Understanding the Fundamentals of Portrait Photography

By: Peter Steph

Portrait photography can be very worthwhile. It’s a occasion to show off the best side (literally) of somebody, and produce a shot that conveys something singular.

The basic guideline of excellent portraiture is look at your subject.

This sounds self-evident however take a leaf through all the shots you have of your loved ones and friends and spot if they don’t have a monotony about them. Head and shoulders, passport photos, awkward poses, uncomfortable expressions, blank looks, self-conscious smiles…?

Each person has some exceptional characteristic that merits photographing. It doesn't’t have to be flawless skin, a remodeled nose, pouting mouth, dazzling eyes. But it ought to be a certain quality that best conveys the person’s individuality.

Sound intimidating? It isn't provided you keep to certain rudimentary tips.

Don’t make use of direct flash.

Flash is light at its most dull. Occasionally it can really elevate an image into stunning life, but typically making use of existing light is preferable. Flash tends to cause a bland look and the flash going off takes away any warm environment you may have created.
Employ a telephoto lens. 105-135mm is preferable. Wide angle is wholly unsuitable.

Compose on the vertical.

Turn the camera on its side. A portrait customarily includes the head and upper torso and occasionally the hands. These work best in a vertical configuration. Horizontal framing causes broad open spaces on both sides of the subject that could take away from the feeling of the photo.
Preferably manage the subject's wardrobe.

If this is a partially formal portrait you will be able to have some control over the clothing. Solid, dark or light colors work best. Stripes, checks, swirls, and patterns bewilder the viewer’s eye. Strong colors can overwhelm the skin tones. With regards to a male or older lady, cover the shoulders, for a young lady leave them bare.

Try to employ the available light to good effect.

Position the person where the light is soft and originating from one main source. This can give a moody air and generally gets the eyes added attention. You can use a reflector on the shadowed side to ‘bounce the light’ if the disparity between highlight and shade is very strong. You could make a basic reflector using aluminum foil on a sheet of cardboard.
Decide on the person’s ‘best side’.

People in actual fact do possess one. Arrange one shoulder turned towards the camera so one side is favored a little. Try the position the other way and judge which one is better.

Permit the subject to be seated.

This helps them to loosen up and assists you to be able to direct them more easily.

Control the person.

In portrait photography, you’re addressing slight movements and shifts of arrangement and perspective. Seek to shoot slightly above the person to make the eyes open wider. Bring down the shoulder closest to the camera, get the head level or at an attractive incline. Bring down the chin a bit.

Certain people look best as they smile and some don’t. You can find more attractive expressions and nuances without a smile. Ask the subject to think of something they enjoy doing. This will raise subtle lights in the eyes and shifts in the mouth lines.

If the hands are within the shot, have a good look at them. Hands can look unsightly or ungainly. A gently closed fist is most times neutral. Allow the hands to rest on a knee or in the lap and work out what you have. Cut them out later if they do not work out.

If you’re photographing candid portraits the same techniques are relevant but in these shots you should re-position to get the most effective angle.

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