5 Tips for Better Portraits

Canon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 24-105mm f4 L series lens @ 80mmHere's 5 tips for better portraits.

  • To avoid unnecessary distractions it's important to ensure the background is uncluttered.
  • Try to ensure your subject is wearing relatively plain clothing. Strips, patterns and swirls can be very distracting in the final image. You should also consider cautioning girls about the potential problems with wearing tops or dresses with plunging necklines. They are in as much control as to where people look, in a photograph as much as in real life, and need to understand the possible consequences resulting from their choice of clothing. You see by photographing from an elevated position, as you would by asking someone to sit and look up so as to direct light into their eyes, you will inevitably be drawing attention towards an exposed chest.

These sorts of issues have to be addressed tactfully and, ideally, prior to the day the photos are made. People can wear whatever they want and folks often choose clothing to either reflect their personality or, alternatively, the way they'd like to be perceived (e.g. powerful, successful, humble, artistic, alternative). It's just a good idea to draw their attention to the sort of clothing that often presents them in the most pleasing manner. Remember its not real life, it's a photograph and what makes you feel or look good in the real world may not translate into making you look great in a photograph. I'm sure that looking sexy is hard work and my guess is that the world's most successful models probably love kicking back at home in track pants and loose fitting tops. Of course the labels on those garments are unlikely to match any labels in my wardrobe.

  • Employing a shallow Depth of Field (DOF) can be a great help to further de-emphasise the background and, as a consequence, draw attention to the point of focus (e.g. eyes).
  • I find that a background that is darker than the subject's face will draw the viewer's attention towards the face. So, if that's where you want them to look, ensure more light is reflecting off the face than, for example, the chest or hands. In case you're wondering the faces of dark skin folks will also stand out when they are positioned against a background that is darker than their skin.
  • Finally, ensure the eyes are illuminated. Bright colourful eyes draw attention. In the case of darker colored eyes it's important to add a catch light to literally bring those beautiful, dark eyes to life in the image.


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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru´╗┐