Top 10 Best Tips For Taking Better Portraits
Taking photos of people is easy, here are a few tips that will make it even easier.
1. Know your gear
If you need to fiddle with your camera or your lights, not only will you miss the best expressions, you’ll also miss out on the all-important interactions with your subject, so make sure that you can handle your gear instinctively and without thinking about it.
2. Look Your Subject In The Eye
Make sure the eyes are sharp and bring the eyes to life by adding catch lights. Catch lights are reflections of the light itself, so the shape and position of the catchlight depends on the shape and position of the light. Catchlights at the top of the eyes make them look bigger. Catchlights can be added (or edited) in post production if necessary, but it’s best to get them right when you take the shot.
Catchlights normally appear naturally when using any kind of artificial light, but if you’re shooting outdoors they are often mising, especially in dull lighting conditions, which is a good reason for adding some flash, which solves the problem.
2. Shoot from the right height
When you’re photographing children or pets get down to their eye level or lower, don’t have your camera pointing down at them. This looks more natural and also makes the subject look more important.
As a general rule, if your camera looks up at the subject then they look more important, if it looks down then they look less important.
If the camera is level with the subject’s eyes, the effect is neutral and the subject looks neither weak nor powerful
3. Keep backgrounds simple and natural
Simple, uncluttered backgrounds will usually work best, as they don’t distract from your subject. Outdoors, you can often use the sky as a background. If you can’t do this you can use a large aperture to throw the background out of focus.
And indoors, a portrait of someone at work will usually look best if you use the place they work in as the background, or you can often use a plain wall, this is often every bit as good as a ‘professional’ studio background. Avoid using bright white backgrounds unless you have enough space and enough lighting to do it well – there’s nothing ‘professional’ about using a white background, it’s just one of many possible choices
4. Use Flash Outside
In bright sunlight, avoid ugly harsh shadows by using flash to lighten the shadows. On cloudy days you can use flash to actually control the lighting, rather than just to add to the light that’s already there.
In this shot, flash has been used high up, to create interesting shadows in all the right places, and as a powerful flash was used on a dull day, it has also made the background darker and less obtrusive.
5. Use backlighting
By positioning your subject in front of the sun, window or studio light you’ll be able to create light that lights the edges of your subject. This can really make your subject ‘pop’ out of the image. Sometimes, when shooting outdoors, you can position your subject so that the sun is behind them. When that isn’t possible, as with this shot, you can position a flash behind them and out of shot.
We’ve used backlighting on several of these photos, to add interest.
6. Be A Director
Control the photo by directing your subject. Don’t expect people to know what to do, you need to engage with them. If you’re working with children make sure they’re having fun because the moment they get bored they’ll switch off. Don’t forget to use props such as toys. Toys will soon have them so occupied they’ll have forgotten you’re there with your camera.
7. Leave some space in the shot
It’s usually better if your subject isn’t right in the centre of the frame. It’s a good idea to leave some empty space, and that space is usually in front of where they are facing, as in this shot. And you’ll see that we’ve left a bit of space above her head too, which is also important.
8. Or crop very tightly instead
Very tight cropping can work well too, with the right subject. The emphasis here was on her makeup, especially her eyes and lips, so including her hair and clothes would have been distracting and would have stopped people from looking at the parts that are important to this shot. Sometimes, less is more.
9. Freeze fast movement
Freeze fast movement outdoors by using a really fast shutter speed, so that fast moving action is sharp and clear. This can also be done indoors, using either a hotshoe flashgun on a low power setting, or better still, by using Lencarta SuperFast flash heads, which are the only flash heads that are capable of freezing really fast subject movement.
10. Use light from above your subject
Nearly all the light we see comes from above, whether it’s from the sun or from the room lights inside buildings. It’s what we expect to see, it’s natural and it’s also flattering to most subjects because it creates the right shadows in the right places, so it’s usually best to get the light high, and directly in front of where our subject is looking, in our portraits too.