Tips for better portraits

Posted by on Aug 11, 2013 in Adventures, Techniques | 0 comments

Tips for better portraits

Taking better portraits is something that we all want to do, not just for ourselves but also for our subjects. We strive to capture the essence of our subject, and to tell a small part of their life story. Though sometimes we are creating a story of our own with the help of our subject. But how do we actually go about getting better portraits?

Kathryn by Tony White F/1.8 @ 1/50sec 50mm

Kathryn by Tony White
F/1.8 @ 1/50sec 50mm


One of the first keys to a good portrait is expression, without expression people are not able to connect with the subject of the photo. A real connection will become obvious to the viewer of your photo and this will increase the impact your photo has. There are numerous ways to connect with your subject, make them laugh, talk to them – ask them about what music they like, where they grew up, what they love to do for fun. Talk long enough and I am sure you will find yourself connecting with your subject and your photos will reflect this connection.

A good portrait photo does not have to be about a smile, often the photos that evoke the most emotion are those that capture something other than a smile, sometimes a scowl or alternative expression can really capture the viewers attention better than a smile.

Film Noir 3 by Ken Dickson F/5 @ 1/125sec ISO 100 50mm

Film Noir 3 by Ken Dickson
F/5 @ 1/125sec ISO 100 50mm


The next tip for better portraits is posing, posing our subject is the one area that many of photographers struggle with. We want to ensure the photo we capture has the subject looking comfortable and relaxed (well for most shots). So a few tips specifically on posing:

  • Make sure you have your subject angle their body slightly away from the camera, this will help give dimension to the resulting photo instead of appearing to be a cardboard cutout,
  • To bring depth to the photo try having your subject tilt their head slightly so their eyes are on an angle to the camera,
  • Be careful about having hands up to the head, under the chin is ok but make sure your subject is not pushing down too hard and causing the face to look fatter than it is. Hands too far up the head tends to suggest the subject might have a headache or be otherwise unwell, so something to keep in mind,
  • By having your subject fold their arms you can give the subject an air of power,
  • With sitting portraits, always try to have legs on an angle away from the camera, so you are never photographing into the nether regions
The Dancer by Tony White F/5.6 @ 1/250sec ISO 250, 33mm

The Dancer by Tony White
F/5.6 @ 1/250sec ISO 250, 33mm


Depending on the story you are trying to tell there are 3 basic angles to use with when photographing your subject. Shooting down onto the subject can be effective but it will also reduce the sense of power the subject displays, shooting from below needs to be done with care but will create a sense of power in the subject. Shooting from eye level will help show respect for your subject.

Alex by Tony White F/16 @ 1/250sec ISO 200 100mm

Alex by Tony White
F/16 @ 1/250sec ISO 200 100mm

One of the last tips I can give you (and it links back to the tip I started with) is a famous saying “The camera looks both ways”, if you are not communicating with your subject and they will disconnect become uninterested in the photo shoot. Make sure you think about how you would feel as the subject, with the photographer acting the way you are acting and communicating. If you are smiling and happy your subject will pickup this feeling and naturally it will be reflected in the photos you capture.

And of course one of the best ways to improve your portrait photography is to practice, to which we are happy to help with our natural light portrait and flash portrait workshops –

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