Beautiful portrait photography is both an art and a science. While the technical aspects of lighting, composition, focus, depth of field contribute to your photographs, it’s often the intangible things that make or break a portrait – like expression. Experts like Bruce Weber Photographer agree that something intangible makes an image look like a portrait. It’s about photographing people in a sensitive, intelligent, and tasteful way. It’s not enough to simply snap photos of your friends, family members, or models. It would be best to take it up a notch using lighting, composition, and expression techniques.
Here are six portrait photography tips from top portrait photographers. They’re well-versed in the technical aspects of photography but also understand how to make a photo look emotional.
Lighting Tips for Portrait Photography
No matter where you photograph your subject or what time of day it is, there are a few simple rules that should always apply. The first step is to pay attention to the light. It’s best to avoid harsh spotlights and set your subject facing away from the sun to avoid harsh shadows across his or her face. If you’re photographing indoors, seek out a diffused window light that will help soften shadows. If you are already set with an outdoor shoot, try experimenting with different angles to see which direction works best with the light.
If your subject is wearing glasses, make sure the flash isn’t directly in front of them. It will create a glare on their lenses that looks unflattering. Instead, place the flash directly to the side of them to avoid the glare.
Composition Tips for Portrait Photography
You, as a photographer, need to follow a few basic rules if you want your portraits to capture emotion and tell a story. For starters, portrait photography needs space in front of the subject. Place your subject far enough away from the background, so it doesn’t blend into the scenery. Give them room to move around if they want, and be sure that your background isn’t cluttered with things that distract from the subject.
Another rule is to never shoot directly into a light source, like the sun or a window. Doing this creates unflattering lens flares and underexposed areas in the photo. Instead, position your subject so that the light source is to their side or slightly behind them. This helps fill in shadows and gives you more exposure across your image.
If the background of your photo has an element, you don’t want to be featured – like a power line or branches sticking out from behind your subject – simply wait for it to pass out of the frame before taking the shot.
Expression Tips for Portrait Photography
Having your subject look relaxed but natural for successful portrait photography is key. The best way to achieve this is by using a few trade tricks. First, give them something to do with their hands while they’re standing or sitting for the photo. If you’re photographing two people together, have them put their arms around each other and lean in close.
Another trick is to give your subject something to look at. A great way to do this is by having their eyes follow a focal point like a lit candle or flower arrangement. Ask someone not in the photo to hold something that will give you a good expression on your subject. If someone is emoting, their eyes usually follow the object they’re looking at.
The best way to get a dynamic look on your subject’s face is by having them think of a time when they felt a strong feeling like happiness, anger, or sadness. This expression will then shine through in the photo.