Fine-Tune Your Portrait Photography with these Essential Tips
Portrait photography, like any other kind of photography, requires some practice before you really begin to get things right.
This isn’t to say that a beginner can’t take a nice-looking portrait…
But to get into a groove and start taking portraits that look more professional than they do amateur, you’ll need to build the needed skills first.
I’ve put together a few portrait photography tips that will give you some insight into perhaps some lesser-thought-of aspects of taking a great portrait.
Portrait Tips: Focus on the Background
Ok, don’t literally focus on the background…
What I mean is that you can’t neglect the background in a portrait.
Sure, the model is the focal point and what people should see immediately upon viewing the image.
But to make your portraits the complete package, you have to consider the setting in which the portrait is taken.
On the one hand, you want a background that offers something in the way of livening up the shot, be that interesting colors, textures, shapes, and so forth.
On the other hand, you don’t want the background to be too interesting, otherwise it could look cluttered or it might take people’s attention away from the model.
Finding a balance between having a background that’s interesting, but not too interesting, can be difficult, though.
When looking for a background, consider something like a hedge or a garden scene. Plant life usually has deep colors, interesting textures, and shadows that give it depth, but aren’t so detailed that they take attention away from the model, as seen in the images above.
Help the Model Relax
One thing you’ll encounter over and over again when taking portraits is that most people aren’t especially comfortable having their picture taken.
And if they look uncomfortable as you’re taking their photo, they’ll definitely look uncomfortable in the photo.
That means that you need to do a little coaching while you’re taking portraits of people.
From telling a quick joke to engaging your subjects in conversation to simply giving them positive affirmations on how they’re smiling or posing, there’s no shortage of things that you can do to improve someone’s comfort level in front of the lens.
Something I like to do is to just talk to the subject while I get my gear out and get everything set up. I ask about their life, their family, what they did the past weekend, their job, and so forth.
It’s amazing how a couple of minutes of small talk can disarm people and help them to look more natural and relaxed in their portraits!
Tell them what to do with their Hands
Typically, people aren’t just uncomfortable in front of the lens – they also usually have no idea what to do with their hands. Awkward-looking hands are just as bad as a stiff body or forced smile, so you’ll probably need to help out with that.
You can simply direct the model to do something specific with their hands, like extend them in front of their face, as was done above.
You can also give them a prop to hold.
When using props, you need to exercise extreme caution.
Props can quickly become an eyesore (just like a bad background), so you need to ensure that the prop doesn’t overwhelm the shot or look out of place.
In the image above, the flower fits into the shot beautifully and looks like an integral component of the portrait rather than an add-on or afterthought.
Also notice how in both of the previous images that the positioning of the hands adds to the composition of the shot.
In the first image, the shadow cast by the woman’s hand gives the photo much more drama. And in the second image above, the use of the flowers as a prop gives this portrait a feeling of action, as though this moment was caught offhandedly rather than being posed.