Portrait photography is perhaps one of the most popular and most diverse genres of photography. No two sessions will be the same as you are not just taking a picture of someone, but capturing a piece of their personality in that photo. With that in mind, portrait photography can become intimidating. There are a ton of variables involved, so how do you make sure you are capturing a photo that is properly composed and technically sound, and also is something your subject is happy with? We have outlined some tips you can follow in order to take your portrait photography to the next level and ensure you nail the shot every time!
Get to Know Your Subject
Before you even begin taking the portraits, take the time to connect with your subject and get to know them. Getting to know them will allow you to understand who they are, which will help you capture their personality in your photographs and create a truly stunning portrait. Talking with your subject and making small talk can also help create a more positive and efficient working environment. They will become more comfortable with you, and vice versa, making your session much more fun!
Once you have gotten to know your subject a little bit, make sure they are properly prepared for the shoot as well. Getting your picture taken can be an unnatural and stressful experience, so preparation is key in making the session run smoothly. Discuss locations and clothing with your subject beforehand, and tell them about the shots you envision, as well as find out if there are any specific shots they would like to have.
Choose a Neutral Background
For portraits you will want a background that will not take attention away from the person in the photo, meaning you should avoid anything that is busy or could be distracting. You should use a neutral, uncluttered background that won’t distract the viewer from the subject.
While a solid white or solid coloured background will work for certain portraits, an uncluttered background does not necessarily have to mean totally plain. For example, a fence or a wall can add a pop of colour and texture to the shot. You can also use the background to further communicate your subject’s personality by placing objects – like an instrument or an easel – that will add context and interest to the portrait.
When choosing your background, don’t be afraid to get creative! Make sure you know the environment before you shoot so you have an idea of what you can use to create interesting backgrounds for your photos. If you are taking photographs indoors, for example, is there a clean wall, simple drapery, big windows, or any other environmental elements you can incorporate into your shots? If you are shooting outdoors, how can you use the surrounding trees, buildings, or bridges, to frame your subject? Do your research and think outside the box!
Use a Wide Aperture to Create a Shallow Depth of Field
In portrait photography, the background should be blurred so it does not distract from your subject. To achieve this, you should use a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field. The easiest way to do this is to simply shoot in aperture priority mode, as this will allow you to set the aperture you want to use, and then your camera can automatically adjust the ISO and shutter speed to match it.
Using a shallow depth of field will allow you to create a bokeh effect. This means the background will be soft and blurred in the background, creating a strong focus around your subject.
Expose for Your Subject’s Face
Lighting is one of the most – if not the most! – important elements in portrait photography. In portraits, there is a very clear subject, therefore that subject needs to always be the focal point of the photo. If your subject is not properly lit, this effect will not be achieved and your portrait will not turn out well!
When exposing your portraits, make sure you are exposing for the subject’s face. The ideal lighting for portrait photography is natural light, and a slightly overcast day will provide soft, diffused light that will be flattering on your subject. Unfortunately, you will not always have these ideal conditions to work in! One way you can ensure your subject’s face is well lit and is the focus of the photo is to use reflectors. If you are shooting indoors near a window, you can use the reflector to bounce the light back towards your subject so that both sides of their face are well lit, rather than having the side farthest from the window in shadow. Many reflectors come double-sided or with detachable covers, so you will get a choice of white, silver, and gold reflective surfaces, allowing you the flexibility to choose the reflection that works best for your shot.
If you are shooting outdoors, but the sun is very bright and intense, the reflector will help to combat any shadows cast by the sun. Determine which angle the sun is coming in from and adjust your reflector so the right areas of the face are being lit up and lifted out of shadow.
Focus on Your Subject’s Eyes
Your photo may be the perfect composition and exposure, but if your subject’s eyes aren’t sharp, the entire shot will suffer! Your subject’s eyes are the most important part of the photo, so it is absolutely crucial that you ensure they are in focus. Having the eyes sharp improves the sense of eye contact between the subject and the viewer, which creates a more powerful and engaging photo.
As you set your aperture and depth of field, be aware of where the focal plane is and make sure your subject’s eyes are inside of it!
If you keep these tips in mind and apply the techniques to your photos, your portraits will be professional-quality in no time at all! Just take the time to understand the person you are photographing, and then make sure you are thoughtfully setting up your shots and you can be sure you will end up with something you and your subject love!