Home Portrait Photography Ten Ways to Take Better Portrait Photography

Ten Ways to Take Better Portrait Photography

20 min read
Image by chemisti on flickr.com

Tutorial by: Andrew L. Hunter

As a professional portrait and fine art photographer, I work in a studio environment photographing children and families as well as special occasions on a daily basis. I prefer to shoot on location and have had the opportunity to do so a few times a month.

After photographing the number of portraits weekly that I do, I’ve put together several pointers that help me make the photos better every time. Here, I’ll share ten ways to make a portrait better every time

1) Get it right in the camera!!!
What I mean is make sure that the exposure is correct at the time you shoot the photo. Don’t rely on post production to fix every mistake. Something I do to make sure my exposure is right is look at the meter on my camera. Every camera is a little different but all have some sort of meter to judge exposure. It may have a numerical system which 0 will be correct. With this type of system negative numbers will be darker and positive numbers will be brighter.

There are still times you may want to adjust to make the photo lighter or darker but make sure your exposure is where you want it to be in your final image. This will also help keep down the amount of work done in editing and save more time for shooting.

2) Posing is Paramount!!!!
Posing will make or break a photo. Posing is of course the way you position a person for a photo. There are many different schools of thought on this topic. I am a cross between classic posing and a more modern feel.
With portrait photography you want to have symmetry to everything you do. A great to pose a family of three or four is in a triangle, Mom and Dad with the children on their laps, which would give a nice triangle composition to the photo. I would suggest finding posing ideas online by browsing a stock photo firm likeiStockphoto. You can find great photography there that will inspire you to try new things.

Posing should look natural and not stiff. If a child is sitting posed and looks uncomfortable fix it because the discomfort will come though in the photo. That goes really for any portrait subject. Again I’m a huge supporter of getting things right before pressing the shutter.

Image by pb-photo on flickr.com

3) Don’t Come to Close!!!
Close-ups are great but only if they can be framed and sold.

This was a problem I ran into when I first started photographing portraits that were going to be printed in different sizes. I was unaware how much of a difference there was between an 8×10 and a 5×7 or even a wallet size photo. I shoot a little loose as far as framing. This is the one thing that I say leave until editing. Try and leave plenty of space for cropping to different sheet sizes around whomever you’re photographing. Cutting off limbs of people in the photo is not good. Watch out for that it will save you many headaches.

About a month after starting to work in a studio on a regular basis I had a very large group come in to have a family portrait done. This group had between 20 – 30 subjects. I photographed the family and did the entire sessions. We looked though the photos and they picked their favorites and was ready to purchase. I was sizing a making sure all my photos were centered when I realized I had not shot enough room for cropping on the group photo. It was either fix it or return their money. The family had already left. I had to call them and apologize for the under site and have them come in for another shoot to retake their photo. This cost not only time and money but another trip for 20-30 people for another photo. I made this mistake only once.

4) Act Like a Kid!!!!!
I do this on a daily basis and it is one of my favorite parts of the day. Parents want natural smiles, not the cheesy ones we all give when someone asks us to.

To capture photos that have a child smiling or even better laughing takes making a fool of yourself sometimes. I make noises and play peek-a-boo. I dance with silly hats on my head and sing children’s songs. I do whatever it takes to get the photo the parents want.
Some people reading this may be thinking that you would never catch yourself doing
any of that. That’s fine; I would just suggest not photographing children.
Today, kids have some awesome things to entertain them from video games to iPods and some even cell phones. To be able to have an edge at being a children and family photographer you need to think like a kid.

5) Be Prepared!!!
This may seem out of place here but I want to just mention it. Always be prepared for any shoot ahead of time. If you are shooting outdoors make sure you have plenty of batteries as well as memory cards. It may seem basic but you will miss shots if you don’t have what you need with you. I always carry and extra set of batteries for my camera as well as anything else I may need to be powered (i.e. Flash, computer, and cellphone). It’s always better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. I think my mom told me that some time ago.

The topic of being prepared is also in relation to missing shots because of messing with gear. I will usually set my lights in the studio for a group of shots. This helps me to focus my attention on capturing awesome photos and not on my equipment. When on location it’s a little tougher because conditions change quickly. I still do try to find a place that will give me a good twenty minutes of light so that I have time to focus and allow my subject time to relax.

Image by march1722 on flickr.com

6) Use Props!!!!
Using props and things that the subject enjoys will make the photos more memorable. With high school seniors or graduates I will always ask them to bring in a prop that is special to them or that represents what they did in school. Some teens bring in musical instruments or sports uniforms. Some may bring in a laptop if they are into web design or graphics. I encourage them to even bring their best friend a on some occasions. This not only makes the photos more relaxed it also helps to possible recruit another senior photo client.

Make sure you use good composition when using props. Do not let the prop be the focus of the photo let the person be the focus. Also try and use the same idea as with the family portraits and using the triangle idea. It makes things more flattering.

7) Shoot at 45 Degree Angles!!!
Shooting with your subject turned at a 45 degree angle is the most basic way to make your portraits come out 10 times better right away. Having a person stand with their shoulders flat towards the camera will look like a “mugshot” and I have to admit I have never seen a “good” mugshot. It makes the face look flat and compressed where having the subject turned at a 45 degree angle will add a three dimensional look to the face. It will also make the face thinner and show less wrinkles and blemishes on the face. You also want to think about hand placement when posing a subject. With a woman having her put her hands on her hips is ok but only when she is angled. The wider the elbows are the wider the subject will look. In most cases if not all they will not like that photo if shot looking WIDE.

8 ) Focus on the small stuff!!!
This is very important. I always look over my subjects to make sure there is nothing that the parents would not want in the photos. Things such as wristbands and temporary tattoos. I also check for bruises and dirt on the subjects faces. Strings and untied shoes are also on my checklist of details. Glare on glasses is also something to fix at the time of shooting. Bringing the chin down or turning the head slightly away from the light source will help reduce glare. I probably sound like a broken record but try and fix anything that needs to be fixed before shooting even one photo. It will save you time with every step of the process.

9) Lights, Camera, Action!!!!
I have not talked much about gear and setups. I prefer to handle that without the subject realizing it. For most of the things I do I use nice even light. I try and make sure that whatever the subject does especially children I will have lighting that will work for it. I like larger soft boxes or reflectors to control light. There are sometimes when I smaller light source is a very good way to create interesting effects. With these special effects type shots it takes the subject being a little more stationary. I would suggest having a parent close by for small children to help to keep them still. Make sure to also to keep cords and light stands out of the way of subjects for safety as well as making sure that the gear will not be damaged.

10) Have Fun!!! Enjoy what you do. It will show in the portraits you capture.
Portraits are a fun experience and should be for everyone including you. A smile goes a long way in helping to create awesome portraits. Please always remember to help the subject relax and be natural. It will speak volumes not only in making portraits but also in advertising your photography. Word of mouth is still a great way to get your name out there. When people have fun with you they will send friends to have fun with you as well.

If you have any questions not covered in this article please feel free to email me at alhpro@live.com

About the Author

Andrew L. Hunter

A professional portrait and fine art photographer. He works in a commercial portrait studio as well as shoots many landscapes and nature photos. Andrew is also an event photographer and has worked with NFL football players as well as musicians alike.

Andrew aspires to shoot for National Geographic and also become a photography educator. If you would like to know more about Andrew and his photography you can visit his blog alhprophoto.posterous.com or email him at alhpro@live.com.

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