12 Portrait Photography Tips — How to Take Pictures Like a Pro
Anybody can take pictures nowadays especially with the growing accessibility of cameras. But anyone who has taken portraits knows that there is more to it than simply pointing and shooting. It involves numerous factors — from picking the right subject to lighting and composition.
Portrait photography is unlike any other form of visual art. It’s way beyond just capturing pictures of people. Great portrait photography also showcases the inherent personality of the subject within the photograph.
So, how do you take better portraits? If you want to take pictures like a pro, here are some good portrait photography tips. Once you get the hang of it, it could significantly improve your results, and the best part is, it can lead you to greater opportunities.
What Makes A Great Portrait Photographer?
Photography is the result of technique and creativity. So, a great photographer is someone who knows how to find the right balance between the two. They must know how to use their camera correctly and have mastered the basics of composition, angles, lighting, backdrops, and poses among others. At the same time, they should also possess imagination, an eye for detail, and the ability to capture a photo that evokes feelings or actions from viewers.
Becoming a great portrait photographer doesn’t come in a day. Although photography requires considerably less effort than painting, for example, it still takes time to develop a unique technique and artistic expression.
How Do You Shoot A Good Portrait?
If you have picked your camera and are ready to produce more professional-looking photos, here are 12 portrait photography tips for beginners:
Familiarize Your Camera In photography, your camera is your main weapon. Relying on your camera’s automatic settings can hold you back from taking good pictures. While it may work sometimes, it doesn’t provide you space to be flexible and creative. There will be instances, like under low-light conditions, where you’ll have to turn to manual control. So, even before you use it, familiarize its features and settings, what modes you can use, and what tricks it has to offer. It would also help you if you understand photography terms, such as exposure, ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, and how they work together to achieve the final result.The best way to learn about these is to practice trying different combinations and take note of which setting works best for various situations. Most importantly, familiarizing the technical aspects of your camera lets you become more comfortable making beautiful shots.
Seek Inspiration It is always helpful to seek inspiration from others. Especially when you’re still practicing your shots, take a look at your favourite photographer’s portfolio or follow brands you love, and then ask yourself how you can try to recreate this particular photo. How was the lighting? What was the colour scheme? The composition? The camera settings? From there you can start putting your own twists. Eventually, you’ll find your unique approach to photography.
Master the Rules of Composition — then Break It One of the fundamentals of portrait photography is composition. Composition means how you arrange the elements within a frame to make it more or less interesting to the audience. There are several composition rules you can follow but some of the basics are:
Strong Focal Point Choose the photo’s main point of interest and focus on that. You can simplify the scene and declutter the background so your focal point is front and centre.
Rule of Thirds This is one of the more famous rules. Instead of placing your subject in the centre of the photo, imagine a tic-tac-toe grid (2 vertical lines and 2 horizontal lines dividing the frame equally into 9 squares), and position your subject and other elements in your shot along those lines or at one of the 4 points of intersection.
Fill the Frame Use every space of the frame by getting closer to or zooming in on your subject. For example, instead of shooting the person from the waist up, fill the frame with their face.
As soon as you are familiar with the composition rules, break them! Always keep an eye out for other ways to position your subject creatively. Change your perspective, go high or go low. Following the rules are fun, but purposely ignoring them from time to time can also lead to more eye-catching results.
Ensure Proper Lighting and Experiment With It Lighting is another important element in photography. It is often what the inexperienced overlook. Finding the best lighting for your subject should be your priority. Otherwise, your camera may struggle to capture the details, or worse, your subject may not be entirely visible. While the lack of light can be a problem, having too much light can ruin shots as well. It can introduce unwanted shadows and overexpose photos. Another way to deal with this is to get some lighting equipment, like a light reflector, camera flashes, and diffusers.And again, don’t be afraid to experiment with the lighting. There are various portrait photography lighting techniques you can take advantage of to create interesting effects. Use split lighting, play with silhouettes, or add colours.
Prepare Your Subject Your photo will only be as good as your connection with your subject. If you are unable to make them at ease during the process, it could spell disaster for the shoot. Pay close attention to your subject and attend to their needs. Sometimes, this includes advanced research about their passion and interests, and bring them up during conversation to make them feel more relaxed. Maybe, you can also play their favourite music during the shoot.Likewise, you can also give them directions about posing for portrait photography. Explain to them what kind of shot you want and be open to their suggestions in return. Don’t overwhelm them with requests, but give them increment advice, like “Raise your chin a little,” “Look at the camera,” or “Straighten your arm.” If you’re taking a child’s portrait. You need to get down to their level and allow them to have fun.
Use A Flattering Focal Length
Focal lengths can make or break your portrait photography because it introduces a certain level of image distortion. Especially when taking a headshot, the wrong one can distort or exaggerate your subject’s features.Focal lengths are displayed in millimetres, like 18mm, 55mm, and more. A 50mm focal length has the most accurate representation of the subject’s face. Focal lengths below 50mm can exaggerate their forehead and nose while reducing their ears and chin. On the other hand, focal lengths above 50mm can flatten the face, making it appear wide or fat.
Although it is not prohibited to experiment with focal lengths, which can sometimes produce amusing results, it should be done on a case-to-case basis. You don’t want exaggerated foreheads in a corporate photo, do you?
Set the Perfect Background Backgrounds can be as important as your subject. A busy and cluttered background can take all the attention away from your subject. As much as possible, it should be neutral or complementary to your subject. One way of separating your subject is by blurring your backdrop. However, if you don’t find a plain one interesting enough, a wall with a nice pop of colour or texture should do the trick.Another technique is to set your subject within a context. Choose locations that can elevate and provide value to your photos. For example, set a fisherman in front of a boat or a musician inside a club.
Take Multiple Shots One mistake newer photographers make is taking one-and-done photos of the subject. Unfortunately, doing so doesn’t give your subject variety. Instead, take several shots, or you can switch your camera setting to burst mode. This way, you can create a series of images you can choose from. This technique is extremely beneficial when you’re working with children or photographing very active subjects, like athletes. At the end of the day, you need a wide range of options or backups in case one doesn’t cut it.
Use a Stabilizing Device A tripod or a gimbal is a must-have gear in photography, and you should consider getting one if you want to take professional photos. Sure, having steady hands is great, but there are various shooting techniques that can only be achieved by using a stabilizing device, such as tethered photography and long exposures. Furthermore, a tripod allows you to ready your shot while you wait for that perfect moment or while you make adjustments to the lighting or setting.
Introduce a PropProps can help enhance the shot and create another point of interest. It can add colour, excitement, story, or depth to an image. For instance, you can complement the portrait of a musician by letting them hold a guitar or take a picture of a scientist with a microscope. By playing with the shapes, textures, and colours of the props, you can also find your signature style. However, remember not to overdo it or you risk taking the focus from your main subject. So think outside the box and come up with ideas to incorporate objects into your shoot in a meaningful way. It is always best to discuss such decisions with the person you’re photographing. Find out what materials they want to use to make the whole experience collaborative and enjoyable.
Learn to Edit Photos There’s no shame in editing because professionals do it. In fact, Photoshop is a photographer’s best friend. Touch-ups, such as cropping, brightness adjustments, and colour correction, can benefit the portrait as long as you don’t go overboard. If you make drastic adjustments, your modifications will be too obvious and the results won’t look realistic. There are lots of helpful tutorials on portrait photography editing techniques online you can take. As a general rule, photo manipulations are meant to enhance the image and not drastically alter the subject.
Upgrade Your Gear Following the previous tips should advance your skills without spending one dollar. But, if it is within your means, updating your equipment will also help with your photography. For one, new gear and equipment offer powerful processors, higher resolutions, and impressive features that can expand the possibilities of photography.
Different Types of Portrait Photography
There are different types of portrait photography you can explore. If you want to get more creative or find the genre that fits you better, here are a few ones you should know:
Traditional Portraits This type of shot has the most traditional composition. The subject is often in a studio setting, photographed looking straight at the camera and cropped from the chest up. It remains popular because it is simple, formal, and flattering.
Lifestyle Portraits A lifestyle portrait is the opposite of a traditional one. It is an image of the subject captured in their everyday environment, as opposed to the studio. They are typically not posed shots although photographers can provide direction. Clients like lifestyle photography because it resembles real life.
This genre is a mix of traditional and lifestyle portrait photography. In environmental portraits, the person and the setting have equal importance. This type of photoshoot often happens at a location with sentimental value to the person, for example, a dancer in a ballet studio or a scientist in a laboratory.
Candid and Street Portraits Candid and street portraits are planned. Subjects don’t receive any advice or direction from the photographer. There’s no setup. The lighting, the environment, and all other elements are spontaneous.
Glamour Portrait Glamour portrait focuses on beauty and sensuality. It often involves extensive planning of wardrobe and professional make-up. Glamour and fashion photography are often interchanged, but glamour emphasizes the person, not the clothes.
Couple, Family, and Group Portraits
Portraits are not limited to a single person. Portraits can also be photos of couples, families, and groups. This type of portrait photography usually captures interaction, life events, and memories unfolding, such as engagements, weddings, and birthdays.
Portrait photography emphasizes people and personality, and there are different ways you can capture this. What makes this special compared to others is it is meant to put humans in the best light. Whether for commercial use or as a personal keepsake, portraits show taste, preference, and story.
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