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10 Tips for Stunning Portrait Photography

The difference between amateur and professional portraits can be vast.
So we've compiled this list of 10 of the most important portrait photography tips for any photographer to know.

1. Expression

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

People tend to forget that a portrait without a REAL expression does not connect to the viewer. Humankind wants to see genuine emotion and not a posed, cheesy smile. This is more important than location, light and expensive gear. Clients will more often than not choose the blurry images with bad compositions if it means those images are honest portrayals of themselves.The first thing people look at is the connection the subject has with the camera. The only way to achieve that is to make the subject comfortable. A Vital Detail Often Ignored is an in depth guide on how to make a subject feel natural in front of the camera

2. Aperture

When shooting portraits, it's best to set a wide aperture (around f/2.8-f/5.6) to capture a shallow depth of field, so the background behind your subject is nicely blurred, making them stand out better.

Shoot in Aperture Priority mode to control depth of field; in this mode your DSLR will helpfully set the shutter speed for a correct exposure.
Specialist portrait lenses tend to have even wider maximum apertures (from f/1.4 to f/2.8) in order to blur backgrounds further.

3.Go with a Wide Angle

Shooting with a wide angle lens attached to your camera can help create some memorable shots when you’re doing portrait photography.

At very wide focal lengths you can create some wonderful distortion. It might not be the type of shot you take of your wife or girlfriend (unless she’s in a playful mood) but using these focal lengths will enlarge parts of the face or body that are on the edge of the frame more than what is in the centre.
It can also give a wide open and dramatic impact when your subject is in an impressive setting.

4. Increase your ISO

People move around a lot as they're photographed, not to mention blink and constantly change their facial expressions - and there's nothing worse than a photo of somebody half-blinking or gurning instead of smiling!

photo of somebody half-blinking or gurning instead of smiling!
To avoid these problems, and to prevent motion blur appearing, you'll need to use a fast shutter speed.
This will also help to ensure sharp shots and avoid camera-shake because more often than not you'll be shooting portraits handheld.
While in Aperture Priority mode and maintaining a wide aperture, to increase your shutter speed simply increase your ISO (from ISO100 to ISO400, say).
In low light (indoors and outside), you may need to increase it to ISO1,600, 3,200 or even 6,400. A little grain is infinitely better than a blurry, useless photo.

5. Composition

The purpose of properly composing images is to attract the viewer’s eye straight to the most important detail of the portrait—the subject’s face and more specifically, the eyes. This is where two important rules kick in: rule of thirds and depth.

It is scientifically proven that the eye is most attracted to four different points of an image. Sticking with these four points will help frame the subject in the most pleasing manner. Further, when taking photographs, it goes without say that the images produced will be 2-dimensional. To make it look 3-dimensional and to make the subject pop out of the frame, there must be depth in the composition.  An image’s foreground, middle ground and background are essential in achieving the necessary depth. This article on bokeh discusses this concept in depth.

6. Light

The topic of light deserves it’s own article but to be concise, there are two important things to keep in mind. Just like artificial light is very directional, natural light needs to be this way too. It is for this reason that using window light is so popular.
Further, when shooting outdoors, consciousness of the direction of light is intrinsic. To achieve the best lighting, have the subject face the light source. For example, using the beam of light coming from the ends of the street in narrow alleys or the light coming from the large opening in storefronts or garages. The above image was taken miday in the door way of a bar. In the case of open fields, the light oftentimes comes from above head. In instances like that, tilting the subjects face slightly upward towards the light has proven to be affective.

The second rule is time of day. Although cliché and contrite, the golden hour is a real thing. Most importantly, it’s free and possibly the best quality light any photographer will ever use if used appropriately. An hour before sunset, the entire sky is one huge soft box. Harsh light that results from direct sunlight is very difficult to work with.

7. It’s all about the Eyes

The eyes have been called the “windows to the soul.” “Nothing could be closer to the truth for portrait photography,” says Brian Smith. “When photographing people, you’ll almost always want to place the emphasis on their eyes. You could have the perfect composition and exposure, but if the eyes aren’t sharp, the entire image suffers.”

8. Get artistic with flash lighting

Equipped with a flashgun, remote triggers and a good-sized diffuser, you open up the possibility of a vast array of clever and cool lighting set-ups.
Light your subjects from the side to add drama to your portraits, and get creative by under-exposing the sky or background, dialling in -2 stops of Exposure Compensation to capture a moody backdrop behind your subjects.

9.Find interesting-looking models

It seems that photographers always seem to pick models who look similar to them, but trying to find someone completely different can really add to your portrait photography.  I'm not much of a motorcycle goth tattoo type, so when I get the chance to photograph that type of person, I'm amazed by everything about the person.  This difference makes me interested in the shoot and helps me to get great shots. 

10.Don't shoot in direct sunlight

Direct, midday sun is notoriously unflattering. Not only will your subject be prone to squinting, but the harsh light will cast deep shadows into their eyes and across the lower part of their face.The best time for outdoor portraits is on a cloudy day or when the sun is low in the sky. If you need to shoot on a sunny day, be sure to move into the shade.

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