By Simone Severo
Photographing a portrait is not the same as any other picture. A portrait, in its true essence, is one image that can capture mood, emotion, history, and the entire representation of a person. Using proper lighting is crucial and digital DSLR cameras allow photographers to make sure the core features of the subject are represented in the shot as well as they are in real life.
To really bring your portrait photographs to life and capture that one image powerful enough to define a person it’s important that you keep certain guidelines in mind—you want to allow for creativity but you don’t want to image to stray away from the basic principles that make portraits what they are. Here are 7 photography tips to improve portraits and take your photography to the next level:
1. Show Your Subject – This seems like something that should be obvious but it tends to get lost in a lot of photographs. It could be that too many people want to get creative with their images and turn it into an entire scene, but portraits should focus on the person and not on the background or scenery. When looking at the image, you want viewers to know that it is a portrait. You want this to be an image of the subject, not a photograph of the subject in a scene.
2. Focus On The Eyes – You’ve heard it time and time again: the eyes are the window to the soul. When it comes to portrait photography, the eyes are the cornerstone of the image—without capturing the right look in the subject’s eye you can completely change the emotion and mood of the photograph. Regardless of the look you are going for, make sure that the eyes are sharp. Taking a portrait that has dull, blurred eyes will take away from the entire image and lose some of the emotional connection that is felt when viewed.
3. Avoid The Sun – Lighting is extremely important to taking photographs. Without proper lighting, it doesn’t matter what type of digital DSLR cameras you choose from, the photo will still lack depth. When it comes to portrait photography, however, the sun can be your enemy. The reason being, it often casts large shadows that can take away from the face, it can cause deep-set eyes to have dark circles appear around them (making the subject look like a raccoon), and—worst of all—cause the subject to squint if they are facing it.
If an outdoor shoot is taking place, doing it at a time where the sun will be to your benefit (usually very early—within the first hour of sunrise) but as the sun goes higher you can find yourself faced with many problems. In addition to the shadows and glare, direct sunlight outside can cause the person you’re photography to sweat, make-up to smear, and a myriad of other problems you don’t want to deal with.
4. Pick Your Backgrounds Carefully – Regardless of where the photo is being taken, try not to let the background take over the image. Instead of having a pond, busy street, or solitary white tree in the background that can draw attention away from the subject, keep the scenery relatively plain and soft in color. Make sure to quickly check your digital DSLR camera’s screen everyone once in a while to make sure nothing is showing up as a large distraction at first glance.
5. Get Closer – A quick way to turn a portrait session into any other type of photograph is by staying too far away from the subject. The further you get from your subject, distinguishing tiny details about the person you’re photographing will become. At too great a distance, your subject could be anyone; they lose the emotion, connection, and uniqueness that must be present for great portrait photographs. Getting close to your subject will allow you to reveal a lot of texture within the face, more personality, and keep them as the focal point. Being able to see the tiny creases around the cheeks on a smiling portrait and a twinkle in the subject’s eye will add a layer of life and realism to the image.
6. Add Color For Impact – Sometimes it can be hard to make a subject really pop no matter what angles you try, what digital DSLR camera you have, what backdrop or scenery you choose, and just about everything else. The problem could be that the colors between the subject and the scenery are keeping things dull. Shirts, for example, can play off the color of the subject’s eyes to enhance their face as a focal point, keeping the viewer entranced with the subject.
Contrasting colors can also be a way to make portraits jump to life. Imagine a fall day with blurred orange foliage as the back drop. In the center of the image, you place the subject with her bright blue eyes and soft blue sweater. The sharp contrast between the orange background and the subject’s blue outfit will draw attention to the image and add richness to the portrait.
7. Use Architecture To Your Advantage – Instead of using depth of field to cause every background to look blurry (a technique fine in its own right), you can also use scenery to your advantage by framing your subject with it. Windows, bridges, and doors can be the perfect natural frame to draw the viewer’s attention and keep the focus on the subject.
Ultimately taking portraits with your digital DSLR camera is about capturing a moment of honesty, emotion, mood, and character in a single shot. Using the photography tips above you can improve the way you frame your subject and keep the focus on them so they aren’t lost within the rest of the image.
Manipulating color, architecture, depth of field, lighting, and background will be your biggest challenges when it comes to the photographs; by using each of these to your advantage, however, you can completely transform boring headshots into stunning portrait photographs.