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10 Classic Photography Tips for More Interesting Portraits

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If you want to take unique and interesting portraits, then you need to check out these 10 classic tips. By following these simple tips, you’ll be able to create more interesting and engaging portraits that your viewers will love. So whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, read on for the secrets to taking better portraits!

Portrait-Focused Education
Fairytale Portraits
Fairytale Portraits
Looking for tips to create more interesting portraits? Our Project-Based Video Course and Cheat Sheets can help you bring magical fairytales to life in mesmerizing portrait photos.

Create Interesting Portraits by Experimenting with Focal Lengths

You’ve probably heard the term ‘portrait lens’ before; portraits typically look best at slightly longer focal lengths of around 70-115mm but that doesn’t mean that these are the only lenses that you should use.
I like to shoot with a wide angle quite often as this can make for some really interesting portrait photos; you can include more in the frame than you would have been able to at a longer focal length.
In the photo below, I was able to provide context to the shot along the dark shadows and details in the large rocks that would have been cropped out, leaving just a simple blue sky had I used a longer length.A portrait of a female model posing on rocks at the beach - interesting portraits

Experiment with the Background

It always amazes me that someone would shoot with a white background when, with just a little more effort, they could have found a much more interesting location.
The background is a huge part of a photo that can provide the viewer with more information about the photo.
I like to take models out to interesting locations that I scout out beforehand because the results are much more natural and, if I find somewhere outside, the lighting can produce a wider range of results.
Even when you have to have a fairly plain background like in the photo below, it’s easy enough to find a location that’s just slightly more interesting. Just a little extra effors will produce a much better photo.
When you compare the paleness of the wall to the texture of the wooden door, there’s no question about which is better.A portrait of a female model posing on rocks at the beach - interesting portraits

Break the ‘Rules’ of Composition

I like to go on about how important composition is in taking good photos and that’s because it is. Equally important, however, is knowing how to use this new knowledge properly and knowing when to forget it.
The ‘rules’ of photography are made to be broken and, often, you can produce the best results when you ‘forget’ about what you’re ‘supposed’ to be doing and simply shoot whatever feels right.
I find this often comes about when I’m experimenting or taking test shots and frequently happens when I’m not even looking through the viewfinder.
The most common rule for taking photos of people is the rule of thirds which works tremendously well but, when it comes to portraits, forgetting about this rule can be much more dramatic.
Have a look at the photo below as an example.A portrait of a female model posing against a black background - interesting portraits

Play with Eye Contact

If you’ve read my tutorial on visual weight or eye-lines, you’ll know all about the power that eyes have in a photo.
Eyes contain some of the strongest visual weight in any photo as we’re naturally used to looking at them; use this knowledge to your advantage.
When the eyes are looking straight down the lens, we look at them first, then the rest of the photo in order of interest. Eyes looking away from the camera can be much more powerful at times as we become interested in where the subject is looking.
Have a look at the comparison I’ve set up below and see which one strikes you as being the most interesting.
Portraits typically involve the subject looking down the lens but that doesn’t mean you have to.Diptych portrait of a female model posing indoors - interesting portraits

Try Candid Photography

I love candid photography so much that I actually wrote a whole post on the topic; it’s not often that you capture people in their natural state by any other means.
As soon as you point a camera at someone, especially if you shout ‘say cheese!’, people become self conscious, tense up and you lose any natural feeling to the photo. There is a way around this which I cover in my final point but, overall, these photos tend to lose their spark.
When people aren’t aware that you’re looking at them, you can wait patiently for the right moment to capture an image and end up getting much better results.
You can also provide much more interesting foreground and background details as where you’re shooting from will also be captured in the shot.Casual portrait of friends chatting outdoors

Play with Light

An exposure is really just a capture of light for a certain amount of time so, to make an exposure more interesting, it makes sense for you to want to play with this light.
You can mess around with flashes, longer exposures, light painting, slow sync flash, rear curtain flash… the possibilities are endless.
I personally enjoy slow sync flash because you capture more than just the subject and the light: you capture the movement too.
Lighting is a really easy and fun way to blow a load of money but it doesn’t have to be expensive if you don’t want to be – you can get some really cool results with just a $3 flashlight.
The key is to experiment.Atmospheric pink toned portrait of people in a nightclub

Frame within a Frame

As you can probably tell from this post alone, I’m a big fan of including context in a photo. It gives the viewer an idea of the mood of the image as well as the location.
Frames are great photographic elements that can be used to lead the viewers eyes into the frame to focus them on a particular point. The sense of repetition that they can provide produces depth and a path for the eyes to explore.
A photo of a scene with a foreground feature makes for a much more interesting build up to the main part of a photo which, in this case, is the subject.
Frames are often underused in photography, mainly because they can be hard to find but, when you successfully use them, you’ll produce some really good results.Candid portrait of a female model walking outdoors - interesting portraits

Change Perspective

It’s natural to want to take a photo of someone head on but that can make for a boring photo; it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
Why not try making it more interesting by changing your angle of view and tackling the subject from a new perspective?
When you stop thinking about taking the photo on the same plane as the subject, you can start to get much more creative, as you suddenly have way more options to toy with.
You can take a photo from above, below, to the side or slightly down; you have 360 degrees of possibilites.
Often these photos come as a result of the location that you’re shooting in, such as my photo below.
We were on some rocks on the beach that were constantly varying in height. I climbed on top of one and shot down. I was very happy with the result.A portrait of a female model posing on rocks at the beach - interesting portraits

Shoot in Black and White

Although I love black and white photography, I don’t shoot in it nearly as much as I probably ought to but one of the places that it works really well is in portraits.
I always recommend shooting in colour and RAW when trying to take black and white photos as it leaves you with more possibilities in post.
Black and white photography is more about shape, form and contrast, which comes in very useful for portraits.
For black and white post production, you can afford to get a little bit more creative as it’s easier to hide your techniques, such as boosting the contrast, like I’ve done below.
I also boosted the green channel when I converted the photo to black and white but, other then that, I’ve not really done anything to the original image.color and black and white portrait diptych of a young male model posing indoors

Have Fun

This sounds so soppy but it really is one of the keys to taking good photos.
When someone is naturally smiling or laughing, it makes a really big difference. You can always tell when someone is forcing a smile, whether it’s in a photo or in real life, and it’s such a shame to force a smile when the subject is happy anyway.
I talk a lot to people when I’m taking photos of them and, although this often results in a lot of dud photos where their mouths are moving, I usually get a lot of people laughing at the same time.
A natural laugh produces the best type of smile as it is present in the face, head and body, rather than just the mouth and cheeks. You can clearly tell that the model in the photo below is enjoying herself and laughing away as I was taking this photo.A portrait of a female model posing on rocks at the beach - interesting portraits

Portrait-Focused Education
Fairytale Portraits
Fairytale Portraits
Looking for tips to create more interesting portraits? Our Project-Based Video Course and Cheat Sheets can help you bring magical fairytales to life in mesmerizing portrait photos.

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