Portrait Photography Tips for Beginners

As humans, we naturally gravitate to others of our kind in our innate desire to connect, and people have been a main subject matter in photography for as long as the first camera was invented. Portrait photography, or portraiture, tries to capture the likeness and personality or mood of a person – from newborns to the elderly. In the olden days, people would have photo sessions in studios where the sitting time was quite long in order for the photograph to come out clear and sharp. Photo equipment was also expensive then. Now, with the profusion of digital cameras and the latest technologies, portrait photography is more popular than ever, and much more accessible.

Portrait Photography Tips
Photo by Anyjazz65

The wealth of tips and information regarding portraiture can fill volumes of books. Here are a few simple yet essential portrait photography tips to take note of:

Shoot outdoors – although a studio setting has lots of benefits, especially by providing a controlled environment, outdoor portraiture also has its charm and advantages. For example, you can make use of indirect sunlight which can be very flattering for the subject, and the background may appear more natural, making the model more relaxed. You can also use the surroundings to add context to the photo.

Ask permission – when shooting portraits, it is best to have the model’s consent before you start taking photos. Obtaining a model release form is ideal to avoid possible misunderstandings that involve rights to privacy and such. This is easy when the model knows and wants to be photographed. However, there are instances when the person is unaware, such as with candid street photos where the person is a stranger and is far away or is part of a crowd. If you are planning to use your portrait of a person/s for commercial purposes, try to get consent.

Portrait Photography Tips
Photo by Luz Adriana Villa

Take partial portraits – portrait photos are usually of the person’s entire face, and sometimes including the torso or the rest of the body. Step away from the norm by shooting only parts of your model, such as half of the face, a shoulder, or the hands. Various body parts can also be quite expressive.

Portrait Photography Tips
Kangas Portrait BY Erik Söderström

Shoot in black and white – the allure of black and white portraits is undeniable. There is something about the absence of color that strips portraits to their essence, bringing to the forefront the lines, textures, and shapes of a person’s features that might otherwise have been lost or diminished in splashes of color. Black and white portraits may appear stark and yet elegant, with a classic touch.

Portrait Photography Tips
Wisdom by Björn Bechstein 

Include catchlights – catchlights, or light reflected in the eyes, may be tiny elements to remember but they are still highly effective in drawing the viewer’s attention to the model’s eyes. They provide that spark that adds vitality to a person’s expression and without catchlights, the eyes may appear dull. Sometimes, catchlights are deliberately created with studio lighting (such as ring lights and softboxes) to have a certain appealing look.

Make the model comfortable – although one of the most basic of portrait photography tips, this is still sometimes overlooked by some photographers. Unlike inanimate objects that you can constantly move around and for long periods of time, people are much more sensitive and will tend to be uneasy if placed in a pose or location they do not like. Children are especially vocal, and although newborns may not complain they are extremely delicate and should be posed with great care. Tips to make a model more relaxed include striking up a conversation and posing them in ways their body stance would normally appear.

Portrait Photography Tips
Photo by Eje Gustafsson

Another suggestion is to photograph the model in familiar surroundings if possible, such as their home.

Shoot candid – candid portraits are often as appealing as posed shots, and you can capture people at the decisive moments of their everyday lives, making these shots all the more precious. When shooting candid, always be mindful of your background and possibly distracting elements.

Portrait Photography Tips
Sparkling by Julija Rauluševičiūtė

These portrait photography tips are just the tip of the iceberg but will hopefully help guide you when shooting portraiture. More tips to follow soon!

About Kristine Hojilla

Kristine is an avid amateur photographer from the tropical Philippine islands. She always tries to capture the extraordinary in mundane objects and scenes. Feel free to visit her profile here to see more of her works

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