- Always pay close attention to what is behind your subject
- Use a longer focal length, preferably in the 85 - 200mm range.
- Move around just enough to maintain the desire composition but also hide unwanted background elements.
There are a lot of rules and guidelines to follow in portrait photography. Because we’re not talking about snapshots of friends, it’s never as easy as pointing a camera at someone and firing away. There is a list of things you need to look out for. The subject is obviously the most important part of the frame and you need to make sure they understand what you want from them.
Expression and attitude are very important and a big part of that depends on how you relate to the model.
But in many cases, the frame includes more than just the model. Obviously I’m talking about background. This is one of the most important elements in portrait photography and it is the cause of some of the most frequent mistakes made not just by beginners, but by experienced photographers. Obviously you’re more likely to make mistakes regarding background when you shoot portraits outdoors. Things are a lot more in control when you’re in a studio, so this is not about those kinds of sessions.
When you shoot outside, there are usually a lot of elements in the background and this is where composition skills come in handy. The most important thing to remember about backgrounds is that you don’t want things or people sticking out of your subject’s head. You also don’t want them anywhere near them unless you specifically want to create a connection between model and surroundings. These are called environmental portraits and they are usually shot with wider lenses, in the 35mm-50mm range.
The more common type of portraits is shot with longer focal lengths, usually 85mm or longer. The result is a pretty tight frame that concentrates the viewer’s attention to the person. But as our eyes are trained to look for visual order and symmetry, any visual disturbance from a misplaced element in the background is going to attract the attention you don’t want.
The good news is it’s very easy to avoid having unwanted background elements. All you have to do is move just enough to “hide” them behind the subject.
Here’s Bryan Peterson with one of his video tutorials about taking clean portraits.
Here are three things you need to remember in order to take cleaner portraits with powerful visual impact: