14 tips for taking better portraits

We take portraits every day, whether that is in the form of a selfie, a friend, or a model. Here are 14 tips to help you to take better portraits.

  1. Experiment with focal lengths
    1. Telephoto lenses “compress” the background of the image meaning that when you use a telephoto focal length it gives the sense of compressing the distance in the photo. Far items will seem much closer with a telephoto focal length.
    2. Wide angle lenses on the other hand will make things seems further apart. This can be good for portraits but it often distorts the image. Wide angle lenses are not the first choice for portraits but they will help create interesting images.
    3. Different focal lengths also affect depth of field.
  2. Create an interesting background
    1. Interesting background will help your image stand out but be careful to not make your background more interesting than the subject of your photo.
  3. Break the rules of composition
    1. Rules of composition are there to help you out but do not let them hold you back. It is like the old saying goes, rules are made to be broken. Keep that thought in mind when taking portraits, use rules of composition to help you.
  4. Play with eye contact
    1. Tell your model to look into the camera for some of the photos and then tell them to look away from the photo. Something as simple as that can create a completely different feeling to the photo.
  5. Try candid photography
    1. Take a picture of your model without them realizing or when they are not ready/posing.
  6. Play with different light and try to use flash(of camera flash)
    1. Photography is all about light. It is about capturing light. So use try and use different types of light.
    2. Try and put your model out side, in the sun and in the shade to see what the differences are, see how the harsh shadow(generally from harsh light like the sun) changes the style of the image compared to if you put them in shadow(usually much softer light).
    3. The size of the light source affects the softness of the light. If the light source is bigger than the subject it will generally create a softer light. The smaller the light source the harsher the light will be.
    4. If you do not have an off camera flash try and use a reflector. You can buy a reflector or you can use a large piece of white cardboard or even a white t-shirt.
  7. Frame within a frame
    1. Frame within a frame refers to putting your subject inside a shape that can “hold” it.
    2. Frame within a frame can allow you to draw a lot of attention to a specific part of the image.
  8. Change perspective
    1. Perspective is all about taking pictures from different view points.
    2. Try and stand on a chair and take a downward shot of your model or try and get close to the ground and look up at your subject. Images that use perspective that are different to what we see every day and all day help create interest.
    3. There are some rules about perspective. Taking a picture from below can give your subject a sense of power but taking the picture from above can make your subject look small.
  9. Shoot in black and white
    1. Black and white can make ones photos a lot more appealing but it can also affect your image negatively.
    2. Make sure that if you are going to take a portrait in black and white that it will suit the style of portrait that you are taking.
  10. Move your subject out of their comfort zone
    1. Get your subject to do something that that were not expecting. Try making them jump, or lie down.
  11. Add a prop
    1. Use props that suit your subject. If you are taking portraits of kids then try and add a toy but make sure that the toy or the prop does not take the focus away from your subject.
  12. Experiment with different apertures
    1. Aperture is one of the methods to let more or less light into the camera.
    2. Aperture is also one of the controls for depth of field. Wide apertures create a shallow depth of field. Which means that where you focus(plane of focus) will stay sharp but the rest of the image will be out of focus. Smaller apertures will create a deeper depth of field, so more of the image will be in focus.
  13. Focus on one part of your subject and fill the frame with it
    1. Try select a part of your subject to photograph. Fill the frame with just their face maybe with some space to one side.
  14. Keep the eyes sharp
    1. Make sure that when taking a portrait that you keep the eyes sharp.