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5 Tips to Learn Portrait Photography

Tips • April. 6, 2022

To become a great portrait photographer, you need to learn how to use your camera, choose the perfect lighting and know how to pose your model. It’s a multi-layered role but I’ve got 5 simple, but highly effective tips that you can put into action straight away.

These portrait photography tips will help you take better photos of friends, family and clients immediately. You won’t need expensive gear either, after all it’s the photographer that makes the image, not the camera.

1. Focus on the eyes

A photographer’s purpose is to capture a person’s attitude, character, and personality in a well composed portrait. It should define facial features with a clear expression. Check this out if you want to learn how to do a true portrait photography.

Therefore focusing on the eyes when taking a portrait photograph is vital. Having the eyes sharp allows the viewer to engage with the most revealing facial feature.

Navigate the little red focus dot (or square) on your digital camera to be positioned on the closest eye to the camera of your subject. Half press on the shutter button to lock focus and then fully press to take the photo.

Avoiding focusing the camera on the subject’s body, hands or legs if you are including their face. The face is the first place everyone looks at on a portrait.

2. Pose a model

When you are posing a model for a portrait the biggest mistake that many beginner photographers make is that they forget to position the hands and legs.

While a good expression can make an interesting photo, this can be enhanced by the right pose.

Get your model in to a relaxed pose. Maybe they’re leaning against a wall, sitting down or crouching down. Either way, make sure their hands look natural. Put them in pockets, folded over or behind the back.

The pose of the hands directly effects the angle of the shoulders which can make the body look flat if not posed correctly.

The simple rule of thumb when it comes to learning portrait photography is that ‘if it bends, bend it’. This in reference to joints and limbs. Bending limbs creates dynamic angles in the body and stops the model looking flat.

Avoid having your model stood straight-on to the camera. Ask them to turn a shoulder towards the camera. This creates depth in the shot, and it also narrows the appearance of the body.

The shoulders are the widest part of the body, so if you can make them look narrower it’ll only flatter your subject more.

Attending a portrait photography class or workshop with a live model is a great way of being able to learn more about how to pose. Posing is not only important to make your model relaxed, but also to tell a story and connect with the surrounding environment.

3. Colour co-ordinate with your background

The online portrait photography course dedicates a whole section to the importance of colour coordination. Picking an outfit for your subject that matches the surrounding colours makes everything look more professional and slicker.

Therefore, planning and doing research beforehand of your chosen location is vital. Some colours clash and don’t look right together. But other colours, like red and greens, blues and oranges, and yellows and purples look amazing together.

For example, if you’re taking portraits in a local park surrounded by trees and grass ask your model to wear a red jumper to co-ordinate.

4. Learn portrait photography lighting

How to be a good portrait photographer is rooted in understanding lighting. You don’t need to have expensive lights or off-camera flashes to become a portrait photographer. Use natural light – it’s free!

An important photography lesson to learn is how to use the light. Where should your model be to create certain lighting effects?

There are 10 common lighting setups that some portrait photography courses teach. From broad to narrow right through to butterfly and split lighting they all have different effects on your photos.

You can shoot amazing portraits with just one light and any type of camera. It’s knowing how to use the light that’s important.

Try to avoid shoot on bright sunny days that will make your model squint. Cloudy days are best as that’s when the light is softer. It means the skin will look softer and more flattering on a portrait too. But this depends on the style of shot you want.

A portrait photography class will give you more guidance on where to setup your lights correctly for the right effect.

5. Portrait retouching tools

Once you’ve taken the photo, you may look back at it and want to change things. It’s a normal part of portrait photography these days. Nothing is permanent.

If you spot that your model has a blemish on their skin, they want removed you’ll need to use retouching software to do this. Software such as Photoshop, Lightroom and Darkroom are great places for beginner portrait photographers to start.

You may even find some mobile apps that can help heal and patch over skin blemishes. It make take a bit of time to do, but it’s worth the effort. Don’t go too far and make the skin look too polished and unrealistic either, just remove anything you’ve been asked to, or that isn’t permanent.

If you truly want to learn portrait photography spending time enhancing in post-production will elevate your photos from snapshots to artwork!

Final words

I hope these 5 tips will set you on the way to taking better portrait photos straight away. Just remember the aim is to tell the truth, but flatter your subject, where possible.

If your camera has manual settings, then reduce the f/stop number as low as it will go to get that nice, blurred background which will make your subject pop in the shot.

And don’t forget to enjoy it! I love teaching portrait photography. I’ve spent over 15 years photographing people and creating portrait photography courses online so I know how fun it can be.

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