The 7 Deadly Sins of Portrait Photography


Everybody makes mistakes, even the best photographers out there make them. The key isn't to not make mistakes but to be aware of them and to learn from them. Here are 7 Deadly Sins to be aware of.


1. Poor Planning – One thing I always do for every shoot is arrive early, even to locations I use often. Each session has different variables so I look for different backdrops I can use depending on number of people, what type of session it is (maternity, family, first birthday, etc.) because I shoot them all differently. Planning out the flow of the session saves time by going from one pre-determined area to another. Another advantage is scouting out unforseen landscape changes, for example, that beautiful tree that was great for family sessions was badly damaged in the storm over the weekend or maybe a boring patch of grass now has beauitful wildflowers in it that were never there before.

2. Never Shooting in Bad Weather – Just because weather conditions aren't ideal doesn't mean a session should be scrapped. You should definitely reschedule the session if the weather is extreme or dangerous, however, if the skies are overcast and the biggest threat is a little drizzle then get your camera out and shoot! Overcast skies are actually a blessing in disguise, acting as a huge diffuser for the sun which allows you to photograph your subjects facing any direction and in any area without having to worry about harsh shadows or bright light from the sun.


3. Relying on Post Production – Sure, editing software is a great tool for photographers but if it is relied on too much, not only does it show in your images, but you don't grow as a photographer. Don't get me wrong, editing is great for removing unwanted objects from photos, cropping, and a little basic tweaking of your images but mastering your technique and learning how to get it right in camera is a real time saver. Check your settings before and during your shoot to ensure that you're getting the best possible shots in the moment.

4. Busy Backgrounds – It's important to find backgrounds that are neutral and won't distract from the subjects in your photos. If you can't find a plain or neutral background, then make sure it is as out of focus as possible. Make sure there is room above your subject so that there are no light posts or trees appearing to grow out of your subject's head. In portrait photography, the focus should always be on the people in the photograph and not on environmenal elements unless they are part of a story.


5. Wrong Focus Point – Always remember that eyes are the window to the soul! Eyes are the most important element in a portrait so make sure the eyes are in focus. If shooting a group photo, make sure everyone is on the same plane and focus on the eye closest to you.

6. Not Connecting With Your Subject – Everyone feels weird and uncomfortable in front of a camera so if you are a portrait photographer, you have to be a people person! You need to have the skill to make your subjects come out of their shell. Chat with them as you walk to the area you want to photograph them in, ask questions, tell jokes. You have to be able to coax out authentic smiles and expressions or your images won't feel as real. This is especially important with children who may be wary of your big camera, so make sure to be silly and talk to them without your camera for a little bit so they warm up to you beforehand and they feel free to be themselves.

7. Not Shooting at the Right Height – Shooting at different heights is something you should pay particular attention to when photographing children. I always want to capture their world as they see it, so you will always find me kneeling, sitting, or even laying flat on my belly when my subject is a child. For adults, you want to be on their eye level or slightly above for a more flattering angle.

Now that you know some of the most common mistakes of both beginner and experienced photographers, try to be aware of them while shooting. You will most likely make these mistakes, but try to learn from them when you do. Try to visualize how your images may have changed and adapt these changes for your next shoot.


About Author

Joanna Smith is a portrait photographer in the Chicago area specializing in children, family, and maternity portraits. Find her at her website and blog.

Who say that Post Production is a problem…? Why…? Some images can’t be do it directly from a camera with out the help of some kind of extra process. And in this article the most important one is missing , PLEASE , use the correct focal lens in a close up or waistline up portrait. I do see people using a 24 mm for that , and if you want to see big hands or noses is ok (?) , but if you really want to flatter your subject , use 85 mm plus , will give you more pleasing body proportions.

I think it is necessary to see that the image will not be as processed as in camera if the photographer were a bit to focus the trees rather than subject too

Great Article! I’m sure I’ve made all of these mistakes at one point or another and know the feeling of looking at an image that could have been incredible after the fact.

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