How To Take Better Portrait Photographs Today

Written by Robert Lowdon

Robert Lowdon is an internationally published commercial photographer based out of Toronto, Canada. He spends his time photographing architecture and industrial projects for the most part.

Published May 24, 2018

Portrait photography can be one of the most difficult things to do. We all want to take flattering pictures of our subjects. Pictures that they will love for years to come.

As a professional photographer, I want our subjects to display a full range of emotions. From pictures of joy to portraits that portray serious emotions, it is up to the person taking the picture to not only capture the moment but also create it.

Here are a few photography tips that will help you take better portraits:

Tips Take Better Portraits

BETTER LIGHTING EQUALS BETTER RESULTS

Understanding lighting in portrait photography is close to being mandatory. A well-lit portrait can be amazing. A poorly lit one can be bad.

We generally want soft even light in our images of people. Cloudy days can be the best for this. The clouds diffuse the light eliminating dark shadows.

Shadows should be controlled and look natural. A photographer who wants to take better portraits will use strobes or natural lighting. It is best to observe lighting angles. Note where shadows fall in relation to the light source.

Do not be afraid to move the person around to get the best angle. Eventually, with practice it becomes intuitive.

A reflector can be used to fill in harsh shadows. Like on a sunny day for example.

Something as simple, as having a subject stand next to white colored wall, can make dramatic results. The white wall will reflect the light “filling in” the shadows, making a good picture.

For more information on photographic lighting / strobe lighting check out 5 Easy Tips to Master Photographic Lighting

Take better portraits

WHEN IN DOUBT GO OUTSIDE

Taking photos indoors is tricky. The lighting is not great, and photos can look cluttered.

I bet 9 times out of 10 there is going to be better scenery outside. The natural light outside will always be better, unless it is nighttime, of course.

GET IT RIGHT IN THE CAMERA

We always try to make sure we have an image that we are happy with before moving on. It sounds simple but check the camera first to take better portraits.

Pretty much everyone reading this either going to be using a digital camera or a smart phone to take pictures. Do a quick review of the shots that were taken and make sure you they are up to standard.

Avoid relying on photo editing software. The “I will fix it in photoshop”, never really works out. Comparatively, when we get an image, we are happy with in the first place the end result is that much better.

GIVE YOUR SUBJECT FEEDBACK

Simply put, our subjects can not see themselves when they stop to have their pictures taken. Help your person out.

Recommend they smile, fix their hair, whatever. They will appreciate it, and make sure not to call them out in front of everyone else. Being discrete won’t hurt their feelings.

Show the subject the images as they are being taken. They can give critical feedback about what they do like and don’t like about the photo. This is one of the best tips to take better portraits.

Show Leadership and Build Confidence

I would say about 98% of people are nervous when having their photo taken. Being calm, inquiring how they are doing, and giving guidance really puts our subject at ease.

Saying, something like could you give me a big smile, and turn a bit to the left gives your model direction. It demonstrates confidence.

It is the fear of the unknown that makes people uncomfortable in front of the camera. Uncomfortable people look bad in photos.

Shoot Candid Photos

I honestly believe some of the best photos taken of people, are candid images. When I say candid, I mean photos that are not staged. Better yet, photographs that are taken in the moment.

People will generally be aware of the camera for the first 30 minutes. After that, they stop being self conscious. Once this happens you are on the right track to take better portraits.

Use a Fast Shutter Speed

A faster shutter speed is going to stop blur from happening. It is not as essential as people will most like be stationary. The thing is, why take the risk of blurry photos when we don’t have to.

For those without a dslr, try Sports Mode. This will give the same result. More importantly, it will improve your people photography skills.

Be careful with settings like aperture priority mode. Make sure to only select a large aperture like 2.8. Otherwise, the shutter speed could get to slow causing blur. Not the way to take better portraits in my opinion.

CONSIDER BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY

Black and white photographs can offer very striking results. It is often better to use this for portraits that are serious in nature. We can get some great results with monochrome.

CAMERA LENS CHOICE CAN BE CRITICAL

A longer lens is recommended when photographing people. Focal length can play a big factor. A medium telephoto lens like an 85mm is great.

The 70-200mm zoom lenses are ideal to take better portraits of people. Many professional portrait photographers rely on this lens. A word of warning is that these professional lenses are a bit pricey.

Most cameras on smartphones now offer the ability to select a portrait lens setting. Smartphone camera apps often have a symbol of 1 tree vs 3 trees or something of that nature.

A wide-angle lens should rarely be used, or if ever, when photographing a person. The reason, wide-angle lenses distort the face and body. This is usually not flattering. Try to use a wide-angle lens properly, or the results can be pretty bad.

Exceptions to this rule would be groups and editorial style photographs. Just make sure everything is straight if you are stuck.

Wide angle lenses can be used creatively, but it takes a lot of skill and practice to take better portraits with them.

Take Simple Pictures

Simple images can often be the best images. At certain times, it can be easy to fall into the trap of trying to include everything in a picture. A cake, the entire family, the neighbors, the cat the dog and everything in between.

Jokes aside, simplify the image and create a narrative. What do we want the image to say?

Take more photos to tell the story rather then trying to get everything in one shot. You can’t fill a book with one picture after all.

Use Burst Mode

Take a lot of shots. If we are having issues getting the right expressions the solution can be to fire a quick burst. This is either going to be called burst mode on a smartphone or continuous on a dslr.

Various brands have different names, but they just take a lot of shots in a short period of time.

Out of all those shots, one is going to be good. The downside is we must edit out all the bad pictures. But it is free, even if it is time consuming and you are on the road take better portraits.

Don’t Always Shoot at Eye Level

Try shooting above or below your subject. Images shot from above can be flattering. While images shot from below look make the subject look powerful.

Do not be afraid to look at stock photos for inspiration. Agencies like Getty have a lot of high quality images.

Work on Framing and Composition

Learning basic composition theory, will make a world of difference in our final images. The rule of thirds, leading lines, selective focus and more are the foundation of great photography.

I really recommend checking out this article on composition by Wikipedia. It can be a lot to process, but it is worth taking the time.

And Finally, Have Fun

Have fun with the images that you make for people. Do different scenarios, set up shots, and show emotion. Great pictures come from the heart.

The only limit in photography is our own imaginations. Have a good time. It will show up in your pictures and you will take better portraits.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Feel free to share or leave a comment at the bottom.

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