Portrait photography is an art form that can take years and years to master; but believe us when we say this: If portraiture is your passion, all the time and effort you invest in it will be well worth it. The world will never run short of unique faces, dynamic stories, and emotional portraits begging to be captured, and when the time comes to capture a portrait that moves the world, you’ll be prepared to do the moment justice.
Below, we’ve outlined seven tips that you should know as you dive into portraiture. From optimal lighting to dynamic props, you’re sure to find a tip that sparks your imagination. All we ask is that you keep that spark lit; run with whatever these tips may inspire and never look back!
We can’t wait to see what you create.
Get to know who you’re photographing.
One of our favorite things about portrait photography is the way it manages to unveil a person’s inner light. Unlock your ability to capture somebody’s essence and your portrait photography will drastically improve. One of the key ways to take an authentic portrait is by learning about and understanding your subject. This might mean meeting with your client before the shoot to discuss what they would love to see in their photographs; it might mean having a go-to set of questions that you’ve used and improved over time – questions that get your subject to open up and relax; or it might mean encouraging them to bring a close friend along who activates their most comfortable self.
Over time, you will naturally improve your ability to provoke comfort and authenticity in your subjects; But experimenting with these tips can help you get there even faster!
Incorporate unique props.
Playing with props is more than just a great way to give your portraits a signature feeling; it’s also fun. Props give you the opportunity to be creative while building upon your existing skills.
Did you know that the household items you already own can be a doorway to new and creative portraiture? From props that add color to shadow pattern tricks, we’ve compiled a list of 10 household items that can take your photography to the next level. Pick your favorites from this list and run with it!
Shoot during golden hour.
Golden hour didn’t become such a popular shooting time for no reason! Shooting during the hour before sunset will give your images a soft and dreamy aesthetic. The warm and diffused lighting of golden hour is also most likely to result in photographs your clients like of themselves! One of the hardest parts about portrait work can be navigating a client’s own insecurities and dislikes about their appearance. By shooting at golden hour, you give your client the opportunity to see themself in a whole new light – literally!
Get familiar with where you’re shooting.
Whether you’re hosting a portrait shoot in a studio, on the beach, at a carnival, or on a busy city street, learning the dos and don’ts of your shooting location is critical to successful portraits.
Knowing the best backgrounds, color schemes, and compositions of your shooting location before you arrive can save you ample time during the shoot. Not only does this help you appear more professional in front of your client, but it saves you the time you need to capture as many incredible portraits as possible. Plus, nothing would be worse than noticing an optimal portrait opportunity as soon as your client heads home. Learn your location, understand how lighting functions in the area, take note of backgrounds, and optimize your shoot.
Be mindful of client positioning.
Being mindful of your client’s foreground and background during a shoot can save you hours and hours in the editing stages of your portrait creation; or better yet: Save you from unsalvageable backgrounds altogether.
Watch out for any elements that distract from the aesthetic of your shoot. For example, if you’re hoping to achieve a timeless, romantic feel with a particular portrait shoot, avoid capturing a hyper-modern detail in the background of your image (such as a McDonald’s sign or electronic device). You’ll also want to keep an eye out for optical illusions that cause backgrounds to seem attached to your subject; ever seen a portrait where a tree appears to be growing out of the subject’s head?
Background mindfulness goes both ways. Keep your eyes peeled for elements that can add to your aesthetic! Did somebody park their 1972 red Chevy Impala right at the corner of where you’re shooting? It’s your lucky day! Make it part of your shot.
Find a medium you love.
Finding a medium you love to shoot with unlocks a passion for portrait photography that can’t be taught. Whether you have a love for bold digitals or dated analog images, finding the medium that excites you will help you move full speed toward your best portraits ever.
Finding your favorite medium includes finding the lenses and filters you love as well. Perhaps fish eye portraits are you calling; maybe you’ll become known for shooting with a broken lens. Whatever the medium or unique element of your portraiture may be only, one thing matters: that you find it! Which brings us to our final tip…
Never stop experimenting.
At the root of it all, we believe that the secret to incredible portraits is endless experimentation. The more you experiment, the more you learn about what works and what doesn’t work. Build these lists out, and you’ll be well on your way to a fool proof formula for magical portraits – every single time.
Experiment with the direction of your subject’s gaze. Shoot from a range of distances. Try your hand at shooting with flash. Shoot in different locations. Change your angle of capture on a regular basis. Experiment with unusual light sources. Get creative with unexpected ways of filtering your photos (pantyhose trick, anybody?). Shoot at high speeds. Play with self-portraiture. Alternate between film and digital.
There are dozens of decisions that go into every photograph. The next time you take a portrait, try writing down all the decisions that went into the final product. Then, think of all the different ways you could have tackled each decision. You’ll unlock a world of fun, and an archive of incredible portraits.