5 Tips for Shooting Great Portraits

Family in a park
by Ben Earwicker

What sort of photos do you post on DropShots? Landscapes, photos from your travels, flowers and macro, or people? My guess is that you have lots of photos with people in them. It’s not a secret that it’s really hard to take beautiful photos of people, especially if you are not a professional photographer. That’s why we thought we’d post five tips for shooting great portraits and share them with all DropShots users.

1. Make everything simple

The first rule for taking great and realistic portraits is to not overcomplicate everything. Don’t try to be clever and let the subjects work for you in the most natural surrounding. Try to take photos of people with using natural light, level backgrounds and avoid things like horizon lines running through people’s heads. Remember that the people you are taking the photo of are the subject and not the details that surround them.

2. Don’t force people to smile

Have a look at some of your photos and I bet you will see lots of people shots where everybody looks like they are choking because they are really making an effort to smile. Never say things like “Hold still!” or “Smile!” because that will make your subjects feel uncomfortable. Remember that if they feel uncomfortable, they will look uncomfortable in the photo. Make sure your subjects feel relaxed and look natural because that’s the ticket to shooting a great portrait.

3. Take the photo from their eye level

Have you ever been photographed from below? I’m sure you have and I’m pretty certain you hate that photo. Photos from below are not flattering at best and that’s why you should avoid shooting from that particular angle unless you are going for a certain effect. So, for the best possible portrait shot, take your photo either from your subject’s eye level or from above.

4. Shoot portraits at an angle

Another way to make your portrait photography more interesting is to shoot at an angle. That will help you avoid those boring passport-like photos. Ask your subject to look away from the lens a bit, make them twist their waste a bit and follow the direction of their face. Doing that will help you create beautiful, natural and finished portraits.

5. Find the best settings and use them

All digital cameras are different. While some of you may use dSLRs that have all the settings you can dream of, some may use a simple point-and-shoot camera or a mobile phone camera. Some of you may know all about exposure, f-stop, aperture and the rest, while some will use automatic camera settings and presets. And that’s OK because using automatic settings doesn’t make you less of a photographer. But since I have a Nikon dSLR, I’m going to share some settings that I use:

  • I usually shoot portraits in Aperture Priority mode, which is the most fool-proof mode for photographing people
  • I always shoot in RAW because that lets me easily touch up and enhance the photos in Lightroom and Photoshop
  • In most situations I underexpose portraits by one stop to avoid overexposure and bring forward the details

And one last bit – feel free to experiment, go beyond the standard headshot and try to catch the mood and the spirit of the person you are photographing.

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