- Be prepared to deal with shadows.
Lighting on the features of your subject is one of the most important aspects of a portrait. Shadows are going to exist in any lighting situation, particularly outdoors and they tend to crop up in the most inconvenient places. While a little bit of shadow can help sculpt features, deep shaows often hide a model's eyes, form dark circles under the eyes, make noses look exceptionally large and cause similar problems that you need to watch for and be ready to correct.
(Success Tip #1: The easiest way to turn your photos of people into profits)
A slight change of position can eliminate unwated shadows in many situations. Often, just having your subject lift his or her chin or turn slightly to one side can make the difference. For more stubborn shadows, consider investing in an inexpensive portable reflector or kit. Not only can it help you magically remove shadows, most come in colors that can help you warm or cool the the light on your subject. In a pinch, even a piece of poster board or foam board from the dollar store can do the job.
Supplemental lighting from an external flash, your camera's built-in flash or other artificial light source can also be used to eliminate shadows. This can be a bit more tricky, because mismatching color temperatures, light intensity and other qualities of the light sources come into play. Don't shy away from this method, but practice with your light sources ahead of time so you know what to expect.
- Be aware of backgrounds.
Don't be so focused on your subject that you forget to notice what's behind him or her. Remember, your camera lens may actually emphasize a background at the right focal length. Be meticulous about choosing shooting locations that will let you highlight the subject rather than the surroundings. this doesn't mean the location needs to be boring; just be sure your model stands out. Shallow depth of field will help, but it isn't always going to be enough.
It's also important to consider the distance between the subject any "solid" background, such as a wall, especially if you're using supplemental lighting. Shadows on the background can be as distracting as those on your subject. Generally speaking, keeping your subject close to a wall will help eliminate the shadows, but you may have to use supplemental lighting in some situations.
- Don't get stuck on the full-frontal view.
One habit that's often hard for beginners to break is keeping the camera directly in front of your subject. Experiment with 3/4 views, profiles, a higher or lower angle and you'll find ways to bring out the best features of your models as well as mask those they might want to de-emphasize. For example, shooting from a slightly higher vantage point and having your subject look upward will help eliminate a double chin or heavy neck.
This should really go without saying, but be sure to use a little tact here. In most cases, you're not going to want to say things like, "Wow, that angle makes your nose look huge! Let's try something different."
- Know where to focus.
I mentioned focusing in a previous tip, but this is specifically about where to focus. The eyes of your subject are the connection between her or him and the viewer. In other words, if you want a portrait to have impact, the eyes of your subject should be absolutely sharp. You can get away with soft focus on other features, but when you're framing close, always focus on the eyes and if your subject isn't facing you directly, focus on the eye closest to the camera. This applies even if the subject's gaze isn't directed at the camera.
If you're not quite so close to your subject, be sure you're focusing on the face. This may sound too obvious to mention, but it's surprisingly easy to get wrapped up in watching the pose, facial expressions, etc. and forget to check where you've focused when you press the shutter release.
(Success Tip #2: Crazy way to learnto take better photos with little time to spare)
- Keep your subject(s) comfortable.
Nothing will ruin a portrait faster than a tense or uncomfortable model. It's important to take every step to get your subject to relax and the first step is for you to relax. You're the photographer. It's up to you to be in control and exude confidence. (You should also understand the difference between "confident" and "cocky".) Have fun and your subjects will, too.
Don't choose locations that will make a person self-conscious. Your model may be perfectly comfortable with you, but that doesn't mean he or she wants to be ogled by a crowd. By no means should you ever put your subjects in any sort of danger or allow them to take risks. Consider the elements when you're outdoors and have what you need on hand to keep your subject warm and dry, or cool if called for, and hydrated. Indoors, remember that studio lighting gets hot, too. A little preparation backed up by common sense will go a long way toward a successful portrait shoot.
As promised, here's my second set of tips for beginning portrait photographers. The previous 5 tips and those in this article will help you avoid some of the most common pitfalls and start taking beautiful portraits in a surprisingly short time. If you missed the first article, you'll find it here. Let's get to it, shall we?
This list is far from complete, but I've selected tips that should help you quickly start to see results from your portrait sessions that you and your subjects will appreciate. It's intended to give you a headstart and you have to finish the race on your own. Where you finish is a matter of training and practice. For the training, I highly recommend joining Photograpy Talk's photo community. The practice is up to you.