Simple tips for great portraits

You may not have spent thousands of dollars on photography equipment, but you’re probably like most of the world and enjoy creating and sharing photos with friends and family. How can you make the most of your tools? Follow these simple tips to creating some great portaits, no matter what your equipment!

1)   Look for catch lights: Catch lights are the little flecks of light that you can see in someone’s eyes in a photo. They can be created by a nearby window, light, or even the open sky. When you’re positioning your subject, look for catch lights in their eyes. This is usually an indicator that you have a good light source. In addition, catch lights help to bring a lively factor to your subject. Have you ever seen a photo where someone with brown eyes appears zombie-like? It may be because there are no catch lights in their eyes. This is the twinkle that you’re looking for.

2)   Look for distortion: When I shoot portraits, I’m typically shooting with a “long” lens. This means that I can be fairly far away from my subject but still photograph a close-up of them. For those who are shooting on a DSLR, this may mean an 85mm or 70-200mm lens. These long lenses allow for compression in the photo and do not have nearly the level of distortion as a wide angle lens. Have you ever seen a photo where someone says “Whoa! My nose is HUGE!”. It may be because of lens distortion. If you can, shoot with a long lens. If your camera doesn’t allow for this, try using the zoom feature instead of standing really close to your subject. The closer you are to them with a wide angle lens, the wider they appear as well.

3)   Shade is your friend: I love shooting “on the edge of the shade”. This is the area where the shade ends and the sun begins. Try this experiment – have your subject stand in the sun, and then slowly back up underneath of a tree. You will see that there is a point when they are right under the tree in the full shade, yet the light hits them beautifully and lights them up. The further they go under the tree, the darker they get. Aim to shoot right at this “end of the shade” area. This is where the light will bounce up from the ground onto your subject’s face and can be extremely flattering. Shade is your friend!

4)   Composition can create interest: A photo with your subject smack in the middle may be a good standard portrait, but using some basic tools of composition can add to the visual interest of your photo. Try placing your subject slightly off-center, or frame them with something in the foreground.  Use  lines to draw your eye to them (someone leaning on a railing is an example). Using the first three tips and then adding some creative composition will create photos that “wow!”

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