© Copyright Ed Krimen
Photography tips often come with a lot of baggage. There’s often so many details to learn that we get overwhelmed and find it difficult to improve our skills. I’m guilty on both ends: Some of my articles have a lot of detail in them and, at the same time, I find it difficult to learn new things from others because I feel there’s often too much to learn. Obviously, practice is very important and is key to improving our skills, but we are often impatient. We want immediate results!
Here’s four essential portrait photography tips, but if you can remember only two of them, remember the first two. These first two tips are specific to portraits and you should always remember them when shooting portraits.
The last two tips will definitely help keep your portrait photos from being boring, but the tips aren’t specific to portrait photography and will help you with all types of photography.
These four tips were written by Randy McKown in his article entitled “4 Quick Portrait Photography Tips” at XposurePro.com.
First, two portrait-specific tips:
1. Focus on the eyes. Keep the face of your subject in focus as much as possible, and especially the eyes. Randy McKown advises: “A good rule of thumb is to always focus on the eyes, then recompose your subject in the frame for your desired composition before pressing the shutter release all the way down.” The fundamentals of this tip seem to be ingrained in our human reflexes. Without knowing it, we usually react to people’s eyes whether in person or in photographs to see where they’re looking and to try to sense what they’re feeling.
I would add that 99 percent of the time, yes, you should focus on the eyes. But don’t be afraid to break the rule. For instance, your subject might have other unique features, such as extraordinary lips or cute earrings, that stand out on their own and deserve their own close-ups. But yes, 99 percent of the time, focus on the eyes.
2. Stay in the shade. Bright outdoor light can be great for landscape photos, but not for portraits. Direct sunlight on your subjects will result in harsh shadows, raccoon eyes, and squinting. Plus, if you put your subject in half shade and half direct sunlight, then your camera won’t be able to handle this wide range of light and you won’t be able to get a good exposure.
Randy McKown recommends: “Find a shaded area to keep the sun off your subject. The shade from a building works great but any solid shaded area will work.” You can use a tree to shade your subject, but make sure there are no rays of light coming through between the leaves and branches, which can result in blown out highlights.
You can shoot in the sun, but if you don’t have special equipment, it’s best to shoot around sunrise or sunset when the light is not direct and bright as it is at mid-day.
This photo of Andi shown above was shot in late afternoon with the sun blocked on the other side of this brick wall.
Next, two tips that will help with all types of photography, but especially portrait photography:
3. Experiment with angles. Portrait photos shot straight on can be boring, such as the photos on driver’s licenses. Not only are they dull, lifeless, and without depth, but your subject will probably feel awkward and uncomfortable if there isn’t more creativity or a natural feel to the shot. Even people who don’t like getting their picture taken will feel like it’s just another boring photo if the photo is shot straight on.
To liven up the shot, climb up on something, such as a chair or a bench, to shoot down at your subject. Or, get down on your knees or sit on the ground and shoot up. As Randy McKown suggests: “Experiment and have fun with it. Whatever you do don’t stick them dead center right in front of you, ask them to say cheese and expect a masterpiece.”
4. Eliminate distractions. This tip goes to the core of what I stress here in the Photobird Daily: the importance of composition, which you can read more about in the article “Composition Is Key“.
Randy McKown writes: “Remember you are shooting a portrait. You’re not photographing everything around them.” You don’t need to photograph the person from head to toe and you don’t need to photograph the landscape. For more on this concept, read the Photobird Daily article “Simplify“.
If you find a lot of good photographic opportunities for your subject and your location, don’t try to capture everything in one shot. Instead, shoot a series of multiple photos that focus on individual, interesting elements of the person and your surroundings. Then you can show them all together in an album. For some portrait examples of what to do and what not to do, read my article in the Photobird Daily entitled “Portrait Posing Tips and Composition Tips“.
One of the best ways to eliminate distractions is by moving in close and filling the photographic frame with your subject. Read more about this composition technique in the Photobird Daily article “Get Closer. Closer. Even Closer!”
Be sure to read Randy McKown’s complete article with examples entitled “4 Quick Portrait Photography Tips” at XposurePro.com.