Capturing human facial expression is a real art but one you can learn surprisingly easily with these handy portrait photography tips.
A successful portrait instantly connects with the viewer, and the trick to that is good communication.
You’re trying to depict the essence of your subject’s personality - all their quirks, their foibles - in a single click.
That means finding out what makes them tick, what makes them special. It could be where they live or work, somewhere they love to go, or perhaps a hobby or interest.
Always go for good lighting rather than expression. Lighting conveys mood and personality. Women generally look better in soft front-on light and side lighting lends ‘moodiness’ to men’s portraits.
A window which faces away from the sun is one of the best and cheapest light sources.
If you’re out and about make sure your subjects are in shade - not direct sunlight because it will put harsh shadows on their faces and make them squint.
Check out the following portrait photography tips:
- Research your subject beforehand - and make sure to talk to them
throughout the shoot to put them at their ease.
- Get them to make direct ‘eye contact’ with the lens, but not face-on like a passport photo.
- Try positioning your subject at a 45-degree angle, then get them to tilt their head so they’re looking directly at the camera.
- Try shooting from slightly above or below. Getting them to look down slightly into the lens can make them appear more imposing.
- Think about props. Hats, ties, glasses, jewellery, something that is synonymous with them. It could be jaunty and colourful or more sombre, depending on mood.
- Try something different. Portraits don’t have to be just head and shoulders. Explore different camera angles and tilts.
- If on location, look for structures to frame your subject within the picture.
Generally speaking I recommend lenses of at least 85mm up to 200mm combined with wide apertures (low ‘f’ numbers) so you can make the background soft and blurry. This is particularly important if you’re in a public place on a family day out and want to capture a happy moment.
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And don't forget to check out all the tips on our Photography Videos page.