Portrait photography captures a person — great portrait photography captures a personality. While portraits are a staple of the photography industry, they requires much more than simply pointing and shooting.
From posing to framing to lighting, several elements must work together to create a good image. Check our 5 great tips for newbies in portrait photography so you can get started capturing more than just a pretty face.
Make a connection with your subject
One of the keys to capturing a subject’s personality is helping them feel comfortable in front of the camera. News flash: No one feels comfortable in front of the camera, at least not at first. As the photographer, it’s your job to help the subject relax and feel confident despite having a camera pointed at their face. Don’t just toss out a “say cheese” and expect a genuine smile.
First, use casual conversation — silence is awkward. Learn more about your subject and ask what they are interested in, what makes them happy, what irks them. Keep up the conversation as you shoot. Avoid a forced smile. Tell stories, ask for their stories or tell jokes to get a genuine smile. Portrait prompts — questions or activities to help the subject relax during the shoot — are helpful for photographers who don’t have that naturally outgoing personality.
Choose the appropriate camera settings
Portraiture can be difficult because you often need to use your camera settings in more specific ways. Where you might have natural light and different focus points in other types of photography, portraiture requires that your subject is the center of attention. In order to do this, you may require the extra help from reflectors, and your exposure settings may need adjusting depending on the amount and sources of light that you are working with.
One popular way to draw focus in a portrait is to use shallow depth of field, which keeps your subject in focus whilst slightly blurring everything else in the shot. Experiment with your aperture and shutter speed settings to achieve the perfect shot.
Skip Using Wide-Angle Lenses
Photographers don’t need crazy expensive gear to take great portraits. Yet, that doesn’t mean the gear that you choose doesn’t matter. A camera with a larger sensor — like a mirrorless camera or DSLR — will help create that soft background typically found in portraits, often called bokeh after the Japanese word for blur. The lens, however, is the most important part of the equation.
Wide-angle lenses create distortion and accentuate distance, which will make your subject’s nose look bigger than it really is — and that’s not usually what people want. To fix this, use a lens with a focal length of at least 85mm or longer lenses.
That’s not to say wide angle lenses don’t have a place in portrait photography. Wider angles are okay for full-body shots and environmental portraits where the background is important to the story. Just try to keep your subject closer to the center of the frame and farther from the camera to reduce the effects of distortion. Other times, the distortion may actually be desirable — such as in concert photography or if you’re going for an edgy or slightly unsettling mood.
Learn the Dos and Don’ts in Posing
Posing can be an art form itself. But even just getting started, you should know a few basic dos and don’ts to posing to create flattering portrait images. One key concept to remember is that whatever is closest to the camera appears larger. Sounds like a no-brainer, but this is actually an important concept to keep in mind. Unless you are photographing maternity photos, you probably don’t want to shoot from belly-level with a pose that puts your subject’s stomach closest to the camera. Most people may not find that too flattering. Outside of understanding that closest equals largest, here are a few other quick posing essentials even beginners should note:
- Don’t “foreshorten” limbs. If an arm, leg, or fingers are pointed directly towards the camera, that limb will look awkwardly short. It’s a phenomenon known as foreshortening, and is especially common with telephoto lenses.
- Don’t crop at joints. Portraits don’t have to be full body, but when they’re not, make sure you don’t cut people’s arms or legs off at the joints. Cropping at the widest point of the body also isn’t as flattering as cropping where the body narrows.
- Do understand the differences between feminine and masculine poses. While this obviously depends on each individual, men and women typically prefer to be posed in different ways. Feminine poses often create curves with the placement of the arms or position of the body, while masculine poses tend to emphasize straight lines.
- Do give them something to do with their hands. “Where do I put my hands?” is a common question coming from portrait subjects. Help them feel comfortable by giving them directions for their hands. Separating the arms from the torso can help make the subject appear less wide.
- Don’t leave the feet flat. Flat feet creates stiff poses. Ask the subject to shift their weight towards one leg or bend a knee for a more casual stance.
- Don’t assume everyone wants to appear skinny. Standing with the torso at an angle to the camera helps the subject appear thinner. But that’s not ideal for every subject. An athlete, for example, looks powerful and dominant standing straight on to the camera.
Shoot RAW and edit in post
Taking the photo is just one step of your journey, and you need to put some effort into editing your images in order to create the perfect final product. One huge benefit in this process is shooting in RAW format. This forgoes the compression and digital nuances that your camera often adds behind the scenes. RAW mode allows you to take a photograph of exactly what is there and no more, so that you can have complete control of the editing process in post. This process is how professional photographers perform their craft, and while your files may be bigger, so is the payoff.
Portraiture is one of the most beautiful photography styles, but also one of the hardest to master. There are many key steps in creating the perfect portrait that will enable even the beginner photographer to create beautiful portraits. By using these tips, you can start to create amazing and eye-catching portraits of your clients.
Be a better portrait photographer by joining our online courses. Check them today on www.taminglightphotography.com.