10 pounds , the photographer who can’t pose his subject correctly adds 10 pounds :)

Leave a Comment

Personalize your comment with an avatar from Gravatar.com!

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever