When you hear the word photograph, it immediately clicks into just striking a pose and shutter. However, portraiture is not just a headshot, it captures the essence, the emotion, and the personality of a person.
And is powerful enough to bring back that specific feeling and emotion captured at that moment. It doesn’t always have to be a person, it can be anything, the sky’s the limit here.
The portrait can either be artistic or clinical, and the photographer utilizes the lighting, background, and poses to do that. And as a beginner, you will need to do some experimenting and refining of your own to click that picture-perfect portrait.
Once you get the basics figured out, it’s all just about patience and practice. Here 10 portrait photography tips from Rebecca Tolk that should be enough to get you started and save you an expensive workshop.
Learn To Use Your Camera
The first and foremost important tip is to know your camera. No matter how passionate you might be, if you can’t use your lens right, no good can come out of it.
Portrait photography is a technique that takes a lot of patience, practice, and time to master. And once you start to understand the nuances of portraitures, it’s time you invest in a quality photography camera.
But that doesn’t mean that you have to jump in headfirst into the rabbit hole of finding the perfect camera. It’s more about how well you know your gadget to be able to adjust and use it efficiently under any circumstances or sudden change of environmental conditions.
Since most smartphones nowadays capture decent portraits, they are very limited in terms of control and editing aspects. It’s best to invest in a quality DSLR camera, perfect for beginners, and start practicing.
Connect With Your Subject
The subject is the most important aspect of your portrait photography session. And for some people, getting on the front end of the camera might get a bit intimidating. Which makes them nervous and awkward, they might even freeze up. You should always take time to understand and connect with your clients before the session.
Try to make the process more engaging and enjoyable and help them get comfortable. Discuss session ideas with them, if necessary, showcase your samples to help them understand your style.
But don’t forget to factor in their preferences and try adjusting accordingly. Communication and cooperation work tremendously into capturing the perfect portrait they’ll love.
Location and Background Matters
Location and background play a significant role in the final results. While shooting indoors might sound like a more controlled environment, it takes a bit of know-how to create the right studio setup. Adjusting the lighting and mood of the session. And don’t forget the added expense of an indoor shoot.
For beginners, I advise starting the practice sessions with outdoor shoots. It does require a bit of pre-planning but can get you the best results.
When shooting outdoors, it’s best to start early morning or late afternoon. Since direct sunlight can create harsh shadows unless you’re aiming for squinted eyes and out-of-focus photographs. Just around 5 in the afternoon, when the sunlight has diffused, the natural skylight will compliment your portraits with a warm dewy finish.
Understand Aperture, ISO, Shutter Speed, Lens, Flash, etcetera
Once you understand your camera, its features, and you have a location and subject in mind, it’s time you now start to learn about the camera settings for portraits. Each setting varies according to your location and lighting setup.
For outdoor shoots, always use a 50mm, f/1.8 wide aperture to make the background distractions blurry and less distracting. Those are the best and inexpensive options for beginner photographers.
In simple words, ISO is a simple setting to brighten or darken a portrait. As you move the number up, it progressively brightens the photos, which are commonly used during night shoots.
Somewhere between 100 to 400 ISO setting is ideal for an outdoor shoot. But of course, you don’t have to stick to numbers, just adjust accordingly.
- Shutter Speed
It’s how much time your camera takes to click a photo. As a rule of thumb, if you’re shooting handheld without a stand or a tripod, your shutter speed should not exceed the focal length of your camera lens.
A short telephoto lens is ideal for a sharp portrait. It throws the background out of focus and does not distort the model’s face. If you’re planning for an outdoor shoot, the scenery and background will also factor in for adjustment of your lens focus.
The natural daylight and the sun’s position will control your flashes. But in general, I advise you to avoid using flashes entirely for portrait photography.
Try Taking Candid Shots
Sometimes you just can’t get rid of that “posed” look. No matter how many changes you make, or how many poses you try, the portraits just look…..posed.
Get your client to engage in an activity that distracts them from thinking of getting photographed. And sometimes, portraits photographed candidly, turn out to be much more fantastic than the regular posed portraits.
Capture Emotions And Expressions
Capturing a person’s raw emotion and expression is truly artistic portrait photography. And it sure is easier said than done. Always allow time for them to get in the zone, try engaging them in a delightful conversation to capture the beautiful sparkle in their eyes.
Rushing the process almost never works during this session. You need to be able to allow them time and freedom to feel, or else you’ll just end up with an awkward forced laugh or a blank look.
Change Angles And Perspective As Needed
Portraits are all about sharing a story through a single photograph. Though typically, portraits are photographed with the camera placed parallel to the eyes. Keeping the main focus on the person’s eyes and face.
While that is a great angle for a portrait, changing the angle, even the slightest bit can make them stand out, adding a touch of personal essence to the photograph.
You can try focusing on other facial features such as the lips, nose, jawlines, etcetera. Depending on what storyline you’re planning for the photographs to portray.
Learn To Edit And Process
A lot of the final “Professional Look” to the portraits comes through appropriate editing techniques. Many purists and beginners avoid this step regarding it as unnecessary.
But photoshop and editing are purely a means to enhance image quality. And learning the basics and simple techniques can significantly improve the final results of your portraits.
Especially portraits photographed in outdoor locations, there is always that one thing that doesn’t fit right in the frame. Which can undoubtedly ruin a perfectly photographed portrait.
Try using the “burst mode” in your camera and have the model change expressions continuously to create drama and movement, which can later be edited in photoshop to create a series of expression portraits. Even throw in some basic props to add a dash of color.
Always Plan Ahead
Planning. Planning. Planning. You need to be well-prepared before the shooting day. You need to respect people’s time, so always make sure that you are all set and ready to go before the subject arrives at the shooting location.
Get acquainted with the location, if you’re setting an indoor shoot, make sure the lighting is balanced, props are placed, everything is on point and ready to go.
If you’re planning an outdoor shoot, do a thorough inspection of the shooting spot, make sure if the natural light is enough or you’ll be needing some artificial focus. Educate yourself to avoid making amateur mistakes.
And always have backups of everything for emergencies. However, if you do make mistakes, remember, the photographs can still be fixed with editing and pre-processing. But it is always best to plan and inspect the location to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Keep Things Simple
The brand new gadget, expensive background, the fancy props are always tempting. But portrait photography is more about letting your subject shine. Everything else is just a secondary object.
And as the old photographer quotes: The best camera is the one you have. Even if you don’t own the latest DSLR camera, you can still capture timeless portraits with the one available to you. If only you know how to use it well.
Since you’re just starting, it’s best to limit your expenses and just test the depth of the field. And the more you practice, the more you’ll understand your style and needs to create beautiful, timeless portraits.
Bonus Pro Tip
Always think out of the box. And if you aim to capture compelling and creative photographs, breaking the rules is how you create them. The unusual creative work is what becomes the precursor in making a brand. But you can break the rules only after you’ve mastered them first.