Whether you’re a seasoned portrait photographer or just starting out, I’ll be providing you with my top 25 portrait photography tips to help you elevate your skills.
So grab your camera and let’s dive in!
Here are 25 of my top portrait photography tips. This list is in no particular order.
Table of Contents
1. Location, Location, Location
The first portrait photography tip is location.
When searching for the perfect location for a portrait shoot, consider selecting a setting that aligns with your subject’s personality or desired theme. The location you choose can significantly impact the overall mood, visual aesthetics, and storytelling potential of your photographs.
For example, if you’re capturing a portrait of an adventurous individual who loves the outdoors, a picturesque natural landscape with mountains, forests, or a serene lake as the backdrop would be ideal.
This location would not only complement their personality but also enhance the sense of adventure and freedom they embody. The scenic beauty of the surroundings would add depth and context to the image, creating a visually captivating composition.
For instance, I once photographed an artist in a serene meadow at golden hour. The soft, warm light filtered through the tall grass, creating a dreamy atmosphere that perfectly suited her creative and whimsical personality. The location provided a tranquil and ethereal backdrop that accentuated her bohemian style and added a touch of magic to the portraits.
On another occasion, I captured a series of portraits for a content creator in a vibrant and bustling urban setting. We explored a colorful neighborhood adorned with vibrant street art, which perfectly complemented his bold content creation style.
2. Use Natural Light for Soft Effects
My second tip is to use natural light for soft effects.
As a portrait photographer who mostly uses natural light, harnessing the power of natural light is a key aspect of my craft.
Utilizing natural light can create a soft and flattering effect that enhances the beauty of the subject and adds a natural and organic feel to the photographs.
One example of using natural light to create a soft and flattering effect is during a sunrise or sunset session. The golden hour, which occurs shortly after sunrise or before sunset, offers a warm and diffused light that wraps around the subject, casting a soft and gentle glow.
This type of lighting can create a romantic and ethereal ambiance, adding a touch of magic to the portraits. It brings out the natural colors and textures of the subject’s skin, resulting in a soft and flattering portrayal.
3. Experiment With Angles
The third tip is to experiment with angles.
As a portrait photographer, I try to constantly seek out different angles and perspectives to add variety and interest to my images. By exploring unconventional viewpoints, I can create visually captivating portraits that stand out and evoke a sense of intrigue.
One example of experimenting with angles and perspectives is capturing a portrait from a low angle.
By positioning myself below the subject’s eye level and shooting upwards, I can create a sense of empowerment and dominance. This technique works particularly well for portraying strong, confident individuals or showcasing their unique style.
The resulting images have a dynamic and commanding feel, emphasizing the subject’s presence and creating a compelling visual impact.
Conversely, shooting from a high angle can produce interesting and engaging portraits. By positioning myself above the subject, I can create a sense of vulnerability or innocence, depending on the context.
This technique is effective for capturing portraits of children, showcasing their innocence, and capturing their world from a perspective that emphasizes their small stature. It can also add a unique storytelling element when photographing subjects engaged in specific activities or surrounded by interesting objects or scenery.
Another approach is to experiment with different compositional techniques, such as framing the subject within elements of the environment. This could involve shooting through objects like windows, foliage, or architectural structures to create a sense of depth and context.
By incorporating these elements into the frame, the viewer’s attention is drawn to the subject while also providing visual interest and a narrative element to the photograph.
4. Pay Attention to the Background
The fourth tip is to pay attention to the background.
As a portrait photographer, paying careful attention to the background is essential to ensure that it complements your subject.
A well-managed background allows the subject to take center stage, creating a harmonious and visually pleasing composition.
One technique I employ is selecting a background that offers a clean and uncluttered backdrop. By choosing a simple and minimalistic setting, the focus remains squarely on the subject, emphasizing their presence and allowing their features and expressions to shine.
This can be achieved by positioning the subject against a solid-colored wall, utilizing negative space, or finding open areas free from visual distractions.
Another consideration is the use of shallow depth of field. By shooting with a wide aperture (low f-stop), I can create a shallow depth of field, resulting in a blurred background.
This technique helps to isolate the subject and separate them from any potential distractions in the background.
The soft and dreamy bokeh effect produced by the out-of-focus background adds an aesthetic appeal and draws the viewer’s attention to the subject.
5. Give Guidance and Clear Instructions
The fifth tip is to give guidance and clear instructions.
As a portrait photographer, directing subjects and guiding them through poses is crucial to create compelling and natural-looking portraits.
By providing clear instructions and guidance, I can help my subjects feel at ease, bring out their best features, and capture authentic expressions.
To begin, I establish a comfortable rapport with my subjects, building trust and creating a relaxed atmosphere. This allows them to feel more at ease in front of the camera and open up, resulting in more genuine and expressive photographs.
Next, I give clear instructions on posing while also allowing room for individuality and spontaneity. I start with general guidance on body positioning, such as suggesting a slight turn of the shoulders or adjusting the angle of the head.
By providing specific instructions, I help my subjects understand the desired look and create a foundation for them to work with.
However, I also encourage my subjects to bring their own personality and style into the poses. This can involve asking them to interact with their surroundings, engage in a specific activity, or simply encourage them to be themselves.
By allowing their natural behavior to shine through, I can capture candid and authentic moments that reflect their true essence.
During the shoot, I continuously provide feedback and positive reinforcement. This helps to boost my subjects’ confidence and allows them to feel more comfortable in front of the camera.
Offering praise for their efforts and highlighting the aspects that are working well encourages them to stay engaged and cooperative throughout the session.
6. Use a Wide Aperture
The sixth tip is to use a wide aperture.
Using a wide aperture, indicated by a low f-stop value, is a powerful technique to create a shallow depth of field, isolating the subject from the background, adding emphasis, and making them the prominent focal point of the image.
This approach adds a sense of depth, visual interest, and directs the viewer’s attention precisely where you want it to be.
In my portrait photography, I often opt for wide apertures such as f/1.8 or f/2.8 to achieve this shallow depth of field effect. By using a wide aperture, I can achieve a narrow plane of focus, resulting in a beautifully blurred background while keeping the subject sharp and in focus.
For example, I once photographed a model in a vibrant urban environment. By using a wide aperture, I was able to separate the subject from the busy surroundings.
7. Consider the Rule of Thirds
The seventh tip is to consider the rule of thirds, one of my favorite composition techniques.
Considering the rule of thirds is a valuable technique in portrait photography that helps create a balanced and visually appealing composition. By dividing the frame into a 3×3 grid, you can strategically position your subject and key elements to enhance the overall visual impact of your image.
In my own portrait photography, I often utilize the rule of thirds to add interest and balance to my compositions. Placing the subject off-center, along the intersections or lines of the grid, creates a more dynamic and engaging composition compared to placing them in the center of the frame.
For example, I once photographed a subject against a stunning landscape. By positioning them along one of the vertical grid lines, I was able to capture the vastness of the scenery while maintaining a strong focus on the subject.
This composition allowed the viewer’s eye to naturally explore the image, moving from the subject towards the captivating background, resulting in a well-balanced and visually pleasing photograph.
8. Establish a Connection With Subject
The eighth tip is to establish a connection with your subject.
Establishing a connection with your subject is essential in portrait photography, as it creates a comfortable and relaxed environment that allows their true personality to shine through.
When subjects feel at ease, they become more natural, expressive, and willing to open up, resulting in photographs that truly capture their essence.
In my own approach as a portrait photographer, building a connection with my subjects is one of my top priorities. I strive to create a welcoming and non-judgmental atmosphere where they feel safe to be themselves.
This begins with open communication, actively listening to their ideas, expectations, and concerns. By understanding their vision and collaborating with them, I show that their input is valued and respected.
During a shoot, I take the time to engage in genuine conversations with my subjects. I ask about their interests, passions, or simply chat about everyday topics. This not only helps to establish a personal connection but also acts as a distraction from the camera, making them feel more comfortable and less self-conscious.
It’s important to remember that every individual is unique, and their comfort levels may vary.
Some subjects may be more extroverted and readily engage in conversation, while others may be more introverted and require a slower and more gentle approach. As a photographer, you should try to adapt to each subject’s personality.
9. Capture Candid
The ninth tip is to try and capture candid moments.
While easier said than done, capturing candid moments is a powerful approach in portrait photography as it allows for the genuine emotions and expressions of the subject to shine through.
These unposed and unscripted moments often result in some of the most authentic and captivating portraits.
As mentioned in the previous tip, I prioritize creating an environment where my subjects feel comfortable and at ease. By establishing a connection and building rapport, I create a space that encourages them to be themselves and express their true emotions.
During a photoshoot, I remain observant and attentive, ready to capture those spontaneous moments that reflect the subject’s genuine personality and emotions.
This could be a fleeting smile, a thoughtful gaze, or a burst of laughter. These candid moments have a natural and unguarded quality that resonates with viewers and adds depth to the portrait.
For example, I once photographed a man that had never had professional pictures taken so he was a bit uneasy and nervous. While I provided some direction and posed shots, some of the most memorable images came from those candid, in-between moments.
10. Incorporate Props
The tenth tip is to incorporate props if applicable.
Incorporating props into portrait photography is a fantastic way to add depth, visual interest, and storytelling elements to the photographs.
Props can enhance the overall composition, highlight the subject’s personality or interests, and contribute to the narrative of the image.
In my own portrait photography, I often collaborate with subjects to select props that hold personal meaning to them or reflect their unique characteristics, especially in an environmental portrait or lifestyle portrait session.
By doing so, the props become extensions of their identity and help create a more meaningful and memorable photograph.
For example, during a portrait session with a bartender, I incorporated their mixers as a prop. The instrument served not only as a visual element but also as a representation of their passion and talent. It added depth to the composition, creating a connection between the subject and their art form.
11. Experiment With Different Focal Lengths
The eleventh tip is to experiment with different focal lengths.
Experimenting with different focal lengths is a valuable technique in portrait photography that allows photographers to achieve different perspectives and effects in their images.
By varying the focal length of the lens, photographers can creatively manipulate the visual elements, composition, and overall mood of the photograph.
In my own portrait photography, I enjoy exploring the possibilities offered by different focal lengths to create unique and impactful images. Here are a few examples of how I have used different focal lengths to achieve specific effects:
When using a wide-angle lens for portraits such as my 35mm lens, I can capture a broader scene, incorporating more of the environment and creating a sense of context.
This is particularly effective when I want to showcase the subject in relation to their surroundings or when I want to convey a sense of grandeur.
Standard focal lengths such as 50mm are versatile and closely mimic the perspective of the human eye. They are often favored for their natural look and ability to capture subjects without significant distortion. This is what I usually shoot with.
These lenses are ideal for environmental portraits, where the subject is the primary focus, but their surroundings are still relevant. They strike a balance between including context and keeping the attention on the subject.
Telephoto lenses such as an 85mm are known for their ability to compress perspective, isolate subjects from the background, and create a pleasing shallow depth of field.
They are great for capturing close-ups, portraits with beautiful bokeh, or when the photographer wants to create a sense of intimacy.
12. Pay Attention to the Details
The twelfth tip is to pay attention to the details. Have you ever heard the phrase “the devil is in the details?”
Paying attention to the details is crucial in portrait photography as it contributes to creating a polished and visually appealing final image.
By carefully considering elements such as hair, clothing, and accessories, photographers can enhance the overall aesthetic and ensure that the subject looks their best.
For example, with hair, before the shoot, I discuss hairstyle options with the subject to ensure they feel comfortable and confident. I may suggest simple adjustments like taming flyaways or arranging the hair in a way that complements their features and the desired mood of the image.
Throughout the session, I periodically check and adjust the hair as needed to maintain a neat and flattering look.
For clothing, I provide guidance to the subject on appropriate clothing choices based on the desired theme or mood. I encourage them to select outfits that flatter their body shape, complement their skin tone, and align with the overall vision of the shoot.
For accessories, I believe it’s important to strike a balance between accessorizing and overwhelming the subject. I encourage subjects to select accessories that are meaningful to them or reflect their personal style, while also considering how they complement the overall composition.
13. Try Different Lighting Techniques
The thirteenth tip is to try out different lighting techniques as this is a great way to mix up the depth, drama, and uniqueness of your portraits.
Experimenting with different lighting techniques is a fantastic way to add depth, drama, and uniqueness to your portrait photography. By exploring various lighting setups and methods, such as backlighting or using a reflector, you can create captivating and visually striking images.
Here are a couple of examples of how I have utilized different lighting techniques to achieve distinct effects:
Backlighting involves positioning the main source of light behind the subject, creating a halo or rim of light around them.
This technique can add a sense of depth, separation from the background, and a beautiful glow to the portrait. It can create a dreamy, ethereal ambiance and enhance the subject’s silhouette.
Reflectors are an invaluable tool in portrait photography as they help manipulate and control light. By using a reflector, photographers can bounce light back onto the subject, filling in shadows, and creating a more even and flattering illumination.
Reflectors come in various colors, such as silver, gold, white, and diffusers, allowing for versatile lighting effects.
For example, during a portrait shoot in a shaded outdoor location, I used a silver reflector to redirect sunlight onto the subject’s face. This added a beautiful, natural highlight and minimized shadows, resulting in a more balanced and evenly lit portrait.
Incorporating off-camera flash allows photographers to have complete control over the direction, intensity, and quality of light.
By using external flashes or strobes, you can create dramatic and dynamic lighting setups. This technique is particularly effective in low-light conditions or when additional lighting control is required.
For example, in a portrait session, I used off-camera flash to create a bold and edgy look. By positioning the flash to the side and slightly above the subject, I achieved dramatic shadows and highlights.
The controlled lighting added a sense of mystery and intensity to the portrait, emphasizing the subject’s features and creating a visually impactful image.
14. Experiment With Black and White
The fourteenth tip is to experiment with black and white.
Experimenting with black and white photography in portrait sessions can be a powerful way to evoke a timeless and dramatic feel in your images.
By removing the distraction of color, black and white photography allows the viewer to focus on your subject’s expressions, emotions, and the interplay of light and shadow.
In my own portrait photography, I have found black and white images to be incredibly impactful in capturing the essence of a person or telling a compelling story.
It’s also great for emphasizing texture and contrast in your image, evoking mood and emotions, and creating a timeless aesthetic.
15. Use Leading Lines
The fifteenth tip is to play around with leading lines.
By strategically incorporating lines, whether they are natural or man-made, you can create a visual pathway that directs attention and adds visual interest to the image.
In my own portrait photography, I have discovered that leading lines can greatly enhance the composition and impact of your final image and you can use many leading lines such as architectural elements with pathways, stairs, railings — or natural elements with roads, rivers, trees, etc.
16. Experiment With Reflections and Mirrors
The sixteenth tip is to experiment with reflections and mirrors.
Playing with reflections and mirrors is a creative technique that can add a unique and artistic touch to your portraits.
By incorporating reflective surfaces, you can introduce visual complexity, symmetry, and even create intriguing visual illusions within your portraits.
In my own portraits, I have found that you can use hand-held mirrors, standing mirrors, water reflections, and glass reflections to get new and creative looks!
17. Pay Attention to the Eyes
The seventeenth tip is to pay attention to the eyes. They are the windows to the soul after all.
The eyes can convey emotions, tell stories, and establish a strong connection between the subject and the viewer.
To capture captivating and impactful portraits, it is crucial to ensure that the eyes are sharp and expressive.
In my own journey as a portrait photographer, I have always regarded the eyes as a focal point, as they have the power to draw viewers into the image and establish an emotional connection.
In order to capture them effectively, be sure they are in sharp focus (done by knowing your exposure triangle), ensure your subject has an expressive gaze, and that the subject is making eye contact with the viewer by staring into the middle of the lens.
18. Different Editing Techniques
The eighteenth tip is to experiment with different editing techniques in post-production.
Experimenting with different editing techniques is a powerful way to enhance the mood and overall feel of your portrait images.
I love editing because it will allow you to fine-tune colors, tones, and other visual elements, creating a cohesive and impactful final result that aligns with your creative vision.
In my own portrait photography journey, I have discovered the transformative potential of editing techniques to elevate the mood and atmosphere of an image.
The edits I usually make to my image include color grading by adjusting the hues, saturation, and contrast to evoke a certain emotion I want to portray.
After that, I’ll make selective adjustments to better enhance the focus of the main focal point such as saturation and contrast adjustments on the subject’s face.
Finally, I’ll add texture and detail enhancements by sharpening certain details of the subject’s features such as their hair and eyes to make them stand out more.
19. Encourage Subject to Express Themselves
The nineteenth tip is to encourage your subject to express themselves.
Encouraging your portrait subject to express themselves naturally and authentically is key to capturing genuine and captivating images that truly reflect their personality and essence.
When individuals feel comfortable and free to be themselves in front of the camera, it allows for authentic emotions and expressions to shine through.
The best way to do this is through techniques I’ve mentioned earlier such as establishing a rapport with your subject, providing guidance and not strictly posing, and by active listening and collaboration.
If you go into the portrait shoot not taking the time to have a conversation with your subject, by telling them what to do, and not taking into consideration any ideas your subject has, it will make for a very unpleasant experience for your subject and will show itself in the photos you take.
The twentieth tip is regarding stabilization of your camera.
Stabilizing your camera is crucial in portrait photography to ensure sharp and well-composed images.
Whether through the use of a tripod or careful body positioning, stability helps minimize camera shake and allows you to capture portraits with precision and clarity.
Some examples and tips that I use in order to stabilize my camera include using a tripod if possible and having proper body position when holding my camera.
Regarding a tripod, I usually bring it with me on shoots and it helps provide a stable platform eliminating the chance of camera shake entirely.
Regarding handheld shooting with proper body positioning, in situations where I can’t use a tripod or it’s not feasible, then you’ll want to ensure you have proper body positioning when shooting.
You’ll want to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and you will want to hold the camera with both hands, bringing your elbows close to your body to minimize movement.
21. Group Portrait Composition
The twenty-first tip has to do with group portraits.
When it comes to group portraits, paying attention to composition is essential to ensure that everyone is properly framed and visible within the frame.
Proper composition allows you to create harmonious and well-balanced group portraits that showcase the connections between individuals while highlighting each person’s presence.
You’ll want to arrange the subjects strategically.
Positioning the subjects thoughtfully within the frame is crucial for a well-composed group portrait.
Consider the size and shape of the group and arrange them accordingly. In larger groups, it’s important to ensure that everyone is visible and properly framed.
For example, during a family reunion photoshoot, I arranged the family members in multiple rows, with taller individuals towards the back and shorter ones towards the front.
This arrangement allowed everyone to be clearly seen in the final image.
22. Capture a Variety of Shots
The twenty-second tip is to capture a variety of shots.
Capturing a variety of shots in portrait photography is essential to provide a diverse range of images that showcase different perspectives, details, and dimensions of your subject.
By incorporating full-body shots, close-ups, and mid-distance shots, you can create a well-rounded portrait collection that tells a more comprehensive story and adds visual interest.
Personally, I like to think of a portrait session as a bunch of different scenes. So at certain locations, I’ll have the subject be in a certain pose and I will make sure I get a close-up, mid-distance shot, and a full-body shot of each pose so I can have a variety of different looks for that specific scene.
I’ve found capturing a variety of shots ensures that you present your subject in various contexts and dimensions, offering a comprehensive visual experience for both your subject and the viewers of your work.
The twenty-third tip is patience.
I’ve learned that being patient and allowing moments to unfold naturally is a fundamental aspect of portrait photography.
By embracing patience, you create an environment where genuine interactions and emotions can surface, resulting in captivating and authentic portraits.
Being patient and ensuring you capture all the images within your allotted time comes with practice.
One thing you’ll never want to do is go into the session and make your subject feel rushed. This will make your subject feel uneasy which will affect their attitude, expressions, posing, and overall image of you as a photographer.
24. Studying and Learning
The twenty-fourth tip is to continue studying and learning.
Continuously studying and learning from the work of other photographers is a valuable practice that can inspire and elevate your own portrait photography.
By immersing yourself in the works of others, you can gain new perspectives, techniques, and ideas that help refine your style and expand your creative horizons.
I have found immense inspiration and growth through studying the works of fellow photographers.
With the advent of social media, it’s never been easier. An easy way to do this is to create a dedicated photography account and only follow the photographers that inspire you.
By following only them, you will be able to see their work every day and you will pick up on the way they use colors, composition, posing, etc. and it will be easier to incorporate into your work.
25. Practice Regularly
The final tip is to practice regularly.
Practicing regularly, experimenting with different techniques, and embracing your creativity are vital steps to developing your unique approach to portrait photography.
By dedicating time to honing your skills and exploring new possibilities, you can refine your style, discover your strengths, and cultivate a signature look that sets your portraits apart.
I have found that consistent practice and experimentation have been instrumental in shaping my creative vision.
There have been times in my photography journey when I was photographing a lot and I would notice certain patterns around me.
This experience would allow me to enter a scene and instantly know the “good” spots to place my subject.
There is only so much you can learn by reading and watching videos, and there will come a time when you will need to go out and practice what you learned.
Embrace this process of learning. You may feel nervous in the beginning, but by pushing the boundaries and by being willing to make mistakes along the way, you will see artistic growth.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the rule of thumb for portrait photography?
The rule of thumb in portrait photography is to prioritize the subject by ensuring they are the main focal point and their eyes are in sharp focus.
What makes a great portrait photo?
A great portrait photo captures the essence and personality of the subject, evokes emotion, and tells a compelling story.
What angle is best for a portrait photo?
Generally, shooting from slightly above eye level or at eye level tends to be flattering and showcases the subject in a pleasing way.
If you want to learn more about portrait photography, be sure to check out all the resources I’ve written regarding portrait photography:
Nate Torres is a portrait photographer based in Southern California and is also a photography author for Photofocus.com. When he is not photographing clients he is creating educational photography content that he publishes on his website as well as his YouTube Channel. He is also the founder of Imaginated.com, a search engine of educational creators. Learn more about me here → https://www.natetorresphotography.com/about/