Portrait Photography Tips For More Flattering Sessions

Portrait Photography Tips For Better Sessions

Portrait photography is a far different than candid photography.   With candid’s you are capturing the moment no matter how it looks, with portrait photography you’re seeking an image flattering to the subject.  Here are a few portrait photography tips to help you create the perfect portrait; none are expensive, they only require a bit of patience and attention to detail.

1. Choice of Background

Consider using black velvet.  Black velvet is inexpensive, easy to transport, flattering to your subject and easy to hang.  It also absorbs any stray shadows you don’t want appearing on the background.  If that’s not suitable and you choose to hang colored or patterned drapes, move your subject far enough away from the background to avoid unsightly shadows.

2. Lighting

You’ll want your lighting to be soft and flattering, so avoid harsh lamps and severe angles.  While positioning your lamps to one side or the other may create dramatic lighting (fine in some cases) it will also highlight any wrinkles or flaws in the skin or clothing.  Keeping your key light close to the camera and elevated slightly above eye level is the best choice.

3. Shutter Speed

While you’re not doing sports photography where a fast shutter speed is mandatory, you’ll want a fairly fast shutter (in the neighborhood of 1/160 sec).  This will allow you to capture fine details while also ensuring that any slight movements doesn’t cause blurring.

4. A Quality Tripod

Hand-held photography allows you to move quickly and adjust for any (last second) changes, it also opens the possibility of blurring from your own movements.  This type of blurring can turn a beautiful portrait into a reject.  That said, it’s easy to avoid by using a quality tripod ensuring sharp, pleasing portraits your subject will be sure to like.

5. Longer Focal Length

A wide angle lens has the possibility of distorting the subject and shouldn’t be used for portrait work; instead aim for 80-200mm (with 145mm being the norm).  This foreshortens the image just enough to provide a pleasing and dynamic look.

6. Do It Once – Then Do It Again

If at all possible, have a test subject sit in prior to the arrival of your client.  Take several shots then adjust your lighting, focal length and shutter speed for optimal results.  This allows you to present the client with a finished set of portrait photos free from error and with lighting that showcases their best features.

7.  Lighting Variations

Lighting is much more an art than a science.  Always experiment to find out which lighting provides the ideal look for your subject.  Remember, the closer to the camera you place your key/main light, the less wrinkles/blemishes that will show.  Conversely, the more to the side you place your lights, the more dramatic the photo.  The only way to decide which is best is experience and experimentation.

8. Using a Reflector

Stated basically, the portrait photographer will use a key light, fill light, hair light and background light; however you can also utilize a reflector to lighten shadows or add a sparkle to the eyes.  Often a reflector, which is essentially bouncing the light, makes it much softer and more pleasing to the subject.

Hopefully these portrait photography tips will help you in your quest for the perfect portrait photo.  However, keep in mind that becoming a great portrait photographer likely won’t happen in a day, but as you practice, you’ll begin to see each photo becoming better and more artistic while each client smiles and says, “This is a great shot, thank you”.