Portrait Photography TipsHere are ten simple, easy to follow portrait photography tips to help improve your portrait photography technique. Whether you are the designated family photographer taking family portraits at a reunion or someone looking to take portraits of other people these portrait photography tips are important reminders of some key ways of improving your digital portrait photography.
1. Watch the background…nothing is worse than having a tree, sign or something else sticking out of the subjects head. Almost as equally bad is having a horizontal line that intersects at the subject’s neck. This portrait photography tip is especially important when doing travel portraits or in a busy setting where you might not have time to really plan a shot. Whenever you are photographing people be sure to pay close attention to the background to avoid these types of issues. Sometimes you can slightly change your angle or make another adjustment to avoid the background distraction.
2. Uncluttered backgrounds are best…When doing formal or family photos try to find a neutral background that is not distracting or cluttered. When taking portraits indoors without a backdrop look for a plain wall without pictures. Also watch the subject’s relationship to windows and mirrors that might reflect the flash or image of the photographer. A uniform backdrop such as a brick wall, some plants or other types of non-distracting backgrounds work best when shooting portraits outside.
3. Use good composition…that includes the basic rules such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, etc. Be sure your photo is composed well so the subjects face is the center of attention. One way of doing this is to frame the subject in a doorway, or some other object that can help create the mood that best fits your subject. However, following the basic rules of composition should not stop you from being creative so don’t be afraid to break some composition rules when doing so makes a more powerful image.
4. Experiment with different angles….this portrait photography tip is closely related to the first three in that changing your angle or perspective can sometimes help to avoid background clutter or distractions as well as improve your composition. Don’t be afraid of experimenting with different angles not only in how the subject stands but also as to if you are shooting up at the subject or down on them. Changing the angle can really change the mood of the portrait so experiment with different angles or views. Not only can the photographer change shooting angles but also experiment with the direction and way the subject is looking. Not all portraits need to be taken with the subject looking directly into the camera. Changing where they are looking at and their angle to the camera can really alter the mood of the portrait.
5. Vary your perspective…by this I mean shoot at different focal lengths. Vary between the tight head shot where the person’s head completely fills the frame to the more full body portrait. If the subject is at an angle to you have them looking into the photo not looking out of it. Another way is to slightly tilt the camera one way or another. There are many different ways to vary your perspective and angle which can help improve a portrait.
6. Shoot to crop…by this I mean allow yourself room to crop the photo. This portrait photography tip can be really important on group photos. Most image sensors in DSLR’s and even point and shoot cameras are not the same aspect ratio as some of the most common print sizes. For example your camera might have an aspect ratio of 2:3. That means an un-cropped image would need to be printed on 4x6 paper. This is important to keep in mind because some of the most common prints sizes such as 5x7 and 8x10 are completely different aspect ratios. That means the image needs to be able to be cropped to print at those sizes so you need to keep that in mind when composing the picture.
7. Control the light…this does not mean you need to have studio lighting to take good portraits. While that type of lighting setup will give you the most control you can do things to allow you to take advantage of natural lighting conditions and still get dramatic and powerful portraits. If you are shooting indoors use the light from a large window if available. Natural window light with the help of a reflector (a large piece of white foam board can work) can produce some stunning portrait lighting. Outside try to avoid shooting during the middle of a cloudless day. The harsh midday sun can create harsh shadows. While a cloudy day naturally diffused light if you need to take pictures in the more direct midday sun look for a shadowed area or position your subject in a way to do the best at avoiding harsh shadows. Again the use of a reflector can help you control the light and if need be you can use fill flash to help get a more uniform light on your subject. Of course the best light for outdoor portraits is those “golden hours” in the morning or evening when the warm light of sunrise or sunset can really give your portraits some amazing light.
8. Use the right accessories…this would include a good flash unit, tripod when needed, reflectors or flash modifiers and other things to help you take the best possible portraits. A good flash is vital…the small on camera ones are OK but do not have the versatility of a full featured flash. Your better flash units allow you to bounce the flash off of a wall or ceiling for a more diffused light and many even have wireless capabilities so that you can use them off-camera to create some cool lighting. The on camera flash plus a wireless flash off the camera gives you a lot of creative flexibility without having to carry or setup studio lights. There are also many after market flash diffusers to soften flashes which also can help you get the lighting you need for great portraits.
As far as retouching software, I highly recommend Portrait Professional. It makes it very easy to retouch portraits and with a few simple keystrokes you can easily and quickly remove blemishes and smooth wrinkles.
9. Control your depth of field…you do this by using aperture priority mode and setting your camera to shoot at the largest lens opening such as f2.8 or f4. Doing so will give you a nice looking blurred background and help separate the subject from the background. This can be very effective when shooting portraits in front of busy backgrounds. Another way of helping create separation between the subject and the background is to use a longer focal length lens. Zooming in on the subject with a telephoto lens helps improve the look of the background and help the subject stand out. This is why professional portrait photographers will often use a “fast” lens with a telephoto range capable of shooting between 85mm and 135mm. These ranges of focal lengths work well for individual portraits and a 2.8 lens or faster is a big advantage. Of course for group photos you will need a wider angle lens in order to get the entire group into the picture.
10. Be creative and have fun…This final photography portrait tip is a reminder to not be afraid to bend or break the rules of composition, etc. to create a dramatic portrait. Have fun with your subject….make them feel relaxed and at easy. Sometimes distracting them can help them become less self-conscience and begin to loosen up and relax resulting in more natural photos. This portrait photography tip can be especially important with children, who might struggle with sitting still or not be over joyed at having their picture taken. Capture your subject doing things they love to do. Involving a pet, a car, sports memorabilia, etc. can all be effective ways of personalizing the portrait and capturing who the person is. Of course always be ready to shoot because you never know when the “look” is just right and you capture a difficult subject with that perfect look or smile.
I hope that you find these portrait photography tips helpful. Whether you are taking pictures at a family reunion, during a vacation, or looking to take portraits of other people remembering these ten simple portrait photography tips can help add some "wow" factor to your next portraits. For more information be sure to also check out these videos for some additional portrait photography tips and techniques.
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