These 5 Tips Will Improve Your Portrait Photography

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Portrait photography tips are essential for any portraitist no matter of the current level of knowledge and skills.

Capturing a unique, dynamic, emotional portrait isn’t easy. While some portrait photographers may have a certain “knack” for the craft, that doesn’t mean they haven’t dedicated numerous hours to shaping and refining their skills. You know how it goes — when someone is really good at something, they make it look easy.

If one of your goals is to become a first-rate portrait photographer, know that you will need to spend untold hours in focused practice — focused practice meaning you’re applying very specific techniques or ideas, not simply shooting for the sake of shooting (which does have its place).

Read on for 5 tips that you can practice to become a better portrait photographer.

Know Who You’re Photographing

Friends and family aside, time constraints limit how much you can know about the individual sitting or standing in front of your lens. But good portrait photographers know how to make their subjects comfortable and get them to open up, thanks to portrait photography tips.

If possible, meet with them before the portrait session and learn as much as you can about them, including what they would like their photos to look like. If that’s not an option, have a list of questions prepared for the day of the shoot. And always offer your subject the option of bringing a friend along.

It’s equally important for you as the photographer to be open and receptive to the situation. If you’re tense or uncomfortable, others will likely sense that and respond accordingly.

men's blue and white button-up collared top
Photo by christian buehner

Know Where You’re Photographing 

Knowing your setting is as important as knowing your model. It doesn’t matter whether you’re outdoors or in a studio, you need to know all the important little details about your shooting environment.

It is key to your success to know what the lighting is like in a particular spot at a given time of day; where you should set up your backdrop; what interesting landmarks are nearby.

Trying to find locations or figure things out during a shoot will probably create an awkward situation for both you and your subject, and you will surely waste precious time that could have otherwise been spent capturing more portraits.

smiling man standing near green trees
Photo by Warren Wong

Know The Value Of Props

Whether a book, newspaper, food, a mirror, an article of clothing, or virtually any household item, props can add an additional level of depth and dynamism to a portrait. Additionally, props are fun and may provide a means of connection and familiarity for your model, which is only going to help make them more comfortable. That’s a good thing.

woman with a hat portrait photography tips
Photo by sasint

Know The Importance Of Positioning

This is less about posing and more about being aware of where you are placing your subject in relation to the overall scene.

You’ve heard it before: mind the background. Make sure there are no distracting elements in the frame. Often all it takes is moving your subject a bit in one direction or the other; saves you the time of cloning out tree branches shot after shot.

Also, make sure the background complements the look you are attempting to achieve, whether in terms of color coordination or thematic aesthetic.

woman standing in front of multicolored wall
Photo by Tyler Nix

Know That You Don’t Have To Know Everything 

Which means you’re free to experiment. You might try different filers or non-traditional focal lengths. Shoot in unexpected surroundings. 

Try all sorts of different angles and poses. Use unusual light sources. Use a variety of light modifiers. Shoot on film. 

There are so many decisions to be made during the creation of a portrait and, once you’ve figured out the basics, you will discover that there are no rules that govern how you have to respond to the decisions that you must make.

black haired man making face
Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde

Final Thoughts On Portrait Photography Tips

Whether you take a more traditional approach to your portraits or you lean toward the experimental side, the ultimate goal is to craft something that authentically represents the person in front of your camera.

There are many ways to accomplish that, but the creation of any good portrait rests on a few commonalities, a few of which are discussed here. Shooting while keeping the points above in mind — focused practice — will propel you towards unique, authentic portraiture.

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About Author

Jason Little is a photographer, author and stock shooter. You can see Jason’s photography on his Website or his Instagram feed.

I have recently retired and would like to get back into Photography. Perhaps even return to my previous Professional level. However, I have been completely out for slightly less than a decade and need to review and relearn much.

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