10 quick tips to step up your portrait game

By GD Photo Network


Photo: Daniel Kwak

Mastering the photographic portrait is one of the most important skills a photographer can develop. Portraits have the power to incite emotions, capture humanity, and bring people together. For entrepreneurs and business owners, having a great portrait is an especially crucial aspect of their online presence and website.  

Given their importance within a photographer’s skillset, portraits can also be the trickiest shots to perfect. Sometimes the most seemingly simple portraits are the ones that require the most thoughtful execution. Check out our favorite tips below to help step up your portraiture game:

1. Use your environment.

  • When crafting a great portrait, keep in mind that a headshot and a portrait are two entirely different images with completely different feelings. Incorporating environmental clues and drawing emotional moments from your subject will help build a narrative and add context about who the person is and what makes them special. 
Cory Shupe w/ Sourdough

2. It’s all about the lighting. 

  • Getting creative with lighting decisions will greatly impact how your portrait feels. Dark and moody? Light and airy? Asymmetrical and artistic? 
Photo: Kassia Phoy

3. Understand your equipment. 

  • Knowing what effect your gear will have on your final images is essential for getting the right look and feel for your portrait. Most modern cameras have the ability to shoot quality portraits, as long as the photographer has a firm grasp on how to use it.

4. Connect with your subjects. 

  • Getting a portrait taken is not a natural process for every person. Spending some time getting to know your subjects prior to photographing them is an essential part of the portrait process and builds comfort and trust. The time you spend not firing the shutter is just as important as the time that you do.  

5. Consider your depth of field. 

  • Your entire exposure will determine the final look of your portrait, but understanding depth of field will have a drastic impact on the vibe you are trying to achieve.

6. Check your focus. 

  • This very simple step will go a long way if you commit now and forever to always check your focus throughout the course of the shoot! There is no worse feeling than finding your fantastic portraits are not perfectly sharp later when you file images. Take moments throughout your session to pause, and zoom close up onto your subjects eyes to be 100% sure that your images are perfectly crisp. (It’s really hard to tell without zooming in on the very small LCD screen of your camera.)

7. Do your homework. 

  • Look at other photographers that speak to you for some pre-shoot inspiration. Pinterest, Instagram, and photo blogs are great sources to get you in a creative mindset.

8. Don’t rush. 

  • Sometimes the hardest part of portraiture can be to slow down! We are in the digital age of instant gratification made possible by cameras with rapid shutters and endless file storage. Slowing down will allow you to keep your subject at ease and find those small, intimate moments.
Photo: Bradd Eeles

9. Stay positive and confident.

  • The first initial portraits that you take during a session may not be your winning shots. Remember that this is a common feeling amongst photographers. It can often take some time to get into the groove of a shoot, so don’t get discouraged! Your subjects will be able to tell when you’re flustered so remember to stay positive and pause to brainstorm when you need to. 

10. Practice, practice, practice. 

  • Although every portrait will present itself with unique challenges, it is a skill that will improve as you repeat the motions. The more portraits that you take, the easier it will be for you to understand what poses are flattering, how to use light to control the feel of your portraits, and tricks to keep your subjects comfortable.