Portrait Photography Tips

If you want to create the best portraits, follow some helpful portrait photography tips. Any photograph that features a person as the main subject can be considered a portrait. It doesn't matter what they are doing or where they are-the photograph becomes a visual record of those people on a particular day, in a particular situation. As the person taking the picture, you of course want the best possible results. So why are so many portraits disappointing? It's usually not because of the subject-it's because you didn't plan to capture the best possible shot.

Choose Your Setting

Choose a background setting for your portrait that reflects the personality of the person you're photographing. Whether you're aiming for a formal, posed portrait or an informal, natural portrait, familiar settings put your subject at ease making it easier to project their individuality. You might consider setting the portrait against a background that relates to your subject's occupation, interests, hobbies, interesting or unusual collections or their favorite room in their home.

Plan Your Background

When you're taking photos of people, pay more than just a little thought to the background of the photo. If the background is too busy, it will distract from the main subject. Consider repositioning your subject to a simpler background like a blank wall or clear patch of lawn or adjust your own vantage point by moving around your subject. Take the time to physically remove any objects that distract your eye when you frame the shot before you take it.

Position Your Subject Carefully

Where your subject is within the setting you've chosen is as important as where they show up in the frame of the photograph. In other words, where will the subject sit or stand in relation to the background and your camera angle? How you position your subject allows you to play with the relationship with the background and provides you with an opportunity to add more visual interest to the overall composition of the photo without distracting from the main subject.

Work with Props

When they're used wisely, props add to the photo's composition and convey something about the subject. If you're photographing someone who likes to garden, you might photograph them cutting or arranging flowers or you might consider photographing a runner during their warm up stretch routine. The key is to choose a prop that's relevant to your subject's personality and complements the composition you want for the photograph.

Shoot in Natural Light

When you're shooting inside, avoid using your camera's flash. A direct camera flash results in flattened images and pasty white faces. The exception is if you have access to a professional portrait studio where lighting is carefully staged, angled and often supplemented with reflected light. Otherwise, work with the natural light coming in through windows, use white poster board to create reflected light and, if you're using a film camera, play with your flash's swivel attachments. If you're shooting portraits with a digital camera, turn off the auto flash.

If you're taking portraits outdoors on a sunny day, choose a shady background to minimize shadows and your subject's need to squint. Bright, hazy days and overcast days provide you with even lighting that also helps minimize shadows. Don't be discouraged by poor weather conditions which often add unusual, visually interesting elements to the photo (just be sure to protect you camera and other equipment from moisture or below-freezing temperatures).

Choosing Your Vantage Point

Even if you're satisfied with one shot at a single angle, experiment with other vantage points. Reposition your subject and then reposition yourself. Get down on the floor to photograph children at play, shoot a crowd from above, take shots below, above and at your subject's eye level. Be creative here-you might not like every shot you take, but you might surprise yourself and discovering a winning portrait you didn't know was there.

Beyond Head and Shoulders

Who says all portraits must be head and shoulders or full face? Sometimes the story you and your subject want to tell can only come through a full-length photograph. For instance, if your subject is in costume or native dress or engaged in an activity that involves the use of their whole body, a full-length photography may be the best way to portray your subject and convey their story to the viewer.

More is More

Your chances of capturing that one special photograph increase with every shot you take. Don't be afraid to shoot an entire roll of film or fill your memory card during the portrait session. Great photography doesn't just happen-it's the result of fully using all the elements that go into portrait photography.

Save the Best, Delete the Rest

When you're reviewing the portrait shots you've taken, be ruthless about culling out any and all shots that aren't up to par, like dull, expressionless shots or obviously bad shots, like closed eyes. Next, discard the shots that are poorly composed and out of focus. Working with your remaining shots, look for those that capture the best overall view, most interesting angles and facial expressions or other details. When you're finished, it's likely you'll be looking at only a handful of shots.

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