3 Tips for Better Portraits

3 Tips for Better Portraits


My favorite things about portraiture (that is, photography of live subjects, normally people) is that you really never run out of subjects, and it allows you to slow down and really see everyday beauty, like three of my adorable babydoll lambs below.

Photo By: Kristy Floyd


It really doesn’t matter whether you’re photographing your kids, your dogs, your friends, or in my case farm animals there’s usually someone somewhere that can be a model for your portraits.


I am not saying that just because there’s ample subject matter doesn’t mean that portraiture is necessarily easy… It can be anything but. However, it’s probably the most fulfilling form of photography, getting to capture a moment in the life of someone, a moment that can tell a story of its own.


Focus on the Eyes


One of my favorite tricks of the trade that I like to share with burgeoning photographers is that the focus of your portrait should typically be on the subject’s eyes. We have all heard that the eyes are the window to the soul, and photographing them well gives you the perfect opportunity to truly capture the ethos of your subject.


Someone looking directly at the camera creates such a different feel to a photo than when your client is looking off into the distance or even into the eyes of another human being, so one of the first decisions you’ll have to make is where you want them to look.


Photo By: Alexandru Zdrodau


Two main points when thinking about eyes in your portrait photography:


First, if your subject is looking away from the camera, off into the distance, you’ll want to pay attention to the direction your subject is looking.


This is important because you want to give them some room in the frame in the same direction they’re looking to establish a connection between their eyes and the focus of their attention as seen in the image below.

Photo By: Daniel Garcia


Secondly, consider the message being conveyed in their eyes.


This might sound a little deep or philosophical, but you need to try to match the emotions being expressed in the eyes.


For example, if the subject’s eyes are focused yet mysterious, you don’t want a bright sunny setting for the portrait.


Instead, opt for a shoot in the shadows where you can see the details of the subject’s eyes much better. Just take a moment to look at the photo below, her eyes are mesmerizing.


Photo By: Alexandru Zdrobau



Curate a Natural Environment


Learning to shoot portraits in which your subjects are free to act naturally and relaxed will always yield the best results.


That doesn’t mean that posed portraits with people smiling at the camera don’t have their place it’s just that oftentimes posed photos aren’t a true representation of the person you’re photographing.


If taking better portraits is your goal you’ll want to help your subject relax by communicating with them which will help lower their inhibitions. Even though taking selfies has become commonplace and has helped people to become more relaxed being the subject of a photo, having a third-party professional taking one’s photographs is still a once in a blue moon activity that can garner a little nervousness and apprehension.


By simply engaging your subject in conversation, you can ease their nerves and help them forget that you’re even taking their photo.


Photo By: Martin Jernberg


Continuing to shoot when the subject is in-between takes or poses often yields amazingly candid shots which can result in some of the best photos of the entire shoot. Moreover, taking many more photos than necessary will help your client become accustomed to the sound of the shutter, and, eventually, they’ll start to ignore it.


Photo By: Allef Vinicius


Capturing candid photos like these is much more about the experience that the subject is having as opposed to photographing some idealized notion of what a  person should look like in a portrait.


Photograph Outside the Lines

Photo By: Courtney Prather

At first, photographing outside the lines sounds like a crazy piece of advice given the pressure we’re under as photographers to take excellent photos, but when you think about it, leaving the rule book behind and just breaking the rules can be the key to unlocking your creative insight.


Photography is an act of marking art, and the best artwork is not duplicative or formulaic; this means finding new and exciting ways to take photos is part and parcel with your job.


If that requires you being a little goofy and putting yourself out there to help your subjects find the magic moment in which you can pull to the surface the details that create a perfect portrait, then so be it; the proof will be in the pudding.


Now What?


It takes a lot of trial and error to be a good photographer, and while you’ll need to listen to what some people say about the work you create, ultimately, you just need to learn it’s more than enough to be you!


Happy Shooting!



Everyday Canvas Girl