HOW TO TAKE BETTER PORTRAITS

LEARN THE ELEMENTS OF A GOOD PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPH

It can’t be that difficult, right? Your friend/spouse/child asks you to take his/her picture. You have a nice digital camera, so you grab it and take the shot. But you’re not happy with the result, and you don’t know why. It’s in focus and properly exposed, so what’s wrong? You’ve just learned that there’s more to a good portrait than getting it technically right.

First, put some thought into the background. It shouldn’t distract from the subject. A plain wall, dark green foliage—anything that’s simple (without strong lines or patterns) works well. There’s nothing worse than a line, pole, or branch appearing to grow out of the subject’s head.

CONSIDER THE BACKGROUND

If you photograph someone against a bright background, you may well end up with a silhouette. That’s because the brightness behind can cause the camera to underexpose the subject, making it appear dark. To counteract this, you could pop up your DSLR’s built-in flash, or turn on the flash function. But while you would add light to the face, you’d still have the problem of that bright background.

It has exposure compensation. Overexpose by one or two f/stops or shutter speeds to offset the brightness of the background. If the results are still not what you wanted, try a different background: preferably one that’s darker than the subject.

Keep in mind that the picture is about your subject. Don’t shoot the entire area around them. Get closer by physically moving in, or by using a telephoto lens or zoom lens. Isolate your subject against that simple background you found. People’s heads are vertical, so shoot them that way. Horizontal portraits can look uncomfortable.

THINK ABOUT STYLING

Next, consider how the subject is dressed. Solid colours tend to work well in portraits, mainly because they’re not distracting. Bright patterns scream out: look at me, don’t look at the face.

FLATTERING ANGLES

Finally: unless you shoot mug shots for the local department, don’t photograph your subject head-on. Have the subject turn their body a little and rotate the head back to face you. It’s a nicer, more flattering pose that also helps slim people down.