Portrait photography, who doesn’t love it? As a photographer, you probably enjoy both–looking at picture-perfect portraits and shooting them. Portrait photography allows you to bring out the hidden characteristics of a person. It’s a magical way of conveying a strong message with just one frame.
Even if the subject had a million portraits taken before, a talented photographer still finds something new to depict. Something unique that will amaze both the subject and the viewers. It’s because portraits offer nearly complete freedom of composition. Architecture and landscape photos will never offer us as many opportunities for creative work. It’s really up to you how you want to portray the subject. You can change the location, be creative with the lighting, and even ask for a distinct facial expression. You also have artistic freedom when it comes to the subject’s clothes, hairstyle, or even the angle of their head.
The deeper into the subject’s soul you dig, the better the portrait you’ll get. Often, all you need is just a few seconds with your subject. Other times, however, it may take hours to get to know your subject and find that hidden look before you walk away with the results that satisfy you.
Each photographer has a unique approach and technique to shooting compelling portraits. That said, there are universal methods that always get you there. Here are the 7 most important universal methods..
1. Establish a Connection With Your Subject
Handing a bunch of commands to somebody or moving them around like a prop will naturally stiffen them up. The best way to loosen people up is to find a connection with them. You can do so by being genuinely interested in them. Ask questions and listen carefully to what they have to say. More importantly, listen to the feelings behind the words. Based on what they tell you and what you pick up, craft a concept for the shoot.
Just make sure you won’t turn this into an interrogation. It can be challenging to build a connection with people on an emotional level because people are prudent about showing their emotions. Being open, honest, and comfortable with your own emotions often helps eliminate that barrier. Giving sincere feedback and keeping subject’s involved during the shoot also works wonders.
2. Nail the Location
You probably know that locations with beautiful textures, interesting geometric shapes, or layers work well for portraits. And it will likely not surprise you that places with leading lines, like fences, handrails, roads, paths, or even rows of trees, make a good location for a portrait shoot as these lines help create depth and draw the viewer’s eye to the subject. However, these are merely technical aspects. To really nail the location, you should start from a meaning.
Sure, portraits with the subject against a beautiful background render a beautiful image. But nothing more. If you really want to tell a story with your image, try to find a meaningful location. One that adds to the story or emotion and has a meaning to the portrait subject.
3. Experiment With Pose and Composition
As mentioned earlier, portrait photography gives you a lot of freedom when it comes to composition. Use it to make your portraits come alive. Shoot from different angles and perspectives. Get creative with color. And don’t be afraid to fill the frame. It makes finer details like wrinkles, skin texture, and sweat stand out.
You can also play around with the direction of the subject’s body, head, or eyes. And never shy away from asking for a specific look or emotion. The playful aspects of experimenting often create an animated and lively atmosphere for shooting portraits.
4. Use a Fast Lens for a Shallow Depth of Field
A lens with a larger maximum aperture and a smaller minimum f-number, aka a fast lens, can achieve the same exposure as an average lens with a faster shutter speed. That means more light will reach the sensor, which, in turn, will give you greater control over the depth of field and bokeh.
A shallow depth of field separates the subject from the background. That eliminates the clutter and distractions and ensures the focus remains on the subject.
5. Use External Soft Light
Hardly ever a hard light is a good option for shooting portraits. It introduces unflattering shadows and makes unwanted textures, like skin imperfections, pop.
The forgiving nature of a soft light makes it a much better option for portraits. Not only will you flatter your subjects by making them appear warm, welcoming, and friendly, but you will also save yourself lots of editing hours.
6. Play With Props
People tend to have a hard time positioning their hands when posing. To get those awkward hands out of the way, accessorize them. An umbrella, a bag, a book–pretty much everything goes. Plus, a meaningful and justified prop can help you transform a simple portrait into a captivating story.
You can also use props to add ambiance to a portrait or contextualize the subject. Not to mention adding humor or mystery. Props are also great for loosening a nervous subject. But only if the prop feels natural to them. Otherwise, it can instead push them further out of their comfort zone and make them more awkward and tense.
7. Forget About All Those Rules!
Forget the rule of thirds or the leading lines. Heck, even forget that you should always shoot with the sun at your back. Every now and then, be bold and Break the Rules of Photography. You might be surprised by the results!
There’s a great saying! The rules and guidelines of photography provide an important framework, but once you master the basics, there are no limits to personal, artistic expression.
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