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Portraits are one of the most powerful and impactful genres of photography but taking the perfect shot is not always as easy as it might first appear! It’s essential to practise your portrait photography to get the best results but there are also practical, tried and tested tips and advice that you can start putting into action immediately to improve your work.
As you start to master the art of taking memorable portraits your confidence as a photographer will grow while you begin to produce work that will truly impress your clients and audiences. There are many techniques that you can use to improve your portrait photography, the most valuable of which we will cover in this article so you can take your passion to the next level.
Best Ways To Shoot Better Portrait Photography.
The following are the best ways to shoot portrait photography:
Experiment With Different Perspectives.
The vast majority of portrait photos are taken from a perspective that is on a level with the eyes of the image’s subject. In many situations, such as formal portraiture, this is the traditional way to take the photo however if you want to shoot more creative portraits then you can start experimenting with different perspectives.
For example, you can get down closer to the ground and take the portrait shot upwards towards your subject. Alternatively, you can angle the camera downwards from an elevated position! Each different perspective will subconsciously trigger interesting concepts and narratives in the minds of your audience.
A photo taken upwards could invoke feelings of playfulness, a relaxed relationship between the viewer and the subject or, with some heavy shadows, it could even present the subject as looking down and dominating the viewer. In other cases, a professional portrait taken from below can make the subject look powerful and in control; something which a business executive may well request.
When you’re working with a subject in a portrait photoshoot you should always be experimenting with different perspectives and taking multiple shots from several distinct angles.
Eye Contact – Work With Your Subject To Create Interesting Interactions With The Audience.
Something which is often overlooked by beginners in portraiture is the direction that the subject is looking within the frame. Generally speaking, you will want to have your subject looking directly at the camera with their eyes in crystal clear focus because this gives your audience a stronger connection to the image.
However, in other cases, you can certainly experiment by asking your subject to look in other directions; either out of the frame or within the frame itself. You can use this technique to highlight various objects within the picture or to illustrate an emotional state that you want to portray in the image.
For example, you can ask your subject to look away from the camera towards an object that’s outside of the frame. This will create a sense of mystery in the mind of your audience because they will naturally wonder what the subject is looking at and how it relates to the overall meaning of the photo.
You can add to the sense of mystery by asking your subject to show an emotional reaction to what they are looking at outside of the frame. For example, if they look pensive or sad while focusing outside the frame it can give the portrait a somber feeling whereas if they were laughing or smiling it can give the impression that they are thinking of a happy memory.
You can also ask your model to look at an object within the frame. This is particularly impactful if the object has a special meaning to the subject; such as a musical instrument that they play, a much loved family pet or even a plate of delicious food! This is an easy way to create an immediate sense of narrative in the image and can be used to great effect with very little extra advanced planning.
Composition – Don’t Forget The Basics!
Portraiture, just like any genre of photography, can benefit from incorporating some of the basic rules of composition, such as the Rule of Thirds and Triangular Compositional Theory. Although these are very powerful concepts you should only consider them as broad guidelines which can be used within your work – remember, you want to let your own creative vision shine through while still producing compositions that are grounded in solid photographic theory.
One of the most commonly used compositional techniques is the Rule of Thirds. This can be used to position your subject within the frame in a way that feels harmonious and balanced to your audience. To make use of the Rule of Thirds you simply need to mentally divide the frame into a grid pattern of 3×3; and then, position your subject on one of the intersections between the grid lines. Many modern digital cameras have a ‘Grid’ setting which will superimpose a grid on your camera’s LCD screen which is a very useful feature when you’re first experimenting with this technique.
Another interesting compositional technique is called the Triangular Composition Theory; which states that arranging the subjects and objects in your image on the points of an imaginary triangle will benefit the overall composition. You can use this technique to position objects or even your model in the photo; for instance, you can have the subject’s arms and legs placed in a rough triangle shape. This also helps to make your composition more balanced with respect to the other items within the frame.
The Rule of Space can be used in your portrait photoshoots. The Rule of Space theory suggests that the subject of your image should generally be looking towards empty space as opposed to an object.
Of course, rules are made to be broken, so don’t feel trapped or restricted by these compositional theories. Instead, think of these ‘rules’ as very loose guidelines which you can incorporate at any time in your portraiture – as well as in your other photography! You can use one of these techniques at a time or several at once – so never stop experimenting with your compositions while still remembering the basics.
Lighting Is Key To Great Portraiture.
Lighting is a critical element in all photography and portraiture is no exception. The way that you use lighting in a portrait photoshoot will change the whole atmosphere of the image and give shape to the subjective feelings and emotional content of the photo.
There are plenty of useful tools which you can use to better control the lighting in your photoshoot, such as a Lightbox, studio lights, colored filters and reflectors. However, if you’re on a budget you can make clever use of the light from a window or arrange your photoshoot for during the Golden Hour when the light will be soft and mellow.
If you don’t have professional studio lighting you can improvise by using a standard table lamp and use bits of colored card instead of studio light filters. Of course, as you get better at using the lighting in a photoshoot it’s worth purchasing some professional gear to help you express your vision for the shoot.
One type of lighting that you should normally avoid using is direct, full frontal lighting which can make your model look over lit with the color washed out of their face. Instead, you should try to think in a more 3 dimensional way when you’re setting up the lighting.
For example, softly lit side lighting can be used to create a warm, sentimental shot while strongly under lit images are dramatic and eye-catching for your audience. If you are using side lighting in your photo you can balance out the image by using a reflector on the opposite side of your subject. This will reduce the intense contrasts in the image while still giving you plenty of scope to use the lighting to powerful effect.
As well as using the lights themselves you can use a longer exposure on your camera to begin experimenting with ‘light painting’. This can be used to create beautifully dramatic portraits that can often resemble an oil painting when done well!
Ultimately, there’s no limit to different ways that you can use lighting to make your portraits impactful, emotionally powerful and creative but when you’re just starting out you should try to master the basics before over complicating the process!
Help New Or Amateur Models Feel Comfortable In Front Of The Camera.
When you’re working with an amateur model you’ll often find that they feel outside of their comfort zone in front of the camera. This is extremely common but you can help them to get more relaxed by beginning the shoot with a series of practice shots. Emphasize to them that it’s not essential to get things perfect right away and start by doing some simple portrait shots in basic positions, such as standing in a natural pose or sitting on a chair.
As your model begins to feel more relaxed you can move on from the basic poses to more interesting setups. It’s crucial not to push your models too hard because if they are feeling uncomfortable it will show through in the images which won’t be enjoyable for your viewers either!
Other ways to make your model feel more comfortable during the shoot is to ask them to move around; perhaps you can ask them to jump in the air or walk around the studio while you shoot some preliminary photos.
Keep It Feeling Natural.
While it’s great to make use of a wide range of poses in your photoshoot you should still be wary of overdoing it. If your model is always posing too consciously it can lead to the photoshoot feeling boring and predictable so try to let their natural personality and preferences shine through. This is particularly important when you’re working with an amateur model, a friend or member of your family; who won’t necessarily be as comfortable in front of the camera as a professional.
A great way to get some candid shots during your shoot is to ask your model to do something that they genuinely love; such as playing their guitar, dancing or walking on the beach.
Of course, there’s nothing particularly wrong with using posed photos during a shoot but you do need to learn how to balance these photos with other more candid and natural shots. You’ll also have to take your client’s wishes into account so it’s worth keeping this in mind when you’re planning any photoshoot.
Use Props In Your Photoshoots.
Using appropriate props in your photoshoots can add an interesting narrative element to your work. Props can instantly tell a story about the subject of the photo while also adding extra colors, textures and forms to the overall composition.
Therefore, if you’re working in your own studio it’s a great idea to keep a selection of general props on hand which can be used in your shoots.
Alternatively, you can ask your subject to bring along a few items which they feel represent various aspects of their personality. Once more though, you should be careful not to use too many props in an image because otherwise they can distract from the subject themselves.
Focus On Particular Features Of Your Subject.
Not all portraits need to include the whole of your model in the shot. You can take some really striking photos by focusing on particular parts of their bodies. For instance, you could zoom in close to take a photo of your model’s eyes, hands, nose or clothing. Zooming into particular features can tell a powerful story about the model and give your photoshoot a unique perspective which will capture your audience’s imagination more than a standard headshot portrait.
Alternatively, you can also obscure certain parts of your subject’s body, face or clothing. For example, your model could hide part of their face with their hair or by holding a hat in front of them. This can add a lovely element of mystery to the photoshoot while giving you and your model the opportunity to express your creativity. You can use a whole range of props to obscure parts of the model such as scarves, hats, blankets and other items of clothing.
Take Multiple Photos In Each Pose.
Throughout your photoshoot you should aim to take multiple shots in each pose or position that your model takes up. This is especially important if you’re taking photos of your model in an action pose such as jumping in the air, running or dancing.
There’s many reasons why you should be taking a series of photographs throughout your photoshoot. Your digital camera can easily take up to 10 frames per second which allows you to capture those once in a lifetime expressions and natural moments that show your model’s personality better than you could ever have planned!
If you want to do this in your photoshoot then you can use the Burst Mode on your camera, which is sometimes also known as ‘Continuous Shooting Mode’. Of course, you will need to go through your photos at the end of the shoot to delete the ones which didn’t work out so well but it will be worth it because of those rare moments that you capture by chance during a burst of photos!
You don’t need to use the feature at all times but you should certainly consider it while your model is in motion or for specific parts of a photoshoot.
Portrait Photography – Master The Basics And Capture Unforgettable Moments.
One of the most powerful and unforgettable genres of photography is the field of portraiture. Nothing expresses the personality of a subject better than a well thought out and executed portrait photoshoot and because audiences are naturally drawn to strong images of other people the photos are bound to go down well with the viewer.
Learning to take great portrait photos is a lot of fun and will allow you to express your creativity, personal flair and vision for your work. You can practise your portrait photos with friends and family as well as amateur and professional models.
There’s no end to the different ways that you can experiment with the various techniques and methods that you can incorporate in a shoot and as you begin to master the genre you’ll soon be creating highly recognizable photos that will capture your audience’s imaginations.
Portrait photography is an evergreen genre to work in as a professional and so brushing up on your skills will not only be personally satisfying but can also be highly lucrative in the long run.