You can approach portrait photography using a lot of different techniques, but regardless of the technique used, the most stunning portraits evoke deep emotion that often stem from the elements of a subject’s face. As with any other style of photography, honing your craft takes time and practice.
Today I have five tips that will be very helpful for anyone looking to better their portrait photography. I am in no way an expert, but I can promise you these tips will help you improve the quality of your portraits. With that being said, lets get started.
Before beginning a photo shoot, especially if it’s with someone I’m meeting for the first time, I always try to get to know them a little bit before putting a lens in their face. As the photographer, you need to be confident and make the model feel confident by creating a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. Being professional is very important, but don’t be afraid to start a casual conversation. People love to talk about themselves. Most of the people you will shoot with aren’t full-time models and have other hobbies and interests. Something else to keep in mind is physical comfort. I always bring an extra water bottle and healthy snacks with me to shoots. Whether the model accepts the food or not, they’ll greatly appreciate the kind gesture.
Now that you’ve started to build a relationship with your model, it’s time to pick up the camera and start shooting. The first thing you need to figure out is what kind of poses you want your model to do. The nice thing is there isn’t a right or wrong way to pose. As you shoot more, you’ll eventually find a style that suits you. Browsing online or in fashion magazines is a great way to find inspiration in posing. There are a ton of inspiring portrait photographers online now whether it be on Instagram, 500px, Pinterest, etc. You could even save photos on your phone that you’re inspired by and show them to your model at the shoot. I would suggest using the photos as a guide to create similar poses rather than trying to recreate them. By having that starting point, you’ve given yourself the opportunity to boost your creativity. With practice, you’ll eventually get to a point where you’ll be able to pose your model without needing any sort of guide.
Directing goes hand in hand with posing. One thing you have to remember when shooting is that you’re the one seeing the images as they are being taken. That means you have to speak up and let your model know what needs to be changed to improve the image. Use a combination of your voice and hand motions to show them what you would like them to do. Make sure you give the model positive reinforcement while directing rather than being pushy or bossy. “I love how that last shot turned out, but this time, lift your chin up about an inch, and slightly turn your eyes to the left,” is much better than saying, “lift your chin and turn your eyes a bit.” By saying that, the model knows exactly what I want them to do, and you’ve shown them that you think they’re doing a good job which will boost their confidence.
Lighting can make or break an image. Light is constantly changing depending on the time of day, the weather, and your location. In the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest point, sunlight can be very harsh. If I’m shooting in the middle of the day, I typically try to shoot in a shaded area. In shaded areas, the sunlight is defused which leads to a nice soft light. Most photographers would agree that “Golden Hour” is the best time to shoot because the light is soft and warm-toned. The time frame for golden hour is an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. Another thing to think about is the direction of the light. Soft front light can expose the subject’s face very nicely, side lighting can create a cool moody look, and back light can make for some nice silhouettes. There are so many ways to manipulate light. Experiment and figure out what type of lighting fits your style the best!
Getting creative with your images is what can set you apart from other photographers. One thing I like doing is finding different perspectives to shoot from. That could mean standing higher than my subject or even laying on the ground below them. Shooting from different angles can really improve an image versus staying at the eye level of your subject. Don’t be afraid to break the rules of composition. The rule of thirds is great, but I like experimenting by putting my subject at different parts of the frame. Lastly, have some fun using props! Don’t go overboard as you don’t want to take too much focus away from your subject, but props can be great for adding a sense of story to your image. Think outside of the box and come up with some new ideas that will set you apart from the rest. The possibilities are endless.