Taking great portrait photographs requires skill, expertise and artistry – all of which develop with time.
But what will help speed up your journey to becoming an excellent portrait photographer, is being given sound and accurate guidance as early as possible in your career, to ensure your development is built on a foundation of shooting portraits correctly.
Which is exactly why I’ve put together this list of 10 power tips for you – I hope you find them helpful…
1. Crazy Camera Angles
Whilst a lot of portraits are taken head on, you are by no way restricted to how you angle you camera.
Be creative and shoot not only at 90 degree points, i.e. full frontal and full side, but try and shoot at angles like 25 and 30 degrees, as well as inclining and declining against the horizontal plane (i.e. shooting slightly down or up).
2. Include A Point Of Interest
By having your subject focus their attention on something else whilst being shot, your photos will include an extra dimension that will intrigue and engage the viewer.
The subject’s eyes will be reflecting something that cannot be seen in the picture, which creates thoughtfulness and wonder in the mind of the viewer.
3. The Power Of Lighting
Experiment using low light, backlight and side lighting, in order to create mood and effects on your subject.
Just the simple movement of your light source can result in dramatically stunning photo effects.
4. The Power Of Backgrounds
As with lighting, the background you choose can make all the difference to a portrait.
Try and use a variety of backdrops – from plain to patterned, busy to minimal – and notice how the different subject/background contrasts affects the feel of the shot.
5. Aaaand Action!
A great trick for bringing your shots to life is to literally have the subject engage in an activity whilst you’re shooting.
For business portraits, try capturing the subject in the midst of a meeting, as they’re listening intently to what’s occurring.
In the case of children, taking your shots whilst they’re fully engaged in play, affords formidable images.
6. Upon Reflection…
If you can afford it, try to make sure you always carry a reflector.
Reflectors are used to redirect or “bounce” light. They have 2 sides, a hard and a soft side and are either silver or gold.
Silver reflectors are neutral in that they bounce back light at the same “temperature” as the source, whereas gold reflectors warm up the light source. For example, when shooting models with darker skin, you’ll want to use a gold reflector, as this works beautifully with the skin tone.
If you want to reflect hard light as a straight beam (like a mirror), then you use the hard side of the reflector. Turn it over to the textured surface and you will soften your light source.
Use smaller reflectors indoors and larger ones outdoors.
7. No Wardrobe Malfunction Here
A quick aside: The saying “wardrobe malfunction” as coined by Justin Timberlake is an absolute classic in my book! – it’s up there with “economical with the truth” as used by Robert Armstrong, a former UK government minister.
So another skill with taking portraits is being colour-aware. What I mean by that is knowing what colour clothes work for your subject’s skin, as well as what works with the backgrounds.
Certain colours will wash out or drain life from your subject’s face and certain colours will clash with other background colours.
It will be down to you to make sure the right colours are chosen for the shoot, so colour match your subject in advance and instruct them on what shades they should wear.
8. Timing Overrun Get-Out-Of-Jail Card
It’s inevitable that your shoot will overrun at some stage, which means you’ll need to move proceedings indoors in order to get the light back.
A good tip is to simply switch on the lights and custom white balance against what seems to be the brightest source. Do the shoot raw, balance later and if that still doesn’t work, convert your shots to monochrome.
9. Keeping It In The Family
When it comes to family shoots, keeping control is the name of the game, especially if there are youngsters involved.
Take a lot of shots to increase your chances of capturing the right one, where everyone is doing everything they’re supposed to be. A piece of fluff on the floor or a grey hair on a head can often prove to be really interesting for a little one, so taking multiple shots takes these kind of occurrences into consideration.
Depending on how well still shots are working for you, you might want to consider action shots, where the family are moving around and interacting, or pairing them up to create a little more intimacy.
Be creative, think out of the box (yes, I know – I can’t stand that phrase either, but in this instance it’s actually the best one!) and you’ll end up with images that have a quality you may not have thought you could ever capture.
10. Aperture & Speed
Apart from sounding like some kind of duo, aperture & speed are 2 essentials of photography you simply must understand.
Your aperture is about controlling your depth of field and how much of the flash ends up lighting your subject. Using wide apertures will lighten up your subjects, whereas narrower apertures will darken them.
As for the shutter speed, that’s all about controlling the amount of ambient light. In order to darken a background, you’ll want to increase your speed and conversely, lower it in order to lighten things up.
Depending what make and model of camera you’re using you maximum flash synch speeds will either be 1/200 or 1/250 of a second. Unless of course you took out an extra mortgage and got your self a medium format digital camera were sync speeds fall into the region of 1/1000 sec +!!
Ok – those are my 10 tips for you!