Quick Tips to Professional-Looking Portraits
If you want to pursue portrait photography but haven’t the slightest idea how the professionals produce images that are so powerful and unique, consider the following quick tips to help steer you in the right direction.
Rule of Thirds
This rule of photography applies to much more than landscape images – it also applies to portraits. When framing a tight crop of a portrait, many new photographers will place their model’s face dead center. However, when we look at a portrait we typically are drawn to the eyes as the focal point – this means that if we follow the rule of thirds, we should place the eyes on the top third of our image – this makes for a more balanced photo.
You can also play around with this rule and place the eyes on the bottom third for a truly powerful image using negative space.
Using strobes – or flash – doesn’t always have to look cold and flattening, which is what happens when you use direct flash. There are so many wonderful things you can do with off-camera flash – a world of professional looking, on-location portraits can open up for you.
Off-camera flash has the ability to add depth and drama to any portrait, or it can be used to balance out your exposure with a bright, intense background. Your portrait options are endless with a few flash strobes, and they allow you to take portraits outside of the studio.
Flash portrait photography is a difficult thing to master, no doubt – but thankfully there are plenty of free resources chock-full of valuable information.
Neil van Niekerk, who has made a name for his work by balancing out ambient light and flash strobes to create beautiful wedding photos, has written an incredibly informative guide on the subject. Click here to browse through his collection of articles.
Opposite of using flash to invoke a dramatic mood, overcast lighting is also a fantastic way to create beautiful portraits. This light has the ability to eliminate harsh shadows and has a very pleasing appearance – you’ll find that most professional wedding photographers love a cloudy wedding day as it provides the best lighting for their photos.
Overcast lighting is not just possible on cloudy days either – as long as the sun isn’t directly hitting your model, you can still achieve the soft effect of overcast like in this amazing sunset portrait below.
Besides being selective with your lighting, there’s a quick change you can make in order to isolate your model – a huge plus to portraits. By adjusting your aperture setting wider, you can decrease the depth of field and put more focus onto your model – this isolation really makes portraits stand out.
Taking portraits is much more than great lighting and a strong crop – you need to think beyond that and consider your environment, context, and how all the elements of your portrait come together. However these tips will give you a great start where you’ll see an instant improvement on your next portrait session.