Portrait photography is an incredible form of art. With the right approach, a portrait can capture the essence of a person. It can elicit an emotional reaction through posing, lighting, and expression. Elite portraiture experts like Annie Leibovitz manage to capture more than a person; they capture a soul.
Honing your craft as a portrait photographer will take years of practice, but here are some amazing portrait photography hacks you should know for your journey.
Choose a Neutral Background
Whenever possible, choose a neutral background for your portraits. You want the person or people in the image to be the focal point, with nothing distracting in the background. Unfortunately, getting a neutral background is sometimes impossible, especially when taking photos at attractions or in busy locations. For those cases, you can always remove people or debris using an editing app like Facetune.
Natural backgrounds tend to be an excellent option for outdoor photography as well as distant cityscapes and buildings. You could also go for a wall or neutral backdrop if shooting in studio. Consider experimenting with texture as well— grass, stone, glass, etc.
Focus on the Eyes
Focusing on the eyes is a foundational portrait photography tip. Keep this in mind, even when you’re trying different angles and poses in which the eyes aren’t focused on the camera. Start by shooting at eye level, then adjusting your angles while still aiming for the eyes as you snap your shots.
The eyes tend to have the truest form of expression on someone’s face, for better or for worse. You can really tell the difference during candid shots versus overly posed photos, especially if your subject isn’t a professional model.
Create a Comfortable Environment
To get more candid shots and natural expressions, you’ll need to create a comfortable environment for your subjects. Start with some light conversation to create a more relaxed atmosphere. You can do this while testing the light and setting up, so they start to feel more at ease in front of the camera.
Consider the tone you’re going for with your portraits and use artistic stimulation to set the mood. If your photographs are meant to capture happiness with smiles and laughter, tell some jokes and ask the subject about funny memories. You can even put on a comedic podcast or show in the background. Conversely, if you’re aiming for a more severe and artistic display, use music to create an appropriate emotional response. You can always ask your subject to choose stimulation that speaks to them.
Perfect Your Lighting
When taking portrait photos, it’s best to start with diffused light facing the subject. This creates an even profile and eliminates any awkward shadows or sunny spots. Once you have your baseline, you can start to play with it, taking the photos from different angles as needed.
Once you have a feel for the basics of lighting, challenge yourself to take portraits in all light settings. Have a friend pose in the golden hour or at high noon outside. Remember that taking amazing photos is about learning the rules so you can break them later.
Determine Which Lens is Best
There’s no one best lens for portrait photography— everyone has their favorite. Your lens choice ultimately comes down to how to execute your unique vision.
For example, if you’re taking a photo in which the natural background or scenery plays a vital role in the overall look and feel of the image, it might make sense to use a wide-angle lens. Conversely, if you want a close crop of your model’s profile on a neutral background while you focus on how the light from the window blinds plays on their face, you may prefer a telephoto lens.
With these hacks, you can start to find your signature style and become a better portrait photographer.