10 Tips & Tricks for Better Portrait Photography

We love to look at stunning portraits. The subject may be our friend, family member, a model, or a perfect stranger. A well taken portrait tells us stories, creates some mystery or brings out some memories. Good portraits also reveal the true personality of someone. So how does a photographer capture a good portrait? Below are some tips and tricks.

best tips for better portraits

Photo by Peter Grifoni; ISO 100, f/2.2, 1/320-second exposure.

1. Background. Background plays a vital role to a portrait. As you know, portrait is all about someone’s face. So it is important to have a background which is not interfering with the subject. A simpler and less cluttered background works better for portraits. However, sometimes surroundings may need to be considered to bring out the personality of the subject.

For example, if you are taking a photo of a lawyer, you may like to do it in their office where you may see stacks of legal books or references. Including them in the background will establish identity. However, the background does not have to be prominent. Make it blurred or dimmed by focusing on the subject. The same applies to almost all types of portraits. In most cases, it is a good idea to blur or dim the background. This can be accomplished by using a zoom lens and shooting from a short distance or with a wide aperture manual setting.

2. Light. If you take the portrait in natural light, you have the best chance of getting a great look with the natural colors and skin tones. However, shooting outdoors may be tricky, as you may not be able to control the light in most situations. Make sure that you don’t pose the subject right in front of the sun. This may cause unwanted brightness or deep shadow. Shooting in mid-day also should be avoided as much as possible. For best results, position the subject in such a way that sunlight falls on the face from the side. You may also use reflectors or an external flash to light up some parts of the face. If you are shooting indoors, make sure that you use a soft, evenly distributed light source to light up the subject.

3. Aperture. Try different apertures. A wide open aperture (with a lower number) will blur the background and make the subject stand out. A smaller aperture (with a higher number) will make the whole scene come into better focus. Typically f/2.0 to f/5.0 is good for portraits.

4. Focus. As it is said, “Eyes are the mirrors of mind.” That’s true in portraits, too. When taking portraits, your focus should be your model’s eyes. Eyes have a lot of stories to tell, and as a good portrait photographer; you should be able to bring those out in your photographs. And it’s not always a smiling face which makes a good portrait. Try capturing different expressions while keeping focus on eyes.

tips and tricks for taking portraits

Photo by Brian Auer; ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/500-second exposure.

5. Angle and Pose. Pose and the angle of the body and face play a key role. Looking straight at the camera with motionless expression can be boring. Try to flare up your portraits with some twist. Maybe it is an inviting smile, a sexy expression, a flamboyant look, tilting the chin down or up, turning the head back while walking forward, or sitting and looking up. Experiment with poses and you will get some great portraits.

6. Make the model comfortable. In order for the portrait to look natural and in order to bring out the true personality of your subject, you must make your model comfortable. He or she must feel at home in order to be free and spontaneous. Make sure you spend some time with your model before starting the shoot to get to know him or her better and also make him or her comfortable. Also, don’t forget to smile and make some jokes or talk about something which interests the model.

7. Take a lot of shots. It’s the digital age. Unlike with conventional film shooting, your digital photos cost nothing. So why not shoot as many as you can with as many angles, poses, and expressions from your model as possible? Shoot inside, go outside, walk around and shoot, sit in the park and shoot, change outfits, change makeup. Apply lots of creativity. Keep shooting. It will not only give you the chance to shortlist some great portraits but it will make your model more comfortable; she will get used to your shooting and it will bring out her true personality. Your portraits will look more natural.

8. Get high or get low. Taking a portrait is not always shooting at the eye level. Positioning the camera high or low while keeping the focus on the eyes brings out interesting features and adds different flavors to the portraits. So make the model sit, stand up, climb up to the stool or ladder or stairs and shoot. Or you go high, climb up, or position your camera high and shoot. You will have more and more interesting options.

9. Makeup. Makeup is an essential element for most portrait shots. Makeup not only covers up blemishes, it may also makes a face glow and look even. Some creative makeup also can be done to give your model a sophisticated or trendy or different type of look based on her personality. It may also make your model feel more confident.

portrait photography tips and tricks

Photo by Aisha Boyd

10. Get a helping hand. Getting an assistant to hold the reflector or help your model is always a good idea. You may ask your model to bring a friend or family member with him or her who can give a helping hand and make the model more comfortable. You may also hire someone who is experienced for the job. An intern from a local photography school may come in handy.

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6 responses to “10 Tips & Tricks for Better Portrait Photography”

  1. Shawn says:

    Thanks for sharing this valuable post over here. All the tips and tricks help to capture a stunning photographs. But Background, lighting, pose and angles are the major things those helps.

  2. Avola says:

    Making the model comfortable is the most difficult task. All the others can be learned and put into practice up to raising to the expert level. But working with the mood of a human is simply psychology. Either you get emphatic with the model and make him/her comfortable, or you get only neutral faces.

  3. John Carston says:

    It’s been a while since I’ve done portrait photography so these tips were a great refresher. I like the tips you mentioned about using focus in a portrait in a way that brings out a model’s eyes. I also like your tip about using a higher or lower eye level to affect perspective. Thanks for the portrait photography tips.

  4. Justin Knox says:

    Thank you for the help. My wife and I are wanting to get some portrait photos taken and want to know what to expect from a quality photographer. We definitely want lighting to be a high priority,as you mentioned. Would you suggest that we schedule an afternoon shoot for good lighting?

  5. Myko Productions says:

    All the tips are very impressive and useful about the portrait photography. Definitely, this is helpful information for those people, who are looking to achieve photography skills by themselves.

  6. Lincon says:

    awesome tips man. thanks for sharing your nice information. really blast

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