- Work With Your Subject Before the Shoot
- Don’t Ignore the Background
- Find the Most Flattering Focal Length
- Try One-Light Portraits
- Make the Portrait Shine With a Beautiful Canvas Print
- Learn How to Make More Money With These Photography Business Tips
- Basic Photography Tips for Beginners
photo by Ranta Images via iStock
Out of all photography niches, portrait photography is one of my favorites because you can immediately see the impact of your work on the model.
It’s also a chance to break out of the boring routine of editing and shooting inanimate objects. Models each have their own unique personalities and it’s a challenge to figure out how to display them through your work.
So, let’s dive in and go over some easy portrait photography tips that will help you improve the quality of the portraits you create.
Table of Contents
Work With Your Subject Before the Shoot
photo by monkeybusinessimages via iStock
Sometimes, I get too in my head and forget to walk models through what a photoshoot is like. For many of them, this may be the only time they ever do this, so make it a good experience.
I like to sit my subject down and talk to them about what the photoshoot is going to be like and ask for any specific requests from them. What are they comfortable with? What are they uncomfortable with?
I also like to have some funny quips at the ready for use during the shoot. A good one for couples is always: “whisper your favorite Taco Bell order to them, as sexy as you can.” But, feel free to play around and find quips that are just ridiculous enough to get your subjects to laugh. If they’re laughing, you’ll get a much more relaxed, natural, and comfortable look in your portraits.
Tommy Reynolds is one of my favorite photographers because he gives genuinely down-to-earth advice to those just starting in the portrait photography world.
Watch his video for 6 helpful portrait photography tips on how to make sure your subject is on the same page as you.
Don’t Ignore the Background
photo by Marko Rupena via iStock
A good background can a make or break a portrait. It should be clean (and not distracting like the one in the image above).
Depending on what you want to showcase about your subject, the background should add to the story you're telling, not take away from it. If you are shooting on location, learn about the places your clients feel strong ties to, as this will help them feel comfortable in front of the camera and help you create a meaningful photograph too.
photo by dml5050 via iStock
You can use the background in portrait photography to highlight anything you want to about your subject, be it their clothes, the color of their hair or eyes, or their makeup.
Just make sure you know what your model will be wearing before the shoot so you can plan accordingly to find just the right background.
Use the Most Flattering Focal Length
photo by FangXiaNuo via iStock
Many portrait photographers like to shoot with an 85mm. This is a small telephoto lens that doesn't distort your subject's face.
At 85mm, you can put some distance between you and the subject, which can help them relax because there’s not a lens shoved in their face, as is the case when you use a shorter focal length lens.
The problem with 85mm lenses is they can be pretty expensive.
A good alterinative to an 85mm lens is a 50mm lens. These lenses don't show much distorion and you can pick up a 50mm f/1.8 lens without breaking the bank. The large aperature will give you a nice bokeh effect in the background too.
photo by undefined undefined via iStock
If you go with a focal length shorter than 50mm, say a 35mm, your subject’s face will start to become distorted.
Basically, the parts of their face that are closest to the camera will become enlarged while the parts that are furthest away from the camera, like their ears, will become appear smaller.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something to think about when choosing the focal length with which you are shooting.
All focal lengths can be flattering, depending upon what the subject wants and what you want the photo to say. You just need to become familiar with how different focal lengths behave so you can tailor your lens selection to your goals and the goals of the model.
Editors Note: Cameras with cropped sensors (APS-C) give lenses a longer effective focal length than they actually have. Essentially, that inexpensive 50mm lens you have will give you a look that is closer to an 85mm. Cameras have different crop factors (i.e., Nikon is 1.5x and Canon is 1.6x). Just bear this in mind as you shop for the perfect portrait lens!
Try One-Light Portraits
Sean Tucker shoots incredible in-studio portraits with a single light, and he walks you through how to do it in the video above.
I’m of the personal opinion that in-studio portrait photography is much more difficult than shooting portraits out in the field. Firstly, because it’s harder for your subject to be themselves in such a professional setting with lots of equipment pointed at them. Secondly, I just don’t feel that I can be as free with the background when I’m in the studio.
Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash
But, I also think it’s important to learn to use one light with your portraits because once you have that skill down you will always be prepared to take a portrait.
As shown in the portrait above, having one, bright light helps illuminate the model’s face and clearly defines his profile against the dark background.
And there are many other single-light portrait techniques you can use to create dramatic photos. Check out this tutorial for a quick overview of some of the most common ways to use a single light for portraiture.
Make the Portrait Shine With a Beautiful Canvas Print
No portrait photography tips are going to make your subject happier than this one: get it professionally crafted into a canvas print.
CanvasHQ, my go-to canvas printing company, puts so much individual effort into each one of your prints.
They hand build the frame, stretch each one individually, and only use the best inks (the kind that won’t fade after years of being displayed on the wall).
They have a 100% satisfaction guarantee, too. If there’s a problem with your print, just send it back within 30 days to get your money back or a new print delivered.
They also have a timer on their website that tells you how long you would need to wait to get your print produced if you sent it in that day. Nice!
They also almost always have a sale going on, for up to 35% off canvas prints, so you can get breathtaking canvas prints without breaking the bank.
They also won PhotographyTalk’s Best Canvas Print Company of 2019 for their use of high-quality materials, so there’s that too!
When you go through all the effort to create a beautiful portrait, why waste is all by having a tiny paper print made? Instead, showcase your portraits by turning them into a large canvas print that can be enjoyed for generations.