Portrait photography was once the realm of the professional portrait photographer but now most amateur photographers can shoot a reasonable selection of portraits without much experience. This is because digital allows you to review your images immediately and make any colour or lighting corrections. So how can the average amateur take good quality portrait photos. Here’s how.
The bottom line for any budding portrait photographer is good basic photography gear. If you have this then you are on your way to good images.
1. Relax your subject
The difference between a professional portrait photographer and an amateur can be seen immediately by how relaxed the subject is in the photo. Experienced photographers will put a subject at ease very quickly. Without the ability to do this you won’t progress much further in your portrait photography. So take the time to master this before attempting any shooting of your subject. This can be done by an informal chat before the shoot, allowing a child the freedom to play with interesting toys or just playing around with your camera and allowing the person to shoot some images of you or the surroundings. Develop your own techniques to relax them that work for you and your subject. There is one problem though, if you aren’t a people person you are going to struggle in this field as it is focused people. So, either find a way to become more outgoing or choose another genre of photography.
2. Use props
This can be a contentious issue as some photographers don’t like using props. I say whatever works, use it. The bottom line is that you want a great image at the end of the shoot and however you do it is okay. Now, it will be difficult to keep a supply of props for every kind of person so doing a bit of research prior to a shoot is essential. Ask the subject to bring in their favourite things, work or play items or just something that they’d like in the image. Children make this easy as they always have something that they are interested in or like. Before you jump to conclusions, these are not to be included in all the photos and perhaps none of them. They are there to relax your subject and get them in the zone. Of course some may be really appropriate like an Ipod for a teenager or a book for an elderly person. One of the best personal portraits I ever shot was of my elderly grandmother looking up from the cowboy book she was reading.
3. Change your perspective
By simply changing the position you are shooting from will create a different image altogether. Don’t be afraid to vary your height or angle. Shoot from low down looking up. With children you need to get down to their level and make sure that the camera is at the same level as their eyes and they are looking directly into it. So often images of kids are taken from above their eye level and they are just not as effective so remember this point.
4. Get in closer
We all tend shoot from too far away and rely on zooms. By shooting just part of a subject’s face you immediately change the whole character of the image. Eyes of course are the most effective as they are the window to the soul, as the old adage goes. Remember that portraits are shot to make memories and a closer image allows you to see more of the person which is important years in the future.
I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of this subject as books are written every year on lighting. What I would recommend is that you get a good flash with a diffuser to break down any harsh lighting. Reasonably priced lighting kits are available for the beginner so explore online and in your local photography shops for entry-level gear. And, don’t be afraid to explore natural lighting, another huge subject.
These are just a few tips that if put into practise properly and regularly will help you achieve a level of excellence very quickly. Happy shooting!