Portrait Photography Tips
Composition and Setting
While we could explore hundreds of photography tips for getting better shots of people which draw out a subject’s personality or features, nothing is more important in taking pictures of human subjects than composition and setting.
When you are setting up composition for a portrait, there are a couple of things to consider. The first is how close you want to be to your subject and subsequently, how much of the frame you want to fill with your subject. Do you want to capture subtle details of facial expressions or interesting physical features unique to the person you are capturing? If so, then finding a way to fill the frame with the subject’s face or body is key. Take some time to think about why you want to capture an image of a particular person and what is intriguing and interesting about them. This will determine how you set up a shot.
This also leads into the next of our portrait photography tips: proper contextual setting. I have long had a fascination with trains and more precisely, the railroad employees who travel the rail lines along secluded paths throughout the world. I was able to find an engineer stationed with a rail company near my home and spoke with him about capturing some images of him. The man had a weathered and traveled look about him from his many years riding the rails. However, there would have been no context within the images had I not asked to meet him at a rail yard where the opportunity to tell the story of his years of service to the transportation industry was made real by the presence of diesel engines and rail cars.
After setting up your shot, you can also experiment with the inclusion of direct eye contact versus having your subject look away from the camera. Direct eye contact in a portrait portrays intensity of personality while having your subject look away from the camera toward a distant spot can either draw out a feelings of contemplation, brooding, or desire. It can also draw your viewers’ attention to other elements of the photograph as I did with the railway engineer. Watching him stare deep into the composition at a long line of rail cars produced an image which reflected his great sense of responsibility for making safe passage across the country with hundreds of thousands of tons of speeding cargo and told the story of how this burden weighed on him personally.
There are several photography disciplines in which lighting plays a critical role and portraiture is among them. Finding unique and interesting ways to light your subject’s features can have a dramatic impact on your portraits. Experiment with light from the side of a subject or from below his or her face to produce shadows which draw out the facial and body features which belong to your subject alone.
Experimenting with these portrait photography tips can lead to rewarding images that portray the essence of human nature and the role we play in our environments.
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