Portrait photography is one of the most popular types of photography. Portraits are something that, when done right, will last a lifetime and no matter when they were shot will always make you say wow. Amazing portraits have something unique about them that make viewers do a double take.
Shooting a portrait is not difficult at all. All you need for a portrait is a willing subject and a camera. However to produce a truly stunning portrait it takes a lot more effort and preparation. Plus, practice makes perfect.
This list will help you take all that into account so you can create stunning portraits that leave your subjects and followers intrigued. Cover photo by Ross Sneddon.
Use Different Perspectives
More often than not portraits are taken by a photographer with the camera at the subjects eye level. No, this is not the wrong way to shoot a portrait and yes, it can produce stunning shots, but try to switch things up.
Try to change the perspective by shooting an overhead shot or get as close to the ground as possible and take a shot upwards toward the subject. Experiment with these angles and get creative and try as many different angles and perspectives as you can. Not only will the portrait be unique, but it will create a more interesting portrait that will spark interest.
Try Different Lighting
When it comes to lighting your subject try to get creative as possible. Using the right lighting in a portrait can turn an average portrait into something spectacular. There are so many options and possibilities when it comes to lighting that you are bound to find something that looks incredible when experimenting. To name a few lighting options at your disposal is split lighting, butterfly lighting, Rembrandt lighting, and loop lighting.
When shooting a portrait the subject and the background are on the same level of importance. When you are shooting a portrait you may get caught up ensuring that the subject of the portrait is perfect as you should, but often we don’t focus enough on the background.
A cluttered or busy background will take the focus off the subject and put it on the background which is the opposite effect you want to convey. This doesn’t mean you need a plain solid color background. However if you do decide to go with a plain background try to choose something that has interesting color or something that has texture.
Photographers have many ways to use the background. One great use of the background is to include something that adds context to tell you more about the subject. For example if your subject is a musician consider including instruments in the image somehow or a stage/venue environment.
Focus on the Eyes
The eyes are the “the windows to soul” and provide an effect in a portrait like no other. When shooting a portrait the emphasis should always be on the eyes of the subject. If you have the perfect background and exposure, but the eyes aren’t crisp and sharp then the entire portrait will suffer.
English writer Samuel Richardson said “when words are restrained, the eyes often talk a great deal.” One of the most famous modern day portraits ever, the Afghan Girl, demonstrates perfectly how the subjects eyes can tell a story and bring beauty to a photo.
Shooting a portrait we often think of taking that one shot and being done with the photo. Instead switch your camera to “continuous shooting” or “burst” mode to have a series of photos. When doing this tell your subject to change their facial expression and try different poses. This is great for when shooting an active subject. It allows you to have multiple shots and allows you to have more than one still image.
Classic Black and White
Black and white shots are timeless. When in a situation where the lighting is not ideal and the white balance is not perfect try switching to black and white. Using black and white in a portrait gives the portrait a “classic” feel and eliminates all distraction of color. Many cameras today have a feature to allow you to view your portrait in black and white in real time without having to edit and distort the photo.
Natural Light is Your Best Friend
When photographing portraits natural light is your best friend. If possible when shooting especially inside, shoot near a large window. Natural light will cut down on rough shadows. Ask your subject to face the light so that it does not create any odd shadows in the subjects face. If you are shooting an outdoor portrait try to utilize the “golden hour”. This is a period of time that occurs shortly after sunrise and right before sunset. During this time the light is softer and redder and can produce stunning portraits.
Having a subject that is comfortable and relaxed while taking a portrait is very important. Often times when shooting a subject who has not been photographed much or is not used to being around the camera then they may feel tense and uncomfortable. This can result in awkward shots and unpleasant photos. To help relieve any sense of pressure and discomfort try to create a relaxed environment that has music they like or joke around and be silly with the subject. To go along with this do not put your subject in an uncomfortable pose or position because this will look extremely unflattering.