The ability to take great portraits depends on following a few essential “rules” I’ve boiled down to these portrait photography tips. Even if you are just starting out, following these guidelines can assist you in improving your portraits.
Types of Portraits
First, it is important to understand the different types of portraits which you can take. There are three basic types of portraits. They are 1) close-ups or head shots, 2) head and shoulder shots and 3) environmental shots. An environmental shot is a type of portrait where the photographer focuses on the subject and the environment that surrounds the subject. This type of shot provides character to the subject.
The type of portrait you choose depends on the purpose of the portrait and the mood you want to convey. A more formal portrait, for example, might feature an upper body shot. A less formal portrait might be an environmental shot. A great environmental portrait can be achieved provided that you frame the environment and the subject well. Arches, doorways and windows can all be used to your advantage for framing an environmental portrait.
Portrait Photography Tips: Posing
There are also different ways in which the subject can be posed. Many of the best portraits are taken when the subject is not actually looking directly into the camera. In fact, great portraits are often taken when the subject is completely comfortable and natural. Allow the subject to sit or stay comfortably.
You might have them sit on a chair or even on the floor. Encourage them to be comfortable. If you need less of a relaxed look, you can always move in closer to focus on a face shot.
Portrait Photography Tips: Depth of Field and Focal Length
Both depth of field and focal length are critical to creating great portraits. When you have a shallow depth of field, the focal point will be sharp while everything else becomes blurry. This can prevent the background from distracting the viewer’s attention from the subject.
A larger aperture setting will result in a shallow depth of field with a background that is softer while the subject is sharp. Likewise a smaller aperture setting will result in both the foreground and the background appearing in focus and sharp.
Zooming or walking in closer will help you to fill the frame with the subject of the portrait. This does not necessarily mean you must do a facial or close-up shot. Filling the frame with your subject will still allow you to achieve a ‘tight’ full-body shot.
Portrait Photography Tips: Lighting
Lighting is critical to good portrait photography. There are various types of lighting that can be used in portrait photography. Main light should typically be diffused or you may have results that are too harsh. You can diffuse the main light by placing something nearly transparent between the main light and the subject. Generally, the main light should be positioned approximately 45 degrees either to the left or the right of the portrait subject.
Fill lights are also used, typically opposite the main light source. Fill lights should be used with less intensity than the main light source; however. One of the advantages of fill lights is that they can soften shadows that may be created as a result of the main light.
Side lights or hair lights can provide lighting for the subject’s hair. This can give your portrait depth and can also help in separating your subject from the background.