Portraits on social media are a lot more than just selfies and mug shot-type photos. They’ve reached a new level of professionalism. Which is probably also why so many shy away from portrait photography, as it is quite an art.
However, there are a few simple tricks how anyone can nail portrait photography. How to shoot portraits? We’ll show you 8 easy and creative tricks that will give you amazing portrait photography ideas – let’s go!
Trick 1: The calmer the background, the better
Usually, exciting backgrounds with interesting textures and patterns make for an eye-catching photo setting. For portrait photography, however, the contrary is the case. Too many objects in the back like trees or graffiti walls can be very distracting and attention-grabbing when really you want to make your model shine.
To steer the focus towards the actual portrait, try to look for a calm and uniform background like neutral light-colored walls or bridges that give you the possibility to use the sky as a natural background. We love to shoot portraits in industrial areas because everything is rather uniform, but you still get a ton of great photo locations with an edge.
If you’re one for colors instead of neutral backgrounds, have a look at the work of photographer duo eyecandyberlin for some inspiration on how to pull off colored backgrounds in portrait photography. No matter what background you choose, you may want to include a bit of blur in the background. You can do so by either using long focal lengths or by shooting with an open aperture. Don’t worry if you’re shooting with a smartphone, as especially the newer phones have very good portrait modes that can easily fake these effects. Definitely a good option when taking photos on the go for social media, which don’t require a high resolution.
Trick 2: Use natural light for indoor photo shootings
If you prefer taking photos indoors or you simply don’t have a choice due to poor weather conditions, taking photos inside is a good option, too. Yet, there is one key aspect that significantly differs from shooting outdoors: light. Usually, light is a lot scarcer inside unless you have a studio lamp at hand. Thus, make your model sit at the window, so that you can use the natural daylight properly to illuminate the model.
Composition-wise, make sure that there are no objects in the background that don’t need to be there like furniture. Moreover, move around the lens a bit to find interesting light effects like sunflares or well-placed shadows to create atmosphere.
Trick 3: Communicate expectations
This might be a not so obvious trick when shooting portrait photos. But in our opinion it’s one of the most underrated. Imagine your model is looking to get some professional and sleek portrait photos for their Instagram feed or model portfolio, while you’re trying to use this shooting to learn how to best stage emotions like frustration or sadness? Exactly. Everyone will walk away from that photo shooting feeling like they didn’t get what they signed up for.
To avoid this scenario, communication is key! Make sure you understand what your model’s intentions are and also clearly communicate what you want to get out of this photo shooting. This won’t be much of a problem when working with professional models, as they’re used to implementing the photographer’s ideas. But if you work with amateur models or even friends and family, handling expectations the right way can be crucial.
Trick 4: The right time of day
You’ve heard about golden hour and blue hour in photography before. These are times of the day when the light is particularly favorable to take photos. In portrait photography, there are also specific time frames that work better in terms of light than others. There’s nothing more annoying than a great portrait being ruined by the glancing midday sun resulting in poor contrast or contours and harsh shadows where there shouldn’t be any.
Light is an enormously important aspect when it comes to creating compelling portraits that convey personality and character. When you’re shooting outside, the best times to do so are in the morning and the late afternoon to catch the best light. Furthermore, cloudy and grey skies are actually a good thing when making portraits, since the light is a bit more even and shadows are mellower.
How to use light to your advantage to perfect portrait photos? The model’s face should be in the light without it being too bright. Certainly a fine line! If you don’t use a light meter, make sure to be in the same light as your model to avoid dark parts of the image being underexposed and bright parts being overexposed.
And no flashlights, please! Try to avoid flashlights because they leave your model looking somewhat clinical and unauthentic. Unless you’re going for a retro-inspired style that specifically uses overexposure and flashlights to accentuate facial features and give the portrait a vintage touch.
Trick 5: Focus on the eyes
This is probably one of the most important tricks we can provide you with in terms of the composition of portraits. Focus on the model’s eyes! This will instantly give you ’that certain something’, which constitutes good portraits. Even when you want to grasp the face as a whole or want to point out specific characteristics like the model’s hair or chin, the point of focus should always be on the eyes.
Pro tip: you can bring out your model’s eyes even more in the editing process by enhancing the white parts around the pupils. This can easily be done with Lightroom for mobile and desktop devices or other editing programs like Gimp. When it comes down to editing the portraits, there’s no right or wrong, since a lot is based on personal preference. However, when taking photos of people, a good skin tone is a must.
Your model is a bit shy when it comes to posing? A pair of sunglasses is a valid option to circumvent any timidness and can help the model feel more comfortable in front of the camera.
Trick 6: Choose the right angle
Did you know that we look best when being photographed from slightly above? That’s probably also where the selfie arm comes from. And you don’t even need any equipment to make the right angle happen. Simply use a small stool or even a step of stairs is enough to get a good angle. The charm of this technique is that by looking up to the camera, the model’s facial features tighten up, which is particularly favorable for portraits.
To switch up angles, you can also try out a frontal perspective at close range. Make sure to keep the lens on eye level to get the most flattering angle. It’s a bit more challenging to compose the ideal pose from this perspective, as it can have the negative side effect of distorting the proportions making the model look bigger than they really are. Not ideal for portraits as you can imagine!
Trick 7: Talk the talk
We look most natural when we feel comfortable. Thus, have a chat with your model. Laugh, discuss, explain things to each other, play some music…and take photos of it all. The best poses come naturally and will capture the uniqueness and character of your model without trying too hard. Even though it might take some time to get the perfect portrait, it’s definitely worth it.
To make the composition even more interesting, why not opt for settings that wouldn’t normally be ascribed to portrait photography. Instead of sitting on a stool in front of a photo wall make your model sit on the floor and do so, too, to take the photo. Or stand on a ladder or fire escape to add a bit more edge without taking away the attention from your photo model. Play around with different locations and you’ll be surprised how flexible portrait photography really is.
Trick 8: Accessories
Although portraits live from the model in front of the camera, accessories can add some interest to the photo by telling a story. They can also help stage a setting and make a pose feel more natural in case a camera-shy friend is your model. Accessories can basically be anything that fits the color range you’re aiming for or the location you’re shooting in. Play around with fairy lights, mirrors, colorful leaves, smoke bombs or other shiny or sparkling objects. There’s no limit to what inspires you and your photography style.
Luckily, the times are long gone when serious-looking models, boring neutral backgrounds and stiff poses coined portrait photography. With our 9 portrait shooting tips, you can start taking stunning portraits today. Yet, despite all the technical aspects and composition finesse that can be taken into consideration, don’t forget to have fun! Play around with different backgrounds, poses, light conditions, angles and accessories and find your unique style.
We’re looking forward to seeing your take on portrait photography!