Learn to create memorable, flattering photographs of people with our tips for shooting portraits
Tips for Shooting Portraits – Focus on the Eyes
The eyes are the part of the face we’re most drawn to, so if they’re not quite sharp it can ruin the shot. It doesn’t matter so much if the rest of the face isn’t so pin sharp as long as the eyes are, so make sure you focus on the subject’s eyes, especially if your depth of field is shallow.
Tips for Shooting Portraits – Make Sure the Subject is Relaxed
Many aspiring portrait photographers fail because they are more focused on their camera settings than in striking up a rapport with the subject, resulting in tense poses and wooden expressions. In order to get relaxed poses and natural expressions it’s vital to put the subject at ease, and a bit of banter is a great way to make them forget about the camera.
Tips for Shooting Portraits – Use Soft Lighting
Hard, high-contrast lighting enhances texture so is fine for showing the character in wrinkly old men, but is otherwise usually a no-no for portraiture. For flattering results, especially of women, use soft diffused lighting. With natural light this means shade or overcast skies. Indoors, shoot near a north-facing window, or a large white wall, or use a light source diffused by a reflector or softbox.
Tips for Shooting Portraits – Get in Close to Fill the Frame
Most portraits taken by novices can be improved dramatically simply by cropping, because one of the biggest faults is to not get close enough. Getting in close creates more impact and helps exclude distracting background details. A short telephoto (around 50-100mm) lets you crop in tightly without having to get physically too close, and create a more flattering perspective.
Tips for Shooting Portraits – Find the Light
When photographing people indoors, look for where the light is best. This will most likely be near a window or open door, where there is natural light coming in.
Tips for Shooting Portraits – Shoot from Above
The most flattering shooting position for portraits is usually from slightly above, level with the top of the subject’s forehead. This will place more emphasis on the subject’s eyes, rather than their nose or chin.
Tips for Shooting Portraits – Extremities
Many portrait subjects and photographers struggle to know what to do with arms and legs. If not posed well they can look awkward, or distract from the face. Avoid having arms and legs extend towards the camera too far or they may look disproportionately big. If resting a chin in a hand ensure the head is only gently resting or the cheeks will be pushed up and the face distorted.
Tips for Shooting Portraits – Photograph the Family
Few hobbyists put as much effort into getting great family photos as they do to their landscape images. If you apply your knowledge of light, composition and timing you can get lovely shots. Posed pictures can be great but for more natural results try shooting them unawares. Use a telephoto lens and shoot from further back or shoot from the hip. You can still get good natural shots even at close range if your subject is engrossed in an activity and you shoot quickly.
Tips for Shooting Portraits – Use Furniture and Props for Posing
Asking someone to stand on the spot and look at the camera is not conducive to relaxed photos, but posing them artificially can look forced. It’s best to find a position where the subject can find a naturally comfortable pose. This may be leaning against a wall, sitting in a chair, or perched on the edge of a table. Steps make a good posing prop as there are many ways they can be utilised for posing.
Tips for Shooting Portraits – Be Sensible when Photographing Kids
There was a time when you could photograph kids in the street without any problems. Many great photos from some of our finest photojournalists, such as Cartier-Bresson and Bill Brandt, are of children. But those days are gone so think twice before photographing children who aren’t yours, or whose parents you don’t know or haven’t spoken to first, for permission.
Tips for Shooting Portraits – Get Down with the Kids
Most pictures of children are better when shot from their level, so crouch down when shooting – it gives a sense of entering their world. Looking down from above makes the viewer feel more of an outsider, but can be used to convey a sense of smallness or isolation which may be appropriate in some situations.
Tips for Shooting Portraits – Group Shots
- Groups can be challenging to photograph. Avoid having your subjects stand in a row as it usually works best if the heads are at different heights. Use furniture, walls or steps to try and arrange the group in this way.