photo by Prostock-Studio via iStock
I had the opportunity to hear Miguel Quiles speak at a photography workshop a few years ago and have followed his YouTube channel ever since, hoping that he would publish videos with information I could share with PhotographyTalk readers.
Well, he published a video about different portrait photography techniques that I thought would be great to share.
You can watch the full video above, but I’m also going to break down all of his portrait photography techniques below so you can try them for yourself at home.
Let’s get started!
Stop Leaving So Much Head Room
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When I was learning how to take better portraits I made the same mistake that Miguel outlines in his video above. I left way too much head room in them.
Unless you’re taking portraits for a professional setting, like for a company who needs headshots of their employees for safety badges, you don’t have to leave that much head room in your portraits. If you like the look of a portrait with a little bit of head room, that’s okay, but your head room should not be taking up 20% of your image. That’s too much!
photo by AaronAmat via iStock
I’m not entirely sure where this false belief that head room is important to portraits came from. I’m assuming it was likely a classic documentary style tip, because a lot of journalists and documentarians will leave plenty of head room while shooting interviews.
However, you aren’t here to learn how to shoot documentaries. You’re here to learn portrait photography techniques. Your portraits will be much more fascinating if you learn how to fill more of the frame with your subject.
Pay Attention to Catch Lights
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Most portrait photography techniques suggest that you create shots where your subject’s eyes are the focus of the image. This is because, as humans, we are naturally drawn to someone’s eyes.
In order to make your subject’s eyes more interesting, you should make sure that they have catch lights. While it is pretty easy to create catch lights with natural lighting, sometimes you won’t be able to do so. In this case, you can use reflectors to bounce light from the sun onto your subject, or you can use studio lights to create noticeable catch lights that add interest to the shot.
Focus on Your Eye Placement
photo by alvarez via iStock
Since focusing on your subject’s eyes is one of the most important portrait photography techniques, you need to always be aware of where they are and how they’re looking.
Miguel points out that one of his favorite portrait photography hacks is to watch how much white he can see in his subject’s eyes, because the most interesting part of a person’s eyes is their iris and not their sclera (the white part).
He said this is an especially important tip because if you’re going to be working with people who aren’t used to being in front of a camera, they will likely be shy and want to look away from the camera, which means you will only be capturing their sclera.
photo by brusinski via iStock
To combat this, he recommends a few portrait photography techniques. The first is to have them look to the side of the camera and to keep their eyes positioned straight over their noises. This prevents them from looking farther away from the camera and keeps all of their angles looking good. The second is to have them look straight at the camera.
But, neither of these portrait photography techniques are foolproof, so make sure you’re still examining the position of your subject’s eyes regularly.
Lighting is King
photo by Kerkez via iStock
A few portrait photography tips can also be used as regular photography tips and this is one of them. Do not forget that lighting is king.
I’ll regularly see people trying to take portraits in a certain location because the background of that location is really interesting. Miguel used the example of Disney World, but I’ve seen people negating all portrait photography techniques in favor of getting some specific landmark into their photos on nearly every vacation I’ve been on.
Think about it like this. Would you rather have a terrible photo of your family standing next to the Grand Canyon park entrance sign or would you rather have a wonderful, beautifully lit photo of our family standing somewhere within the park?
For me, it’s no contest. I would rather have a great portrait. Find wherever the lighting is best and put your subject there. Don’t try and make the lighting right somewhere it isn’t.
photo by Goodboy Picture Company via iStock
I was watching another portrait photography tutorial the other day and it completely neglected to discuss the expressions on your subject’s face.
Miguel has noticed this trend too. Perhaps photographers are just getting so wrapped up in their lighting and other technical aspects of their portraits that they’re forgetting what a portrait is all about: making your subject look wonderful.
In order to get some authentic expressions out of your subjects, though, you will likely need to use some portrait photography techniques. One technique is pretty simple. You can just tell them that you’re a professional photographer and that it’s your job to get an awesome picture of them. Reminding them that you’re good at what you do may just allow them to relax enough to enjoy the experience.
If this doesn’t work, though, you can also get your subject to play a character so that they can just mess around and have fun with it.
That’s all for this article on portrait photography techniques. Let us know which one was your favorite!