6 steps to improving your portraits.

Unless you only take photographs of wildlife or landscapes it is likely that you will have human subjects from time to time. Learning how to take good portrait photographs will improve your photography as a whole – whether you are a wedding photographer, a photojournalist or you specialise in fashion or fine art photography.

There are a few tips that will strengthen your portrait photography.

1. Choosing the correct background to convey something about your subject.
This is quite straightforward. If your subject is a fisherman, placing him in from of a fishing boat or the ocean will tell you more about him.

2. Choosing a prop that seems like a natural extension of the subject.
To stick with the fisherman, a woolen hat, or a pair of rubber boots will tell something extra about the subject of the portrait. Try not to be too obvious though, the person should be the primary focus of a portrait. Any prop has to seem like a natural extension of the subject and it should never distract the viewer from the subject.

3. Light the subject according to the features/traits you want to exaggerate.
If you are taking a fashion portrait or a portfolio shot, use flattering lighting. That is natural light in the golden hour (not harsh mid-afternoon light) or understated studio lights. If you are lighting in the studio – side lights are flattering and tend to eliminate shadows. Harsh lights can work well with an older subject – where their wrinkles and lines (which will be exposed) are a focal point of the portrait.

4. Take the time to prepare.
A stiff, uncomfortable subject will not lend her/himself to a good portrait. Keeping the subject waiting while you set up your cameras and lights will only give them more time to psyche themselves out. Make sure the studio or location is ready for the subject when they arrive.

5. Depth of field.
Shallow depth of field is an excellent tool to ensure the viewer is focused on the subject. The rest of the photograph (the blurry, out of focus part) becomes yet another way of drawing the viewer’s eye to the focal point of the portrait.

6. Help your subject relax.
Interact with the subject to help them relax. This may result in interesting facial expressions as the subject speaks or laughs. These facial expressions will tell the viewer more about the subject of the photograph – the end goal of portraiture.