May 31, 2008

Portrait Tips

When you want to make a portrait, try to schedule enough time to get to know your subject. Provide them with a clothing checklist. Long sleeved turtle necks or crew necked sweaters are very flattering. Solid colors are better than patterned clothing. Women should wear basic, understated makeup. Both men and women should avoid prominent jewelry.

Before your subject arrives, scout your location and have your equipment ready. Have your assistant help you preset a basic exposure. When the subject arrives, you want to put all of your attention on them and not your equipment. This takes practice but yields great results.

You should study the subject and look for problem areas. This will help you decide where to place the camera relative to the subject. In most cases, placing the camera lens at your subject’s eye level is best. If you have a particularly heavy subject, raise your camera position and have the subject look up. This will thin out the neck and draw attention away from double chins. If you have someone with a scar, turn that side of the face toward the light. It sounds counter-intuitive but it works. The lit side tends to disappear in the photo. The shadow side of the face is more likely to reveal texture and facial imperfections.

If the subject is sitting, place them on the edge of their seat. Whether sitting or standing, ask them to straighten up. The pose should be basic. In fact, the more basic your posing technique, the more likely it is that your subject will appear natural.

The head and shoulders should point in the same direction. The head should be tilted towards the lower shoulder, so that it is perpendicular to the slope of the shoulder. The face and body should be turned towards the light. A variation on this theme is to turn the body away from the light and the face toward the light. The head is turned and tipped to the highest shoulder. This variation works especially well for women unless they are heavyset. In either pose, lean the body slightly forward at the waist. Be sure that the head turns and tips to the same shoulder.

Smiles and expression are also very important. There are some tricks you can use to get a natural smile. First ask the subject to lick their lips. It helps make the lips shine and gets them used to using their mouth. Then say something like…”Okay give me just a hint of a smile.” Take the picture and then immediately say…”Oh come on, that’s fake.” This will usually cause the subject to break out into a natural grin. Another trick I use is to say something like…”Come on, you don’t know me well enough to be that mad at me.” Or…”Okay on this one, try not to look like you are posing for the America’s Most Wanted poster.” Experiment with different jokes. You will develop your own sayings that work, and you will get the smile that counts, the real one.

NOTE: This is NOT intended to be an exhaustive list. It’s just a few tips that might help beginning portrait photographers get started on the right foot.

Join the conversation! 8 Comments

  1. Great tips. The one that I had heard before and used in a recent portrait session with my children was to have them lean forward at the waist. Having my daughter do this resulted in photos that my wife said were like going to a pro! High praise from her.

  2. What do you use for the background? Is that the real color of the background or do you clean it up in Photoshop after you are done shooting?

  3. Thanks, Scott. I’m starting out with portraits and I’ve got a shoot coming up in a couple of weeks. These are some great tips to start out with. Can you recommend a book on posing and lighting for portraiture?

  4. Great submission!
    Tons of helpful tips here, just one thing, leaning forward from the waist meaning?
    Forward as in where the face points or forward towards the camera or forward as in actually bending over a little bit?


  5. Thanks Scott. Great post. I love how you explain things in a simple, plain english manner of phrase that also has the tone of years of personal experience. ie: you don’t appear to mention tips and tricks unless you’ve found it to be tried-and-true in real world situations. THANKS !!!

  6. Nice one! I’ve been working on a tip guide for models that are wanting their first studio shoot and some of what you have mentioned is very relevant.


  7. @Jef that is simply a blank wall that I found in her office to shoot against. Finding a simple, uncluttered, basic background is key to getting a good portrait.

  8. […] This Week In Photography, un bon résumé de trucs simples (pas techniques) pour bien réussir ses portraits. Tags […]

Comments are closed.