7 Tips To Take Your Portrait Photography To The Next Level

13 April 2020

The world of portrait photography has become an incredibly interesting, yet increasingly competitive place. With the rapid development of smartphone cameras and photography-focused social media platforms like Instagram, it seems like everyone is now trying their hand at the artform - from the complete novice to experienced professionals.

You may think that spending the next part of the year stuck indoors, means your goal of advancing your skills and attempting to stand out from the busy crowd will have to take a back seat for a while but think again!

Read on for our tips for taking your portrait photography to the next level - you can start today:

Tip #1: Shoot from an interesting angle

When a beginner or happy-snapper picks up a camera, they automatically stand up straight and hold the camera at eye level - but if you want to capture something a little different, you’ve got to get moving. Shooting from down low, or even getting a higher perspective of your model can produce a far more interesting portrait.

Just remember - safety first. Check your surroundings and see where you can capture a cool shot, without putting yourself or others at risk.

7 Tips To Take Your Portrait Photography To The Next Level7 Tips To Take Your Portrait Photography To The Next Level

Tip #2: Get creative with your composition

7 Tips To Take Your Portrait Photography To The Next Level7 Tips To Take Your Portrait Photography To The Next Level

When you first start out with portraiture, it’s natural to position your subjects in the traditional way: Directly in the middle of your frame, with plenty of space around them. However, as you gain more experience shooting, you’ll start to notice how boring these similarly-composed images can become. By experimenting a little with where you place your model within your frame, or even how much of them is included in the photo, you’ll automatically shift your photography up a gear.

Verse yourself in common compositional techniques such as the rule of thirds, and experiment with placing your model directly to the side of the image, or even filling the entire frame with just their face. These shifts in framing will really enhance the impact of your portraiture, and make for a truly unique portfolio.

Tip #3: Watch your back(ground)

The background of your portraits is more important than you might think. Accidentally capturing an out-of-place object in the background of your photograph can be a big distraction - forcing your viewer’s eye to wander away from your key subject. Unless this is your artistic intention, you’ll want to keep a keen eye on your background while shooting, and decide what you do or don’t want to include in the final product. Choosing a camera lens with ultra-bright maximum aperture like the Sigma AF 85mm f1.4 ART is a great way to isolate your subjects from backgrounds.

7 Tips To Take Your Portrait Photography To The Next Level7 Tips To Take Your Portrait Photography To The Next Level

For outdoor photography or location shoots, it’s a good idea to go scouting before you begin – being sure to keep an eye out for places which are tonally smooth and relatively uncluttered. Detailed or character-driven backgrounds can be used to stunning effect, but they can be tricky to master. It can be good practice to limit the importance of backgrounds in the early stages of your photography.

Studio-style portraits make life a lot easier when it comes to controlling your shot. In this environment, you can easily determine what type of background is in your images by purchasing a backdrop or using a homemade one. Seeing as you are at home anyway, you have a great opportunity to control your backgrounds completley, leaving nothing to chance.

Tip #4: Shake things up with shallow depths of field

7 Tips To Take Your Portrait Photography To The Next Level7 Tips To Take Your Portrait Photography To The Next Level

Using a shallow field of depth is a common technique, but one that must be mentioned, as it’s a great way to quickly add a level of sophistication to your portrait photography. By ensuring only your subject and in particular their eyes are in focus, you can determine exactly where your viewer’s eyes will go when they are looking at your photograph.

A shallow depth of field, captured by the likes of the Fujifilm XF 56mm, highlights exactly who and what is the star of your image, in no uncertain terms.

Tip #5: Experiment with your aspect ratio and orientation

Many people refer to the vertical orientation of a photograph as ‘portrait’, and horizontal as ‘landscape’. While you might think portrait photography is limited to only a portrait-style orientation, it’s actually good practice to take images in both. This will give you a greater chance of success during a shoot, with a greater range of options.

Similarly, you can experiment with Aspect Ratios. 3:2 is the most common format and is provided by 35mm film and standard for most digital cameras, while square or 1x1 is favoured by medium-format-using portrait photographers of old.

Using this square format can encourage you to try new and unexpected compositions and framing, and it may add that extra touch of class or nostalgia that your portraits are lacking. Your aspect ratio may be able to be changed in camera, or you can shoot wide and crop your images to be square in post-production.

7 Tips To Take Your Portrait Photography To The Next Level7 Tips To Take Your Portrait Photography To The Next Level

Tip #6: Let your hair down with your lens choice

Generally, normal to short-telephoto lenses are favoured by portrait photographers, with lenses in the 85mm range being particularly popular.

We recommend starting out with the following:

A longer option can allow you some space between you and your model, for the benefit of their comfort, while a wider-angle lens is far less common for portraiture, and if done correctly, can give your work a more unique edge.

Top Tip: Don’t be afraid to pack a few different lenses in your kit when you head out on your shoot.

Tip #7: Make sure your model is comfortable

7 Tips To Take Your Portrait Photography To The Next Level7 Tips To Take Your Portrait Photography To The Next Level

A model’s level of comfort can easily be seen in a photograph, with an at-ease, natural model often resulting in a more successful portrait. Many people put this down to a model’s experience – but there are a few ways for you to make a positive difference.

Be professional and friendly with your model – chat with them before shooting begins so they feel comfortable, and be sure to maintain a light-hearted, relaxed rapport as the shoot progresses. Giving your model direction and encouragement will not only make it easier for them to position themselves as needed for the photograph, but it will also lead to a more natural and candid final product.

During the current events, we will all be using our nearest and dearest friends and family as our models. This is a great chance for you to work on your ability to keep a shoot and your model calm, as the two of you are already familiar with each other and comfortable in each other's presence. This way, some of the stress is removed!

Find the perfect portrait lens

Portrait photography is responsible for some of the most diverse, interesting artwork in the world – a well-shot portrait can tell us a million stories, stir strong emotions, or simply make someone smile. With so many unique and beautiful faces to photograph, it’s the perfect medium to experiment and have fun with - and the right portrait lens can make all the difference. Need a hand finding the perfect lens? Head to your local Ted’s Cameras store and our team will be happy to point you in the right direction, plus give you some extra tips for success.

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