2 Simple Tips for Improving Your Portraits

Today, let’s get a bit into portrait photography. Here are two quick tips for you. Though they may seem minor, they can make a HUGE difference in the effectiveness of your portraits. Who knows, maybe you’ll start winning some of those photo contests!

improve your portraits with simple tips

Photo by Mustafa Sayed; ISO 100, f/11.0, 1/200-second exposure.

Today’s first tip involves photographing people’s joints.

No, I am not talking about marijuana. I’m talking about physical joints, like wrists elbows, knees, and so on.

simple tips to improve your portrait photography

Photo by Igor Gorshkov; ISO 200, f/3.5, 1/250-second exposure.

One of our primary functions as photographers is to make a portraitee (I think I just invented a word) look like they are having the best day ever! You want them looking like a million bucks.

Few of us can naturally fall into great poses; the ability to look comfortable in front of the camera is why professional models make the big bucks.

One of the fastest ways to ruin that “best ever” look is to make your subject look stiff and uncomfortable. Our joints play a huge factor in whether we look stiff and uncomfortable or natural and flowing. Here is a rule of thumb for you…

Tip #1: If it can bend, let it bend!

Bend the elbows, the knees, the wrists, tilt the head, the shoulders, and so on.

Just for fun, try taking a photo with the person just standing there, shoulders straight on to the camera, feet together, knees straight and so on. Stiff? You bet!

Unless you are trying to shoot a photo of a soldier standing at attention… this will never be the best pose!

Now shoot the same subject with as many joints bent as possible. Twist the shoulders, tilt the head, slightly bend the elbows (not all the way to 90 degrees), put one foot behind the other, and rest the weight on it (this alters the angle of the hips) and so on…

techniques to improve portrait photos

Photo by Fadzly Mubin; f/1.8, 1/800-second exposure.

I think you will see a huge improvement.

Take a few minutes and look at portraits done by top photographers, and I think you will be hard pressed to find an unbent joint.

Tip #2: If there are two of them, don’t make them the same!

By having two of them, I am talking about two hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and on and on.

Keep in mind, we have two ears and two eyes as well, so in a portrait, tilt the head so that the eyes and ears aren’t on the same level. Tilt the shoulders for the same reason.

These two tips may seem a bit obvious, but it’s amazing how few hobbyist photographers pay attention to them. It’s these little things that make the difference!

About the Author:
Dan Eitreim writes for ontargetphototraining.com. He has been a professional photographer in Southern California for over 20 years. His philosophy is that learning photography is easy if you know a few tried and true strategies.

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4 responses to “2 Simple Tips for Improving Your Portraits”

  1. Michael says:

    Excellent tips – fresh perspective and easy to remember! Many thanks :)

  2. Deanna says:

    Thanks for these quick tips. I’m brand new to photography and can’t wait to try them!

  3. Bob Dumon says:

    Wow, I LOVED this article. These are easy rules to remember and they make a LOT of sense! Thank you so much for this!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Howard Neviser says:

    Great lessons. Can’t wait to show my “smarter” and more professional portraits. Thanks so much for these tips.

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