Portrait Photography for Beginners


Authored by Andrew Kennett in Photography
Published on 10-04-2009

Portraits can create a lasting visual reference for memories of loved ones, and they can be used to create a stirring emotional response. The best portraits capture not only the way the subject looks but something more about this person as well. While creating the best portraits may take time and practice, good portrait photography is easily within the grasp of beginners. The following tips will help the beginning photographer take these great shots.

Fill the foreground

Do not be afraid to get close to your subject and fill the frame with their image. As you get farther away and rely on the zoom more, you lose detail and perspective. In the end, your portrait loses the feel of intimacy between camera and subject that makes a warm and memorable portrait.

It’s in the eyes

The oft repeated line states that the eyes are the windows to the soul, and this is no truer anywhere than in portrait photography. The eyes catch the attention of the viewer and can be the most expressive feature on any subject. By making use of this fact, you can make good portraits into great ones. First, try placing the lines on a natural focal point of the picture, either on one of the imaginary horizontal lines dividing the picture into thirds or at the intersection of those lines with the corresponding vertical ones. Another technique is to have the subject look past the camera and to one side. This gives an air of mystery to the portrait. For a feeling of intimacy, have the subject look at something in the frame of the picture. This technique is maximized when there are two subjects in the portrait and they look at one another.

Props make photos pop

Sometimes a subject’s personality just does not come out in a photograph of themselves alone. In these cases, a prop of some sort can really make the portrait great. Is you subject an outdoorsman? Posing him against a tree or perched on a rock can bring this out. Does your subject love pets? Then have her pose holding her kitten or feeding an apple to her horse.

Backgrounds are not always boring

While a good number of portraits will have backgrounds that are out of focus or nondescript, this does not have to be the case. Much like a prop, a background can speak to the personality of the subject. Consider photographing the outdoorsman in the woods or the pet-lover in a dog park.

Change your perspective

Too often, beginners get stuck in the rut of taking photographs, especially portraits, from a straight-on, eye-level perspective. Getting lower or higher will change the angle of your shot and bring a fresh point of view to your photographs. Do not be afraid to move around and experiment with shots from different angles.

These tips can help a beginning photographer take great portraits. However, nothing can substitute for experience. Luckily, the growth of digital photography has made practice much cheaper than in the days of film processing. So, all would-be portrait photographers are encouraged to get out and practice their craft.


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