10 Portrait Photography Tips

Words by Scott Bourne - A Platypod Pro
Edited by Eryka Bagwell

The ability to make a good portrait will equip every photographer with a purpose that is beyond noble - it's sublime. Portrait photography allows us to protect and preserve memories and then - turns our cameras into time travel devices that allow us to go back in time to relive those moments.

Here are 10 portrait photography tips that we think will help you find your way to better portraiture.

1. Get to know your subject. The more you know about the person you are photographing, the better your portraits will be. If you can get on common ground with them - get them talking about something that they truly care about AND that YOU are truly interested in hearing, your portrait session has a fantastic chance of being a great one.

2. Choose a simple background. The background may be the most important part of a portrait. If it's busy, then it's hard for people to find the person in the middle of all the chaos. Look for a simple, uncluttered background to help your subject stand out.

3. Find or make some beautiful light. Soft light is usually most likely to provide you with pleasing results. To get soft light, look for a large light source that you can move as close as possible to your subject. It's counterintuitive, but trust us. If you can do this one thing, the light on your subject will make them look their best.

4. If you decide to use flash, do not under any circumstances use on-camera flash. This one simple rule (if applied religiously) will elevate your portraiture. Get the flash OFF the camera. Have someone else hold it or use a stand. Put it at a 45 degree angle and slightly camera left or right. You will avoid red-eye this way and the light will be more flattering and less harsh.

5. Try to put the camera at eye level. This creates an intimacy in your portraiture that makes it more compelling. Whatever you do, don't shoot up on your subject (unless you have a creative or compelling reason to do so.) Shooting a portrait from a low angle will exaggerate the size of your subject’s hips and can give your model the appearance of a double chin if they’re looking down at your camera.

6. Select a short to medium telephoto lens for your portrait work. Something between 80 and 120mm will generally be most flattering. Wider angle lenses will make subjects look fatter. Longer telephoto lenses will cause distortion. This focal range gives photographers a comfortable shooting distance for a head and shoulders shot and doesn’t leave the subject feeling intimidated by the proximity of your camera.

7. Use props to help put your subjects at ease (especially if they are male) and also to help tell a story. Props are great ice breakers. Having something to interact with often makes a subject feel less unnatural in front of your camera. With kids, for instance, a toy can be very effective, while something as simple as a football, a book or pair of sunglasses can give an adult enough of a distraction to act naturally.

8. Always keep eye contact with your subject. It establishes a human connection that gets passed on to the portrait. It also creates more intimacy. And while you're at it, remember the camera looks both ways. If there's a smile in your eyes, and you have a friendly look, your subject will share those traits. The opposite is also true so make sure YOU are in the right head space to make the portrait.

9. Select a fast enough shutter speed to freeze movement from your subject and to protect against your own camera movement. This simple rule will help you achieve sharper photos. If your portraits are blurry, they won't have much impact. Using a faster shutter speed (even if you're tripod mounted) will help because even if you're not moving, the subject might be moving. (Don't be afraid to raise your ISO to get a faster shutter speed. Modern noise reduction software is cheap, easy to use, and reliable. It's better to have a slight amount of digital noise in your photos than subjects that are blurry.)

10. Use a wide aperture. Using a large aperture creates shallow depth of field. This is where your subject is in focus while everything else in the background and foreground blurs out. It helps draw the viewer's eye to the subject and not the background.

Everyone needs a portrait which means everyone needs a portrait photographer. If you can get good at making portraits, your work will always be in demand. Practice some of these tips and see for yourself if they don't help elevate your portrait game.

If you have a final image and BTS that you’d like to share and potentially be featured on our blog (newsletter or social media pages), please contact us via service@platypod.com