101 potrait photography tips

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  • 7/30/2019 101 Potrait Photography Tips


    101 Potrait Photography Tips

    I am currently planning out the lessons for my 30-Day Portrait Photography class

    (sorry, its sold out now). Ive been eating, sleeping, and drinking portraiture this

    week. One thing I noticed is that all portrait photographers have a tough time

    pushing their photography constantly to the next level. This article will help you getout of a creative rut in your portrait photography.

    To write this, the Improve Photography community submitted some of these tips on

    our Facebook page. Together, we made the largest collection of portrait

    photography tips ever assembled.

    1. Photograph the subject in their native environment. Some people just dont

    belong in a studio. They feel awkward and it shows in camera. So instead of

    forcing Grandpa into the Walmart Photo Studio, let him go to work in his workshop

    and photograph him doing what he loves. Instead of tears and tantrums when you

    try to dress up your child all pretty for studio punishment, let him play with the toys

    and snap pictures of every moment.

    2. Never shoot kids or babies from your normal standing height. This is the view

    we always have of kidsthe tops of their heads. Get down on the ground and take

    images from their level.

    3. Consider giving the subject space to look into. Place the subject on one side of

    the image and have them look into space (not the camera) towards the other side

    of the frame.

    Portrait photo of a boy looking out through a window at a rain storm.

    Window light

    4. Window light. Dont have an expensive studio or want to get more natural

    portraits? Normal lighting in a house or during the heat of the day is not flattering

    on skin; however, once light passes through a window, it is very soft and diffused.

    Consider placing your subject next to a window so the light hits the model at an

  • 7/30/2019 101 Potrait Photography Tips


    angle (not looking straight out the window). Without much effort, youve created

    beautiful light which studios strain to copy.

    5. NEVER use the on-camera flash. On-camera flash gives a deer-in-the-headlights

    look to even the most beautiful subject. Because the light is perfectly in line with

    the lens, the light hits the subject squarely and creates a flat light that is far from

    flattering. If you choose to use a flash, its truly necessary to get an external flash

    that can be mounted to the side of the photographer.

    Macro portrait photography

    I call it a "macro portrait." It's a picture inside a larger picture.

    6. I know you want pictures of the face, but you might also consider going smaller.

    What about photographing a childs sandy feet while he plays on the beach or your

    grandmothers hands, or your friends eye. Sometimes the tiniest details speak


    7. Over expose. I know I just spent two pages telling you not to do this, but over

    exposing (making the image too bright) is a common and beautiful technique for

    giving a portrait a clean and simple look.

    8. Do something totally off-the-wall. Want cool pictures of your friend in her prom

    dress? Throw her in the pool with the prom dress on. Want cute pics of a baby?

    Put them in a huge basket like Anne Geddes or dress them in clothes that are 5

    sizes too big.

    9. Stop the waving and smiling. When shooting family pictures, nothing can ruin

    the moment more than saying, Hey Dan, look at the camera! Your picture will bedestroyed. Im not saying you have to shoot candid photography all the time, but

    when you are going to have the subject know youre taking the picture, at least

    pose the subject properly rather than having them just stand off squarely at the


  • 7/30/2019 101 Potrait Photography Tips


    10. Shoot up to give power; Shoot down to take power away. In tip #2, I

    mentioned that it generally isnt good to shoot down on babies and kids. The

    reason is that kids are already small, so shooting down on them is so common that

    the photo does not look as it should. Similarly, you can make a subject seem more

    powerful by shooting from a lower angle up to the subject. For example, it would be

    ridiculous to shoot Michael Jordan from above. Since you want to make a sportsstar look powerful, it would make much more sense to shoot that subject from a

    lower angle.

    11. If one person is a bit stale, two people are perfect. Whenever Im shooting a

    subject that gets a bit camera-shy and wont give me much of an expression, I

    always try to let the person interact with someone different. For example, trying to

    get kids to have fun and smile will be tough without a parent being in the studio too.

    This technique works the same with adults. If your subject looks a bit stale, wait

    until they talk with someone else to capture the best expressions.

    Bride with whitened teeth

    Especially where brides are wearing white dresses, the bride's teeth need to be


    12. Whiten teeth properly in Photoshop. For quite a long time, I brushed exposure

    onto the teeth to make them look whiter. I never got the results I wanted untilanother photography told me that it was better to brush brightness onto the teeth

    rather than exposure. Overnight, my digital teeth whitening improved drastically.

    Try it!

    13. Contrast clothing and location. I recently shot engagement photos for a couple

    who chose to wear bright colors. The bride wore bright pink and the groom wore a

    light blue shirt. Those colors undoubtedly catch the viewers attention, so I chose to

    place them in front of muted backgrounds. For this shot, I chose old grey brick

    walls, blurred out dark backgrounds, etc. The results were perfect! You can alsoapply this tip when shooting a model who is wearing muted colors. In this situation,

    shoot the model against a brightly colored background to make the model stand


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    14. Youre missing out on half of your model. No, I dont mean that you could be

    shooting twice as many people. I mean that there is a whole other side of your

    clients that you arent shooting at all. Whats that side? The back side. Shots of

    the subject walking away from the camera, or of the subjects body turned away

    from the camera and head facing the camera can be quite compelling.

    15. Think application before taking the portrait. What is your photo going to be

    used for? While many of our photos are just used generally for looking at, some

    photos would be better either vertical or horizontal if it is going to be used for a

    specific purpose. For example, if youre taking a portrait for someones Facebook

    profile, you can get a much larger picture by shooting it in vertical orientation (up-

    and-down). If youre shooting for a wedding announcement, its probably better to

    shoot horizontal so there is enough room for text on the side of the couple.

    A model is backlit as a photographer takes a portrait photo of her.

    Backlighting is great for hard mid-day light.

    16. When shooting in poor mid-day lighting, have the subject face away from the

    sun. I see this done wrong more often than not. Most of the time, photographers

    have the subject face the sun so their face doesnt look dim and shadowy in mid-

    day lighting. This is unfortunate, because the hard light will create unflattering

    shadows on the face. The best way to shoot mid-day portraits is to have the subjectface away from the sun so their face is in the shade, and then have the

    photographer over-expose the picture so the face looks properly exposed.

    17. Spot metering is your friend. If you dont feel comfortable setting the exposure

    manually to do the technique taught in tip #16, then learn to use spot metering.

    With spot metering, you can simply have the camera meter on the subjects face to

    expose it properly, and then let the background be slightly overexposed. For some

    people, spot metering may be a better option than manually setting the exposure

    for the face.

    18. Whip out the CTO. When shooting in lower light (or if you have a really

    powerful strobe), you can put an orange gel on your flash so that the light that hits

    the subject is, well orange. Then, you adjust your white balance (I always just do

    it later in Lightroom) so the subject looks neutral, which makes the background turn

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    blue. Here is a great collection of examples of using this color shifting technique.

    (Side note: I couldnt remember the term color shifting this morning, and several

    helpful readers reminded me on the ImprovePhotography Facebook fan page). If

    youve never heard of gelling a flash, you will be surprised to know that a gel is not

    jelly-like in consistency. Its just a plastic colored transparency. You can buy a

    set of gels for around $10 on Amazon that fit most flashes.

    19. Compose and then focus rather than focusing and re-composing. Could I have

    made this tip any more confusing? Probably not. What I mean is that it is generally

    preferable to compose the shot and then move your focus point on to the eye of the

    subject rather than focusing on the eye and then recomposing. For more on this,

    check out this previous post on focus.

    A young woman gets a portrait photo tip when using bubblegum as a prop.

    Bubblegum can be a fun prop to help the model get a fe