Five Tips for Better Portraits

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Portrait photography is not only a highly popular genre for professional photographers; it’s also a nearly unavoidable subject for photographers of every skill. Any time you compose a picture with a person as the subject, you’re taking a portrait. As the world of photography continues to develop, we strive to take portrait pictures that capture more of the essence and personality of the person, rather than just a photo of what they look like.

Here are a handful of tips to help you improve your skills as a portrait photographer:

One: Come in close. Focus on one part of the person, rather than the whole body. Shoot hands, half-faces, eyes, profiles, feet… even shoot with the subject facing away from you.

Two: Move far away. Take shots that encompass the person’s entire surroundings. Position the person as the subject using the rule of thirds.

Three: Take continuous shots. Photograph your subject moving, walking, having a conversation, cooking in the kitchen, dancing, or interacting with their environment. Put your camera in continuous shooting mode and shoot in short bursts to capture a series of shots. This works especially well for children who have a hard time standing still.

Four: Change perspectives. It’s not necessary to photograph your subject at eye level. Shoot from above or below to mix it up a little. Tilt your camera at an angle to capture motion and action.

Five: Take pictures of your subject doing what she or he loves to do. If they like to paint, photograph them while they’re painting. If they like to ride horses, photograph them at the riding arena or in the pasture. If they’re motorcycle enthusiasts, have them ride past you while you take continuous shots. If they’re in a band, become a groupie for an evening. Their enthusiasm will shine through in the quality of the portrait.

We encourage you to share your experiences and examples of portrait photography in the comments!

Photo credits (in order of appearance):
- “Jodie’s Hands” by chaps1 on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “When Angels Fly Away” by The Dream Seeker on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “J’te vois, j’te vois pas” by Bubble Gum on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Super Wide Angle” by Fotographix on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Put all your soul into it, play the way you feel!” by ygor on Flickr Creative Commons.

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  • Mike

    Great tips as usual. I have only done limited portrait photography being more comfortable with landscapes and inanimate subjects. But it is definitely something I need to try more. Thanks!

  • north_wind

    The picture with the bridal couple: Were the couple and the foreground pasted into another picture? It screams, “Photoshop”.

  • nevergivup73

    These are great tips for my customers to use when they decide on photos to upload.

  • Jorge Mafud @mafudabogados

    Really good tips… I specially like the idea of “action” portraits… I'll definitely try that!

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