When I first started out doing photography and I was taking portraits of people I got a lot of awesome feedback from people that all my portraits seemed to be so far back from the subject. I remember looking through my photos and realizing – it’s true! I had to figure out what the cause was and it was pretty easy to narrow down, I was too nervous to get up close. When I was shooting from so far away if people had closed eyes or there were some weird details you, as the viewer, probably wouldn’t notice my faults in posing my subjects so my photos worked better.
I had to force myself to get up close to my subjects and as a result now I have a tendency to do the opposite – I forget to get the occasional full length portrait from a slight distance. I’ve put together some easy tips for you guys on achieving better, more interesting portraits.
1. Consider Your Composition – Since Photography is not a 3D form of art it’s so important to consider where you are placing your subject in the frame of the photo. Photos where a subject is in the very center are not as interesting to the human eye as a subject off to the side. Placing your subject somewhere that’s not the center of the frame will cause the viewer of the photo to take in the pictures as a whole instead of only seeing the subject. It will give your photos a better ‘story.’
2. Don’t be Afraid to Get up Close – Practice getting closer to your clients, doing headshots, head and shoulders, waist up, etc. Photos of people close up will automatically provide more emotion and more interest.
3. Get a Lens with a short Depth of Field – A lens with a short depth of field (F2.8 or lower) will give you that subtle background blur which can help a viewer focus on what’s important in the photo and not be distracted by the background. I never photograph above F2.8 and tend to shoot ‘wide-open’ at the lowest aperture my lens can do. If you’re looking for a great, affordable, starter lens consider purchasing the 50mm F1.8. This lens runs about $100 and is a great starter portrait lens for any photographer.
4. Help Your Subject Decide Where to Look – Some people when you photograph them will want to look into your camera lens and smile automatically. When you want to get those lovely looks of emotion in an engagement photograph or the look of deep thought in a single portrait you’ll have to help your subject decide where to look. If you want those engaging looks where they are looking into your camera lens, but have that deep emotional look in their eyes it can be hard to achieve. My favorite way is to tell the subject to look away and then tell them to look at you and snap the photo just as their eyes lock with your camera. Instead of getting that “I’m obviously in front of the camera” look in their eyes, you have a split second to take the photo before they realize the camera is there again. I use this technique especially with men who can sometimes be hard to photograph during engagement sessions.
5. Choose Your Time of Day Carefully – Depending on what time of the day you photograph you’re going to encounter different types of light. If you photograph in the middle of the day when the sun is high you’ll get lots of ‘raccoon eyes’ on your subjects and difficult lighting and shadows to deal with. You want your subjects faces to be evenly lit in all their photos and you don’t want sun highlighting parts of their nose or forehead and having big shadowed areas elsewhere. The best way to avoid this if you have to shoot in broad daylight in the middle of the day is to find a shady area where the light can be even and your subjects won’t be squinting. Otherwise it’s best to chose a time of day when the light is softer. I prefer the end of the day, especially right before sunset, when the light is golden and soft and I don’t have to worry about where to pose my subjects to avoid harsh light. Some photographers prefer the early morning light, but there’s no way I’m going to wake up that early!
6. Have Your Subject Be Active – If your subject is having a difficult time posing for you in front of the camera you might have to ask them to do something active. This can set them at ease while you photograph and gives them something else to think about aside from a big camera in their face. Sometimes I ask people to walk away from me and then stop and turn around and walk back. It depends on what type of session you’re doing, but giving your subjects something else to focus on momentarily can yield some lovely photos!
7. Talk to Your Subject While You’re Behind the Camera – I have to talk to my subjects while I’m photographing. I like to ask them questions about themselves. This is a great way to have your client relax, but it also means that while you’re taking photos you might get a few of them while they’re talking. I find it easy to ask them a question, have them answer and I’ll photograph while they’re talking. Then I’ll tell them how great their doing and ask them to turn their head this way or that way or to look over my shoulder and the photo is more relaxed at that point and the subject is less nervous.
8. Have a background, middle ground and foreground in your photos – A photo with a defined background, middle ground and foreground can be very interesting to look at. If you’re struggling with posing or where to put your subject to make an interesting photo find an area where you can have all three areas of the photo in your composition. This can give you some different options on where to focus in the photo and can give each photo you take a very different look and feel.
9. Get Better Bokeh – Getting a lens with shallow depth of field will give you that better bokeh (background blur). I shoot with an f-stop of 2.8 or less always. But there are other ways to help you get better bokeh. The further away your subject is from the background the more your background will blur and the more crisp your subject will seem. Try placing your subject far from any background objects and see how the photo might look.
Hope these tips help you! As always, feel free to ask me a photography related question anytime! Tonight is our photography marketing class where you’ll learn how to market for little to no fee at all so make sure you are signed up to join us! The class was marked down to $10 for last minute registrations!