6 Great Tips For Portrait Photography

Photography | September 17th 2010

Photo by Mac Cam

Portrait photography is definitely one of the most difficult assignments a photographer has to deal with. Not every face on this planet is interesting, photogenic or appealing, but that’s exactly what the portrait photo shoot requires – a face to remember. So how do you do that?
Perhaps the most common type of photography, portrait photography is an art that demands not only skill, but also a great deal of emotional intelligence. We have here a few tips, some technical and some mental, for you guys to keep in mind while preparing to shoot a portrait. Assisting us are a few breathtaking portraits found on several Wix photography websites.
Be Creative
Most people associate portraits with embarrassing staged photos hanging on the fire place or with the famous National Geographic girl with the piercing blue eyes. The spectrum of what you can do with a portrait between these two extremes is huge. The only rule you need to stick to is to make sure the photo represents the subject, meaning the person that is being photographed.
A portrait is not restricted to one kind of human feeling. It can express joy, anger, fear, stupor, exhaustion, jolliness, etc. It can be cold or warm, colorful or B&W, overexposed or underexposed – the rules for the shoot are determined by the photographer and by the person in front of the lens.
Photo by Alice Marc
High ISO
Ok, we just determined that there are no fixed rules but this tip is almost always a helpful one – use higher ISO than usual, even risking a little noise on the pic. With photo-editing abilities, there’s much more you can do with a sharp and noisy photo than with a blurry one. Even if you work with a tripod, it doesn’t guarantee that the subject stays still for as long as you need them to, so why risk it? And if a high ISO results in a too grainy pic, you should consider turning it to a B&W portrait.
Human Relations
When you do a portrait, keep in mind that another person is involved. Sometimes they ordered the shot, sometimes they didn’t, but you should treat them with plenty of respect anyway. Don’t say something negative during the shooting. Even a slight “oops” can ruin the atmosphere when the subject’s self confidence is shaky.
You don’t need to be their best friend to give them the best portrait they ever had, but you should do your best to help them feel at ease.
If you’re dealing with annoying clients who think they know their photography better than you, let them have their fun and boss you around a little. After all, we all want to protect what we consider out best asset – our face. Remember that by the end of the day, it’s your finger on the shutter release that determines what really happens.
Photo by Alfonso Calero
Background
Since the person (or people) are the main focus of the photo, you should be extremely aware of the background, so as not to distract the eyes of the observer from your subject. If you design the background, make sure it will not overshadow the subject. If you take a random portrait in an uncontrolled environment, open the aperture wide (especially combined with a long focal length lens) to blur the background and add a nice depth to the portrait.
Nature Posing Difficulties?
The person being photographed is rarely perfect. You need to be able to spot their imperfections on the set and take some preventive measures. It will save you some photoshop time (though won’t eliminate the need for post-processing) and give a more natural feel to the portrait.
There are several tricks to deal with physical downers. For instance, when shooting a person with big ears, cover them with hair or make only one ear visible; Short lighting will help slim a round face; soft lighting works better with big noses, as well as lifting the chin a little; Light and pale skin needs underexposure and viceversa.
The solutions for these problems are easy to find so long as you spot them in time!
Photo by Nicolas Nadeau
Lighting
Basically, there’s no single perscription since it all depends on what you’re aiming for. Still, there are basic standards you might wanna keep in mind.
When shooting a portrait indoors, you can get great results using only a main and a fill light by playing with their positions. When setting the light sources, make sure that you’re lighting the eyes and that you’re creating a dimensional difference between the person and the background.
Outdoor photo shoots are generally recommended in the mornings and afternoons. Midday lighting can provide astonishing results, but is more difficult to anticipate. Use a reflector to control hard sunlight. Cloudy days, contrary to what you may think, provide great lighting conditions. Give it a try with some artificial light as back up.

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