Today I’m giving you a rundown of my top tips for better portrait photography. I’ve decided to start a new kind of blog post, a series of posts dedicated to helping you become a better photographer. I will compile them and dedicate a section of the website for.
Visualise the photograph before you take it.
Try to compose it in your mind before fixing your focus on your subject. By doing this, you can then take the backward steps to achieve the photograph you want. Be mindful of the conditions of your scene – you’re not going to get a sense of the windswept and rugged unless you’re in a windswept, rugged place. In portrait photography, you’re not going to be able to create a sense of a vulnerable, delicate person if you force them to look tough.
Be sympathetic to your model.
What do you want the portrait to convey? What is the quality you wish to capture? If I wanted to show a child’s shyness I’d probably set some distance between us and wait for the ideal wide-eyed moment. If I wanted to show fragility or elegance I may have someone looking downwards, away from the camera, and focus on the sweep of their eyelashes.
Choose portrait or landscape orientation.
Technically portrait photography demands a portrait orientation, but you may want to mix things up a bit. Perhaps you want to show your model in situ, in which case landscape may be better. Sometimes it’s good to break the rules.
Keep eyes sharp.
They say eyes are the window to the soul, and they’re certainly one of the more expressive areas of the face. To convey your subject’s emotion you should always aim to keep the eyes in sharp focus.
Colour or black and white?
Both have their place in photography. Regardless of what I envisage my finished photo to look like, I always shoot in colour and then convert it to blac
and white in Lightroom (ace editing software that every photographer should get). This allows me to play around with all the options. Black and white portraiture works very well, and can have dramatic results, but remember that anything that’s not true black or bright white will be shades of grey, so think about the contrast in your portrait.
Aperture priority, Shutter priority, or Manual mode?
This is a key decision to make once you start getting more familiar with the settings on your camera. Personally, I always shoot in manual. I love the level of control I have over the camera settings. I still find that I use Aperture Priority from time to time, especially if taking photos of fast moving kids.
Aperture Priority = you set the aperture and the camera selects the shutterspeed.
Shutter Priority = you set the shutter speed and the camera selects the aperture.
The idea with both is that you achieve perfect exposure. Problems with these modes occur when the light is low, and the shutter speed selected is too slow to hold by hand (in which case, use a tripod), or when the aperture needed is not available, say if you’re using a lens that only stops down to f4.5.
Manual allows you to make both of these choices (and then some).
Crop, don’t zoom.
Have you ever zoomed into part of a photo and been completely underwhelmed when that beautiful subject becomes flat and grainy? Instead you could try cropping out the bits of the frame you don’t want. Do this in a programme like Lightroom or Photoshop.
Learning the basic rules of composition is the single most powerful way to change the photographs you take. Learn to position the key elements of your subject off to the side of your frame, use lines to lead the viewer’s eye around the image, and juxtapose items to give a sense of balance. The Rule of Thirds is worth reading up on. It explains that by placing a grid in your viewfinder, and positioning your subject where the grid intersects, you create a strong composition.
Reflect the light.
Using reflectors can massively alter the way light bounces onto your subject. You don’t have to use them with flash, but you might find it helpful. I personally use a Neewer set of reflectors that includes shiny silver, shiny gold, white and black. They all create different tones. Gold is warm, silver is gold, white is more neutral and black absorbs the light. By having them positioned around my subject I can influence the quality and tone of the light in my photos.
If you don’t want to buy anything you can make these yourself. A large piece of white card works just as well, and you can cover it with foil too.
Make your subject laugh – then take the photo.
The key to getting those beautiful, smiling, full of life portraits without stiff rictus grins is all in laughter. Connecting with your subject in a meaningful way always gets results, no matter which emotion you want to convey.
So they’re my top tips for better portrait photography, no matter which camera you use or how much experience you have.