Seven Portrait Photography Tips

Below are seven portrait photography tips that will help you take pictures that look more professional.

With a little practice you can master these techniques and amaze yourself and your friends at the quality.

If you don’t have the top of the line equipment, don’t worry, many of these tips can still be applied.

Although it is true, that with a digital SLR camera you can use specific techniques and lenses to create great portraits, a lot of the lower end cameras including point-and-shoot cameras have some flexibility that will help you put these portrait photography tips into use.

1.  Blur the background

If your camera (this principle is for both digital and film cameras) has adjustments, set the f-stop to a low number.  This will give you a wide opening in the lens which in turn gives you a minimal depth-of-field.  That means what you focus on will be in focus, but what is in front and in back of the focus point will be blurry.  If you have a “point-and-shoot” digital camera that offers you setting choices by picture, pick the image of a portrait.  This will accomplish a similar effect.

2.  Lighting is key

Whenever possible I like to use both back light and fill in flash together.  Have you ever noticed portraits where the person looks well lit, but something just looks flat, and you can tell it is not a professional portrait?  That is because the professional portrait photographers set up a light behind the subject.  Often it is just a little light on the floor behind the subject; sometimes the light source is higher, but still is behind the person.

This light source is in addition to the light in front of the person.  What this back light does is set the person off and away from the background.  So, if you don’t have a studio handy, use what you have.  Outside you can use the sun, or another light source.  Set your camera to use a flash even if there is enough available light.  The camera settings should compensate for this light to give you a correct exposure.

3.  Note what is in the background

Try and use a background that is plain, especially if you can’t set your camera to blur it out and don’t have a high end portrait lens to do this for you.

4.  Composition

Where are you placing the subject within the picture frame?  Don’t cut off body parts unless it is intentional!  On the same wavelength – don’t be too far away.  Think, is this going to be a, “face shot” or a little further back such as to the waist, or is it going to include the whole person.  Be careful if this is the case not to cut off their feet! Think of the viewfinder as your picture frame.  Use the, “Rule of thirds.”  IF you are not familiar with that term, it basically means to divide the frame into imaginary thirds, which breaks down into nine equal boxes.  You can do this by visualizing two horizontal and two vertical lines that would make up this grid.  Where the lines meet, or intersect, is where the main subject should be placed.  Try this.  It makes for a more interesting photograph than when the person is smack dab in the middle of the frame.

5.  Tell a story

Put the person in a setting that reflects something about the subject.  For example, if you are taking a portrait of someone who loves the outdoors, don’t take their portrait inside – go outside.  If someone is most at home while in the kitchen cooking, go there to take the photograph.  Get the idea…  I call these, “Life Portraits.”  It is my desire to capture the essence of the person within the image.  Does this photograph sum up that person?  I have a dear aunt who is famous within our family for striking up conversations with strangers along her journeys.  My favorite portrait of her is of her having a conversation with a boat captain.  You just look at that image, and know what she is about.  Another aunt practically lived in her garden, and my favorite portrait of her is one where she is right in the garden.  Now, I don’t mean, standing there and smiling for the camera.  She is actually low to the ground and is gardening.

6.  Stop-look-listen

Take a second or two to think about what you want the photo to “say.”  Look around at the environment.  Is this the best spot and angle to take the shot?  Can you and/or the subject move slightly to crop out a distracting object, or include a better background

7.  Interact

Have fun and make your subject comfortable.  Tell a story or a joke, put them at ease.  Also, people like direction.  You have the camera in your hand, which makes you the boss, the expert, at that moment.  Embrace this position and use it to create better images.  If you see something that is a little off, let the person know, and ask them to adjust the situation.  (For example, if one side of their shirt collar is sticking up, just casually mention it and ask them to fix it.)

If you liked these tips you may enjoy the Digital Photography Lessons – The Frame post.

I hope these portrait photography tips help you to understand what is involved in creating better portrait photos, and inspire you to get out there and just start taking pictures.


One Response to “Seven Portrait Photography Tips”

  1. Brian Davis Says:

    Great advice on portraits.

    What lenses/equipment do you commonly use?

    Do you have some samples of your work somewhere?

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