Beginner Tips for Portrait Photography
Portrait photography is a great way to cut your photography baby teeth. Learning to work with models or subjects is a skill that will help you throughout your photography career. Figure out what you want from the shoot ahead of time so that you know what to ask for. Get comfortable too, with your camera equipment (especially lenses). But most importantly, make your models feel comfortable!
Especially if your subjects aren’t comfortable or familiar with portraits, it’s a good idea to come prepared. “I introduce a couple images that I want the model to mimic,” says Brooklyn photographer Jason Lau. Stock pictures work well here. If all else fails, don’t be afraid to perform yourself and strike a pose! “I demonstrate with my own body, and show the model how I like them to pose.”
Connect with Your Subject
The absolute most important aspect of portrait photography is to earn your subject’s trust. We’re not talking “name your first kid after them” close, but at least “watch my stuff in a Starbucks while I use the restroom” assurance. Ask about their life. Form a human connection. If you’re a nervous person by nature, then take a few minutes before the shoot to meditate in your photo studio. It’s not a waste of time! You’re clearing the air for your model (and yourself) to relax. Once you’re both comfortable, the conversation will flow more easily.
Focus on the Eye
“My number one advice to beginner portrait photographers is to make sure to focus on the eye,” says Lau. As windows to the soul, eyes make the portrait pop. Apart from bright light (not blinding of course, but enough to dilate the eyes) we recommend genuine emotion. How do you force a genuine emotion? You don’t. Again, connecting with your subject is the key here. If the subject is nervous or cold, you won’t get a beautiful expression. However, if the subject is comfortable and happy – magic.
Know Your Lens
The classic portraiture lens is a prime 85mm, and it’s definitely still a best lens for shooting portraits! Prime lenses provide better image quality and clarity, but zooms offer great versatility. Something like a 70-200mm workhorse lens gives you some space to maneuver (so you won’t have to zoom with your feet) during larger shoots. Many photographers like to use Bokeh to artfully blur their portraits, especially for glamour photography, so make sure whatever lens you choose has the ability to shoot at an f/2.8 or f/1.8.
Shoot in RAW
It’s no secret that RAW files collect more data than JPEG, and so take up more space on your memory card and hard drive. However, they offer wonderful bonuses like more accurate skin tone (which, for portrait photography, matters) and better dynamic range. Plus, to shoot in RAW gives you more flexibility in the editing phase. It lets you, for example, more effectively correct under or over exposed images. All told, RAW simply gets you the best level of quality and greatest adaptability.
Like everything else, portrait photography requires skills – but many of them are interpersonal! While it’s important to know your equipment and shoot in RAW, the best portraits are often the result of collaboration between the subject and the photographer. So, put some effort into getting to know your subject and making them comfortable. You won’t be disappointed!