back to top

How to Shoot Soft & Dreamy Portrait Photography

A- A+

Subscribe Below to Download the Article Immediately

You can also select your interests for free access to our premium training:

Your privacy is safe. I will never share your information.
Related course: Fairytale Portraits

Dreamy photography is a genre that can help you look at portraits from a new perspective.

Soft and dreamy portrait photography requires a lot of creativity to create the mesmerizing, ethereal images that make it up. But, you don’t need to travel the world or own expensive equipment to be a master of this genre. You can use everyday items to turn simple portraits into ethereal ones.

an ethereal image of a woman's faced half submerged in water
© Jovana Rikalo

14 Tips For Soft, Dreamy Portrait Photography

Here we look at 14 of our favorite tips and tricks for standout soft and dreamy portrait photography.

Use Natural Light to Create That Dreamy Glow

Natural light is every portrait photographer’s best friend.

Artificial light is just as important as natural light. But it can take a lot of time and energy to work with. Available outdoor light, on the other hand, changes all the time and is easy to control.

The golden hour (before sunset or after sunrise), a cloudy day, and a sunny day (as long as you shoot in a shaded area) are the best times for ethereal portrait photography.

Of course, feel free to break these rules and take photos at different times of the day. The more you experiment with all of your options, the easier it will be for you to develop your own photography style.

Dreamy photography shot of a female model posing outdoors

Make a DIY Filter for Your Lens to Create a Soft Light Effect

There’s an abundance of DIY filters you can make at home. One of the easiest ones involves cling film and some tape.

Cover your lens with a layer of cling film. If it doesn’t stick to your lens, tape the corners to your camera. This doesn’t have to look perfect.

The cling film will create a hazy effect. It’ll make your photo look like they were shot using a fancy lens filter! If you want your photos to look dreamier, crumple up the cling film.

Alternatives to cling film are plastic bags and colored cello paper.

Dreamy portrait photo of a female model posing indoors in soft light

Use a Large Aperture to Blur Your Backgrounds

Dreamy photography often features a soft focus. To re-create this effect, all you have to do is use a large aperture.

A large aperture, also referred to as a small f-number, will separate your model from their background. The smaller your f-number (e.g. f/1.8), the softer your background will be. And the dreamier your photo will look.

Many portrait photographers prefer to use an aperture that ranges from f/1.2 to f/8.0. This depends on how much blur they want to create.

Take Photos in Nature to Make the Most of Its Colours

Dreamy photography shot of a female model posing outdoors among leaves - ethereal portraits

Sometimes, a soft, green background during the golden hour is all you need to take a magical portrait.

You don’t need to travel far to find a beautiful location for your photoshoot. Parks, beaches, or even a bush filled with flowers are perfect for dreamy photography.

You can use nature to make your background more colorful. Or frame your photo with beautiful details like leaves. You can also give your model something to lean on, like a tree. It’ll make their poses look more flattering.

a dreamy portrait image of a red haired model in a field of roses
© Jovana Rikalo

Make Sure Your Model’s Outfit Complements Your Photoshoot Location

Before you go out and take photos, make sure you’re familiar with your photoshoot location. What colors come to mind when you think of it?

Consider the shapes and colors in your location. Your model can then choose an appropriate outfit. If they wear something that complements their environment, your photos will look more visually appealing.

This will make it easier for you to create dreamy atmospheres.

In addition to choosing the right clothes for your shoot, pay attention to details like accessories, eye color, and nail polish. These things may not seem significant from afar. But they’ll stand out in your portraits.

Look at Jovana Rikalo’s work to get inspiration from the queen of planned portrait shoots! Be sure to study how she uses colors of clothes and props to create an incredible atmosphere.

a dreamy portrait image of a white haired woman crouching in a field of white flowers holding a white violin
© Jovana Rikalo

Combine Photos of Nature and People to Create Dreamy Double Exposures

Double exposures are a great way to turn simple portraits into exquisite works of art. All you need are a few photos of nature and portraits with clean backgrounds. If you want your photos to stand out even more, replace your portraits with silhouettes.

Open your images in an editing program and change your nature photos’ layer mode to Screen. If the results are overexposed, change your layer mode to Normal and lower the opacity to around 30% – 50%.

Creating double exposures will give you a chance to have fun with photography. And you’ll get better at editing at the same time.

Dreamy portrait of a female model posing against a reflective surface

Cover Part of Your Lens with Your Finger to Create a Soft Foreground

Foregrounds are an important part of ethereal photography. In addition to using lens filters, you can cover part of your lens with your finger or a colorful object (such as a flower petal).

Don’t cover your lens completely. Hold the object close to the lens so that it creates a blur of color in one part of your image. The softness will make your portrait look dreamier.

You can use this technique to cover parts of your model’s face, frame your photos, or hide distractions.

Dreamy portrait of a female model posing outdoors, featuring ethereal motion blur

Use Curtains to Take Gorgeous Indoor Portraits

Indoor photography will teach you how to make the most of your surroundings. Your ability to find potential in anything will allow you to take great photos anywhere you go.

To create dreamy indoor portraits, take photos of your model in front of a curtain on a bright day. The curtain will soften the harsh sunlight and make your model’s face glow.

You can also use window light to take stunning backlit photos. Experiment with different angles to see which type of lighting inspires you the most.

Dreamy portrait of a female model posing indoors with a white veil

Take Surreal Photos in a Bathtub

If you want to put a little more effort into your photoshoot, take photos in a bathtub or pool filled with flowers. A model surrounded by floating flowers is the epitome of dreamy photography.

Some photographers even add milk or food colouring to the water. The sky’s the limit!

Dreamy photo of a female model posing in water surrounded by white flowers

Use Natural or Artificial Light to Take Backlit Portraits

Backlight can help you create both dramatic and soft portraits.

To take soft portraits, have an outdoor photoshoot when the sun is about to rise or set. Make sure your model is standing in front of the light source and that you shoot against the sun. This will create a soft, hazy glow.

If you work from the right angle, you might capture a lens flare!

To take dramatic portraits, light your model from behind using a torch or lamp. You can use a reflector or a softer light source in front of your model to ensure that their face isn’t covered in shadows.

Dreamy backlit portrait of a female model posing against a black background

Take Photos Through a Window to Add Depth to Your Portraits

You already own some of the best tools for dreamy photography. One of these tools is a window.

Window reflections can add depth and a pop of colour to a simple portrait. They can hide background distractions and emphasise a model’s eye colour. They’re also perfect for framing faces and adding abstract elements to a composition.

As you can see, there’s a lot you can do with a window or any other reflective surface.

For the best results, take photos of your model using a large aperture (e.g. f/1.4). This will blur the window reflections and get rid of distractions.

an image of a woman resting her head on the forest floor
© Jovana Rikalo

Use Smoke Bombs to Add Surrealism to Your Portraits

Lighting is an important part of dreamy photography. But it doesn’t have to be the only thing you focus on during your photoshoot. You can invest in different tools to make your photos stand out from others.

Smoke bombs are affordable and fun to work with. They can add much-needed texture and vibrance for surreal portraits.

Dreamy portrait of a female model posing outdoors surrounded by smoke and dreamy background

Use Harsh Light to Create Interesting Shadows

Unless you’re shooting in a shaded area, it can be difficult to take flattering photos in the middle of the day.

There are many photographers who use harsh sunlight to create incredible portraits. Since you’re going for the dreamy look, I don’t recommend shooting in direct light.

You can use bright light to your advantage by creating shadows.

Have your model stand next to a large window. Ask them to shield their face with a patterned material, their hand, or their hair. Experiment with different textures to see what looks good on their face.

Dreamy portrait of a female model posing with lace curtains

Use a White Wall to Make Your Portraits Look Cheerful

Many people associate colors like yellow and green with happiness. These can look great in photos if you’re wearing the right outfit or if you’re shooting in a very specific location.

These limits can make it difficult to improve your dreamy photography skills.

One of the best colors for joyful and dreamy portraits of all kinds is white. It complements anything and everything.

White looks amazing in photos because it creates a natural glow. It can also be muted in an editing program to create a soft and creamy look.

Photograph your model in front of a white wall to add brightness and joy to your portraits. You can also shoot in a bright location, like a beach with white sand, or ask your model to wear a white outfit.

Bright portrait of a female model in red posing against a white wall

Conclusion

You don’t need to prepare a lot to take dreamy photos of your models. With the right kind of lighting and DIY tools, you’ll be able to take portraits that look like they belong in a fairytale.

Once you get the hang of this genre, you’ll have yet another interest that you can enjoy your entire life!

Capture joyful memories and charming portraits of your children at home with our Dreamy Childhood Portraits eBook!

Show Comments (1)