Portrait Photography Tips and Techniques

portraitDoing a portrait of someone is very different than taking a picture of them. You can take a bunch of photographs of your family and friends and they will turn out really great, but to do a portrait where the person is actually posing for the camera is a different story. It has to be perfect in every way possible, and you must take a lot of pictures because it may take 20 photos to get one good one that you can use. There are ten important steps to taking a great portrait.

  1. Background. 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. 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 teacher, you may want to take a photo of them in a schoolroom. Including them in the background will establish their identity.
  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. Don’t pose the subject right in front of the sun, because it causes too much light. For best results, put 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 indoor, 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. When taking portraits, your focus should be your model’s eyes. And it’s not always a smiling face, which makes a good portrait. Try capturing different expressions while keeping the focus on the eyes.
  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. Maybe it is 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. Comfort. For the portrait to look natural and bring out the true personality of your subject, you must make your model comfortable. He or she must feel at home 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. 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. Use a lot of creativity. Keep shooting. Your portraits will look more natural.
  8. Get high or 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 styles to the portraits. So make the model sit, stand up, climb on a 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 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.
  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.

No matter how you take the portrait, just be sure to be natural and at ease so the model will feel the same way. And take a ton of pictures. They are free, so why not?