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4 Quick Tips For Better Portraits
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I've gotten quite a few questions about portrait photography - mostly from my mom in regards to why her iPad pictures come out blurry - but other people have asked for my advice as well (I swear) so I decided to put this quick guide together containing
improved my portrait photography. The best part about this advice is that the equipment is somewhat irrelevant.
This article is intended to provide a foundation for further research and experimentation as it does not go into extended depth for each topic that we cover. The information I’m about to share, I learned through a lot of research and practice so I hope it helps you out.
Alright, enough chit chat - let’s jump into this like a pool full of puppies. D’awww. Can you picture that? So adorable!
Tip #1: Intention
Intention is probably the biggest thing that separates professionals and amateurs. Anybody can press the shutter of a nice camera but it takes skill to
what to shoot
how to shoot it
So what is intention?
Intention is what you’re trying to accomplish
through your photography. Naturally, intention will change depending on the purpose of each shoot but it helps guide your choices for lighting, composition, and how you direct your subject. To help find my intention, two questions I constantly ask myself are:
What are you doing with your life?
When are you going to meet a nice girl and go pair off to die like all of your friends?
WHOOPS. I mean...Very true but that’s another story for another time.
The two questions I ask myself to help my
What am I trying to
How do I want them to
when they interact with my work?
Most of the time with my portrait photography, my intention is to show off the model’s personality and I want them to feel good about themselves when they see the photo. As a result, I try to make them feel as comfortable as possible when I take their portrait so they can open up to the camera.
Here are some examples of intention with some different portraits I've taken:
with your photography. Be intentional with your life. BOOM.
Tip #2: Appropriate Lighting
Photography is essentially the manipulation and capture of light which is why you should always light your subject appropriately in relation to your intention. Whether you’re using natural lighting or studio lighting, here are some general best practices:
t - This type of light illuminates more evenly and makes your subject glow. Non-diffused light, such as a built-in flash, can cause hotspots (over-exposed areas) on skin or heavy shadows which don’t usually look very good. The reason why people shoot at golden hour or use diffused light like softboxes is because they help produce a soft light.
An indoor softbox lighting setup might look something like this:
- Make sure the subject of the photo is separated from the background. This will add depth and a greater sense of focus to your portrait. The easiest way to achieve this is by using a hairlight or backlight.
Defined facial features
- The jawline, chin, and nose should be well defined which is why most photographers position their key light higher than and adjacent to their subject; it allows for a slight shadow to be cast on the facial features to help define them. Use fill lights and reflectors to reduce harsh shadows. Too much or too little contrast is typically unflattering. Kind of like my senior prom photos. Just kidding. I didn’t go to prom because I broke my leg. And because I was shy and awkward. Mainly the latter.
I highly recommend practicing and experimenting so you can truly understand on how light interacts with a subject.
Tip #3: Composition
Composition is how everything arranged in your frame. Intention is crucial for composition because it makes you ask yourself “does this make sense in relation to my goal?”
Rule of Thirds
- You can use thirds to help provide order and reason as you arrange your photo. Typically eyelines and horizons fall
on the top horizontal third, while the body of your subject tends to fall on one of the vertical thirds. Your key point of focus tend to fall on the intersections of the horizontal and vertical lines. If you’re not familiar with this concept, definitely research it because it might change your life as much as it changed mine.
- For the most part, people try to overcomplicate their photos because they lack intention. If you’re trying to take someone’s portrait, they should be the key focus of the frame and everything else in the photos accents or compliments your subject.
Fill The Frame
- You want to have space around your subject so the photo breathes but you also want to think of each frame as very valuable real-estate. You should be relentless and make the subject as large as possible to accomplish what you’re trying to do. For example, if you’re trying to capture a headshot of your friend for their Tinder profile, you probably shouldn’t take the photo from 20 feet away with a 50mm lens. It would be hard to tell what they’d look like and I’m not going to chance winding up on a date with a 1,200 pound grizzly bear. I’d definitely swipe left.
When I first started out in photography, I thought the headshot on the left was the greatest picture ever taken. Boy, was I wrong. Notice how far away I am and how distracting the background is? In my more recent headshots, I started focusing on filling the frame and simplifying the background to make sure my subject pops.
Tip #4: Direction
Portrait photography is a team effort and I cannot stress how important providing direction for your subject is. This is easily the area where I see most beginner photographers fall short and I remember when I was afraid to direct my model because I didn’t want to come off as pushy but the truth is, you’re doing a disservice to both you and your subject by not offering instruction. The model has an idea of what they might look like but they don’t fully know how the light is interacting with their facial features or how they look in relation to the angle of your camera. If you’re fairly new to photography and feel like you’ll come off as pushy if you offer direction, here’s some advice:
with the subject that you will be direct them so you’re both happy with the end result
opposed to commands such as “what would it look like if you did (blank)?”
Of course, the model won’t be as responsive to your wishes if they don’t feel comfortable so remember to get to know them a bit, relax, and have fun. As I stated earlier, the purpose of this article was to help bring your awareness to aspects of portrait photography that dramatically improved my own work. I’d like cover these topics more in-depth at some point in the future but I hope this was helpful and feel free to reach out if you have any questions or nice things to say about the article, me, or your pet dog.
All the best,
3 years ago
Great photography advice from the master once again! Thanks for sharing this Kyler!