As a photographer, you are constantly looking for skills to develop. Learning how to professionally capture portrait photography is one of them.
Either as a business idea or a way to capture your own personal family life.
Good portrait photographers are sought after and well respected. And it’s a great way for a budding amateur to turn a hobby into a career.
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What is Portrait Photography?
Portrait photography is all about people. How to show them at their best is a challenge. Either for business headshots or arranging a dozen family members for a group image.
Of course, if photography portraits were as simple as shouting ‘cheese!’, we’d all be doing it.
But it’s not; there’s a ton of little intricacies to it. Not only is the interaction with your subject difficult. But you also have to think about the equipment.
From choosing the right gear and finding the perfect location. To posing the model and adjusting your composition. Even after mastering light there is the polishing stage in Photoshop.
You have to know it all to master portraiture. That’s what we’re going to cover right here.
Portrait Photography Gear
A good carpenter never blames his tools. But he’ll tell you the importance of having the right tool for the job.
This guide focuses primarily on how to capture good portraits.
A part of that is having the right gear. Lenses, lighting, reflectors, backdrops, camera, and more. Everything needs to be specific for the task at hand.
If you’re just getting started, you don’t have to worry too much about buying too much gear all at once.
Below you’ll find a few articles which will help you with the basics. These are things you’ll need to start taking portrait photography.
Having the right camera is important. It will come down to what you will do with the images you capture.
You can capture good portraits using anything. From a simple smartphone to a $43,000 Hasselblad.
The majority of people reading this will be using a DSLR. This is partly to do with the fact that we are told that DSLRs offer the best quality images.
This article takes you through the things you should be looking for in a DSLR. Especially for photography portraits.
It takes your level of experience and price sensitivity into consideration.
Will you be shooting groups of people often? How much available space do you have? Do you want to take outdoor portraits with plenty of bokeh?
Do you plan on carrying a few prime lenses or do you want a single zoom lens?
This comprehensive article runs you through key questions you should be asking yourself. It will help when you’re looking for an ideal portraiture lens.
You will find a roundup of the best Canon and Nikon lenses for portraits. Along with their specifications.
A big part of portrait photography involves manipulating lighting setups. Good portrait photographers know how to adjust every little detail.
The quality, quantity, and direction of light. Adding and using lighting tools they have at their disposal.
They can even adjust to fit situations where they have limited or no control over the ambient light.
14 Recommended Lighting Setups goes over a few of the things to think about when buying your lighting gear.
The important things here are the following. Recycle time, type of bulb and type of power source. It also provides a list of recommended setups based on those factors.
We cover some fundamental studio lighting patterns in the ‘Portrait Lighting’ section of this guide.
On top of this we look at how to use natural and ambient light in non-studio situations. Either in tandem with portable flash units or without.
Your studio is where all the gear comes together. This is your controlled environment.
It is where you set up your camera, lighting, and other accessories. This is so you can take portraits in the style and manner that suits you.
If you’re getting started with studio portraiture, you’ll want to set up a home portrait photography studio. This is a (somewhat) affordable way to begin practicing.
Of course, setup isn’t everything. You will still need to work with the subjects in the studio. Especially to get the look, feel, and the effect that you want in the portrait.
But all that happens in this setting. The sooner you can get comfortable with working in the context of the studio, the better. You’ll improve your portraiture skills to no end.
Setting your camera up for portraiture is a straightforward process. As long as you remember this one key idea. Emphasize the subject of the portrait above all else.
Classically, this means that you want to expose correctly. This is to achieve the highest level of quality and clarity (no motion blur, as little grain as possible, depth-of-field, and white balance that are appropriate to the scenario, etc.).
Your settings will vary depending on many factors. Whether you are photographing in a studio, what light is available and the aim of the shoot.
If you remember to expose your subject you can always balance your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO accordingly.
Of all the different niches of photography, photography portraits are the most demanding. Here, it is beneficial to have as much control over lighting situations as possible.
This is because the positioning and intensity of the light is the main factor. Especially in how you call attention to your subject in a portrait scenario.
Light accentuates the characteristics of your subjects’ faces and bodies. The lighting setup that you choose can make or break a portrait.
How you light your subject can alter the mood of the image. On top of this. you can emphasize or downplay physical features.
With the lighting, you are able to include/exclude part of the environment.
This need for precision and control over light is paramount. There are a lot of different types of flashes and lighting setups available.
On top of these items, there are several key patterns that you need to be aware of.
The articles in this section cover the basics of working with light. Both natural and artificial sources.
Sometimes you only have a single flash to work with. This does limit the kinds of lighting setups you will be able to create.
But you are free to use the flash you do have in combination with natural and ambient light.
These combinations will help you produce many appealing effects.
Assuming that your camera is an off-camera flash that you can operate by remote. Presuming you have access to a reflector, you can them both to achieve every light condition you need.
These range from a dramatic, high-contrast image to one that’s balanced and evenly-lit.
Chances are, you won’t be able to move the natural or ambient light. So you’ll need to be aware of how you’re positioning your subject.
This is, of course, in relation to the light you have the least amount of control over. Work on that before you position and direct your flash.
Reflectors are a cheap and easy way to add more light to your photography portraits.
They are cheap, lightweight and easy to use objects. They don’t need batteries, meaning they can go anywhere.
There are many different types you can buy. Most will come with combined styles, such as gold, silver and diffused.
They all have a different effect on the added light hitting your subject. Use them to bounce the available light back into the scene. A little extra light makes all the difference.
For all the help in using and hacking reflectors, read our article here.
Entire books have been written on the many lighting patterns available. These are what photographers use in different scenarios.
They can be very specific to fields, for example in product or portrait photography.
Here is a set of very basic lighting patterns. Perfect guidelines for the beginning portrait photographer.
- Split lighting
- Loop lighting
- Rembrandt lighting
- Butterfly lighting
- Broad lighting
- Short lighting
These patterns are among the most useful and easy to create with basic lighting gear. Many more advanced lighting setups are, in fact, variations on these basic ones.
Memorize these and you’ll have a solid foundation of lighting choices. Perfect for any portrait session.
With these basics mastered you’ll be better prepared. Then, you’ll be able to assess more advanced facets of lighting.
These include light quality, direction, and strength ratio.
One of the biggest portrait photography tips we can give you is to use natural light.
Using natural light which enters through a window is a great way to get soft light to an indoor subject. This lighting costs nothing and is often overlooked as a viable source.
The effect of the window on the outdoor light is the same as that of a softbox on a flash. This means ta lesser intensity of the light.
Done right, the effect can be very impressive and professional-looking. But since this is a natural light source, you’ll need to pay close attention to its quality.
The quality and intensity are dependent on the time of day and weather. On top of that, it comes down to how you position your subject in relation to the natural light.
If you have a Speedlite, why not try some DIY. Store-bought modifiers can be expensive to buy, and you might find you don’t use them all the time.
Creating them at home means that you get to try different ways to light your portraits. All without spending a ton of money.
You can try before you buy, or just keep the ones you made. With a few small pieces of plastic, you can create a selection of different modifiers.
Other items you might have laying around the house. You might need to buy a pack of Pringles, but then you can enjoy them too!
Studio lighting for photography portraits is a vast topic unto itself. There is a large amount of terminology that you’ll encounter when dealing with it.
Becoming familiar with the vocabulary of lighting will help you understand light better.
This, in turn, helps your knowledge of the types of light sources, patterns, and tools grow. These are all very important areas when you come to capture portraits.
This short glossary is a handy reference that you can refer to when assembling your lighting kit.
It is helpful in allowing you to manipulate your lighting setup while working in the studio.
One of the best things about the butterfly lighting setup is its simplicity. You need very little gear to pull it off.
The least you’ll need is one off-camera flash and a set of triggers. A reflector can also help direct the light towards the subject.
It is a simple lighting technique. The key light sits above the camera and points directly at your subject.
Read our article on how and when to use this technique.
If you are looking to capture some interesting portraits, try manipulating the light.
Light, as you can imagine is the most important aspect of photography. Without light, every image would be unusable.
By using simple props and situations, you can create some interesting patterns. Use these to add atmosphere into your images.
How to Capture Great Portrait Photography
Props withing portrait photography have many benefits. They help you boost the idea behind the portrait, making it more realistic and believable.
On top of this, it helps to create an easier environment to capture the person in front of the camera. It also gives the hands something to do.
They can be serious, or add some humor to the image. Read our article on how to add props successfully.
With the film industry churning out countless hits, again and again, it is no wonder we look towards them for inspiration.
A cinematic portrait has many attributes. The main one being the difference in the aspect ratio.
Cinematic scenes have a 16:9 ratio, whereas most digital camera images use 3:2.
On top of this, there are color grades you can add and simple rules of compositions. Read here for all the information you’ll need.
If you were wondering what kind of portrait photography that might interest you, we have something great. It might just help point you in the right direction.
There are 10 different types of portrait photography. Each one needs different tips, techniques, and approaches.
You might already a successful portrait photographer. But knowing about other possibilities can help you break into new markets.
Read our article for more information.
Taking a good low-light photo portrait outdoors is potentially a tricky proposition.
As you might have guessed, there is a little bit more involved than showing up with a flash setup.
You will need to assess your surroundings to see what kind of ambient light will be in your composition. Then, you’ll have to adjust your settings and position your model to fit.
Twilight is a great time to take portrait pictures outdoors. You’ll still have the faintest of light in the sky after the sun has gone below the horizon line.
This article walks you through six very important steps. These will help you to take great-looking photos during this time of day.
Night portrait photography is challenging due to the lack of light. But, don’t let that stop you from being creative.
The best images are well exposed with a little imagination thrown in for good measure.
Creating something atmospheric will come down to a few things.
Namely the Mise-en-scène of your setting. This means the clothing, hair, and makeup of your subject.
On top of those, the location in which you shoot and how it looks is just as important. They should come together to create an image of harmony or juxtaposition.
One portrait photography trend of recent years has been to use ambient nighttime light. Neon lights from shop windows are just one area you can find them.
More and more photographers use them as they are still interesting and unusual. They give off that electric and futuristic feel that fits our era and idea of technology.
You can use the neon lights in any number of ways. You just need to get outside when the sun is down.
Portrait Posing and Composition
Once you’ve set up your shooting environment for your portrait, you’re ready to compose the actual image.
Portraits are all about the person or people you are photographing.
Composition, thus, will involve working with them on poses. They need to highlight what you are trying to achieve in your portrait.
Posing your subject can be one of the tougher aspects of portraiture. It requires a separate competency from the rest of your photographer skill set.
Guiding a model through poses demands a basic understanding of the human form. It will also rely on your nonverbal communication.
Moreover, posing men and women are quite different undertakings. You will need to know what kinds of poses are attractive and impactful for both.
Establishing a good rapport with your subject is invaluable here. Without strong communication, you won’t be able to get the best from your model.
Ultimately, achieving fluency at posing requires as much practice and observation as mastering your camera.
Here we’ve provided a few starting points for you to learn how to pose your subjects effectively.
When shooting models, it’s your responsibility to give them the guidance they need. After all, it is your aim to help them look their best in front of the camera.
This applies regardless of whether you’re shooting professional models or family members.
These 10 steps, while generally geared towards the former (you wouldn’t likely be asking for fashion poses during a family portrait photo shoot unless perhaps you were shooting a family of models!), are some good basic rules of thumb.
Follow these when giving directions from behind the camera.
Posing men traditionally involves highlighting angles and emphasizing implied power. Strength through sharply-defined lines is key.
This means emphasizing the V-shaped torso and the jawline. Downplaying round shapes and non-dominant body language is also important.
The prominence of these lines is easily controlled. So are the features of the subject’s physique. it all comes down to the subject’s position.
This is in relation to the camera, and, to a certain extent, through lens selection.
A pose should show broad, stable shapes with a clear structure. This gives the composition a visual strength that communicates the idea that the subject himself is strong.
Women’s poses in portraits traditionally have stressed the curves of the female form. In contrast with men’s poses, women’s avoid straight lines and hard angles.
The key thing to remember when posing women is that the eye should move easily around the portrait.
You guide it along with the curves that you introduce throughout the pose.
Subtle curves can be created by bending the wrists, elbows, and knees. You are looking for positions that are harmonious with the model’s form.
The ‘S Curve’ is a classic pose. It guides the viewer’s eye down the frame from the face, to the arms and hands, following on to the model’s legs.
At its most basic, the family portrait is a group photo. Here, the subject comprises of members of the same family.
It’s a record of who’s part of the family. It will also highlight the relationship between the people in it.
The classic family photography portrait usually shows the family in a studio. Posing as a group, in a line, and facing the camera.
But, recent years have seen a trend towards more creative family portraits.
These highlight the personality and dynamic of a family. Or they present the family members posed unconventionally in a funny or visually interesting setting.
The important thing to remember is to keep the composition balanced. You’re working with many people in a single image.
This article presents some ideas that will help you create poses for the family. They break the mould of the traditional family portraits to show the uniqueness of your subject.
So you have grasped the basics of shooting portraits. Hopefully, you have gained some experience shooting them in a conventional way.
Now you will likely want to start experimenting with the form of your images. Your aim is to make them more visually interesting and different.
These suggestions will give you some ideas of what aspects of portraiture you can play around with. Once you learn this, you can find out how to do it.
The key is to challenge some conventions of portrait photography. this includes, yet not exclusive to composition, lighting, and posing.
You’ll want to do this while retaining others. Your image will still be recognizable as a portrait, but with a ‘twist’.
This is portrait photographer Peter Hurley discussing the headshot. Specifically, the impact that a properly posed jawline can make on a headshot.
It’s a bit of a long video. But it’s worth watching all the way through. It will allow you to see how some subtle adjustments are made.
One change can make all the difference. Especially between a well-defined jawline and the dreaded double chin in your portrait.
Deciding where to crop your subject isn’t always an intuitive process. This is especially true if you’re new to portraiture.
This handy cheat sheet is a visual guide to places where it’s ‘OK’ to crop a subject in a portrait photo. You’ll see the areas you should avoid cropping.
Refer to this if you’re not sure where to crop when composing your photo.
Taking self-portraits is easier than a regular portrait photo. You’re directing yourself and not another person or group of people. But it’s not without its own challenges.
You will need to consider the location where you want to take your self-portrait. You’ll need to prepare that location for shooting.
This includes setting up your camera and any lighting you may be using.
Depending on the location, you may or may not have a mirror with you that you can use. Having one makes adjusting your pose a bit easier.
If you don’t have one, you should still know how to pose yourself. A flattering portrait rather than an awkward or bad-looking one.
Self- Portraiture is where you turn the camera on to the person who is usually behind it. You!
Here, you photograph yourself. You may find this a little daunting. But since you gave so much direction to others, you know exactly what you need to do.
If you don’t know where to start, you’ve come to the right place.
The tips and tricks in this article will teach you how to find inspiration. It will also help you know how to invest in the right equipment.
Get ready to transform yourself into someone different.
Now that you have a pretty good idea of where/how/with what to start, it’s time for us to start photographing.
Many amazing photographers have turned the camera towards themselves. Vivian Maier is just one of those. There is no limit to the inspiration you can find out there.
The self-portraits may include pets, interesting locations or a transformation. It can be of yourself into a different character (fiction or non-fiction) or just a simple close up.
You can experiment with light, or the lack of it. Like everything else in photography, the choice is yours.
You just need to start, criticize your own work, practice and improve. There is no other way or ‘quick route’.
This article gives you everything you will need.
The simple straight forward portrait photography shot works for professional headshots. But what if you are looking for something more creative?
Adding props and interesting lighting ideas can help to make your images special. Fairy lights are just one idea.
If you feel creative, and you have some fairy lights – use them to your advantage. They might provide that kick you’ve been looking for.
Finding locations for your self-portraiture can be easy and difficult. The setting and background are just as important as your subject.
Anywhere can be a location, but does it give you inspiration and fill your image with something interesting?
Look at your setting as a continuation of your mood and feeling. Use negative space to place a stronger focus on the subject.
Colour also has an impact, whether juxtaposed or otherwise.
Read our article here to become inspired. You’ll find better locations for your self-portrait photography.
Styles of Portraits
Shooting in black and white can give your portraits a classic, timeless look. When you remove color, details of texture, shape, and positioning stand out even more.
It also helps to place an emphasis on the person as you see previously unnoticed subtleties.
I find that the textures that you see in black and white portraits really reveal the character of a person’s face.
Everything you’ve learned about portraiture still applies. Black and white photography portraits are special.
It forces you to think even more about light and shadow in your compositions. And about capturing without the distraction that color sometimes can bring.
This article talks more about the basics of capturing traditional family portrait photography.
You will learn about what to consider when choosing a location. Also, how to arrange the people in the photos.
How to light the group and highlight relationships are some examples of what you need to be aware of. Also, experience working with kids may be necessary.
And of course, there is the question of what camera settings you’ll want to use.
A photography contract for portrait photography is to ensure both parties retain their rights.
It makes sure that neither side can do anything with the images that were not pre-discussed and agreed upon.
Risk of prosecution can come from either side if consent was not given.
One rule for photographing people is to get a model release. This is a contract between both parties, allowing the use of the model’s image.
Most stock photography requires this if you wish to sell the images online.
Read here for the other nine tips on what your portrait photo contract needs to have.
Post-Processing & Sharing Portraits
The aim of post-processing portraits is to strengthen your images. they allow you to keep the subject of your image the central focus of the image.
On top of that, post-processing can help fix the areas you missed during the shoot. Here, you have another chance to ensure your group looks attractive and appealing.
This amounts to you adjusting image values to accentuate certain physical features. these include eyes, hair, and skin tone.
Here, you can cut distracting things such as blemishes and noisy background elements.
As a professional photographer, delivering quality images on time is paramount.
That’s where Pixieset comes in. This is a platform that allows you to easily share large files with your clients. This all comes at a monthly fee.
The website holds your images, issuing a URL ad password for your clients. They use this to view and select the images they want.
Not only does it save you time. Your clients will be happy, satisfied, and likely to work with you again! It’s definitely one of the top options for file sharing.
For the full review, and information on how to get started, read our article here.
Adobe Lightroom is great for the majority of your portraiture post-processing. It affords you a smaller toolset than Photoshop.
But it enables an easier workflow and archiving process through its organizational features.
For global changes to an image as well as cropping, Lightroom has all your bases covered.
Plus, if you are working with a batch of files that need editing, Lightroom will likely be more useful to you.
It has the ability to apply presets to many photos and adds metadata and notes to your files.
This guide gives you a solid overview of how to organize your portrait files. And how to perform the major corrections and edits that portraits usually need.
When you think of removing bags under your subject’s eyes. Or removing unflattering marks and stray hairs. Perhaps even warming up flat skin tones – you’re thinking of ‘retouching’.
Retouching portraits is an essential skill. Adobe Photoshop is your go-to tool for these kinds of edits.
It’s usually the final stage of portrait photography before you have a finished product.
This article has tutorials on some of the most commonly used retouching techniques. These include spot healing, frequency separation, and dodging & burning, et al.