6 Easy Tips for Better People Pictures

Written by Backdrop Express Photography Team on . Posted in Photography Tips, Portrait Photography, Studio Photography

female portrait

Taking great people pictures isn’t always just about the subject, it can also be a matter of using a different approach, a different technique, or even a green screen background to capture what might otherwise be an ordinary picture. Taking a step in a direction you haven’t taken before can be a bit intimidating but the rewards of a one-of-a-kind image are worth the risk. No matter what kind of camera, setting or photography background you are working with, you can capture pictures of people that make your audience take a second look.

1. Get Intimate With Your Subject

Photographic intimacy is accomplished by filling the camera’s frame with the person’s face and perhaps a bit of their shoulders. Leave some space above the line where their forehead ends, but don’t worry too much about taking some of their hair out of the final image. As you do this while holding your camera in portrait position, it’s easy to capture the essence of your subject close up. Truthfully, you don’t always need to worry about including your subject’s clothing, or the photo backdrops in place. An intimate image of personal features such as their eyes and smile adds all the focus the picture needs.

2. Change the Angle of Your Picture

Although it’s simple, this is a powerful effect when you choose to hold your camera to capture a person’s picture in portrait format, instead of resorting to landscape. Many photographers may initially find this awkward, because the camera doesn’t feel quite as comfortable and the image doesn’t fit in the viewfinder in a way that fits your eye. With regular practice however, you will become more adept at taking portraits in the way they were meant to be captured. Landscape’s main use is for groups, landscapes or if you’re trying to capture just the upper portion of a person’s body with their head and shoulders. You can also use landscape if you’re purposely trying to capture both the person and green screen backdrops.

Portrait of young woman lying in pink top on the floor

3. Find a Plain Background

Portraits are often taken in a studio using a seamless paper background or muslin backdrop, but can be taken outdoors in a natural setting as well. Consider a place where the background will not distract the audiences’ eye from the subject. A location that will offer as plain of a background as possible is ideal.

Try to avoid using the sky as your background, if you are shooting the portrait outside. The sky can appear brighter in the picture than it looks to the human eye and may create an underexposed subject. If you do choose to use the sky you will need to compensate for the exposure times which may cause parts of the subject, such as the hair, to appear washed out and unflattering.

Have your subject stand in front of a building wall. Frame the shot so there is nothing besides the plain wall in the background. If you are having trouble finding a plain wall, stand back from your subject and zoom in on him or her. Many times, zooming in on your subject will cause the background to appear out of focus and less distracting to the eye. Avoid camera shake by reducing your zoom to less than 4X and by using a tripod.

woman in hat on gray background

4. Watch the Sun

Bright sunlight can create harsh shadows and cast an unflattering effect on your subject’s face. It is best to shoot portraits outdoors when the sky is overcast with clouds. However, if you choose to shoot on a sunny day, try to find a shady area to place your subject in. Both the subject and background should be evenly shaded from direct sunlight. If you cannot find a shady place to shoot, you should position your subject in a way so the sun does not harm the look of the photograph. One option is to have your subject face directly into the sun. This will minimize the effects of any shadows cast by the sun. Before shooting the photograph, make sure your shadow is not being cast onto the subject or the background.

For a reverse effect, you can place the sun behind your subject so a shadow covers their entire face. Try to position your subject so the sun is not directly behind them and use a fill in flash light to light up the subject’s facial features.

Once you have the lighting and photographic backdrop chosen, you should focus on the camera position and its relation to your subject. Eye line refers to shooting at the subject’s eye level. Ideally your camera position should be just slightly below or at the same height as the subject’s eyes.

5. Subject Pose

When you are taking a portrait, one tip is to consider the pose of your subject, not just the photo backdrop. Always avoid shooting a subject squarely in the face with the camera. You can either have them stand or sit still and you move to where your camera is at a 45 degree angle or you can have them face away from the camera at a 45 degree angle. Subjects will need to turn their head towards the direction of the camera for the shot. Not only will this result in a good photo, but it also adds the slimming affect many people desire.
woman posing sideways on brown background

Photo Courtesy of Gilbert Rossi

6. Focus on the Eyes

Camera height that is relative to the eyes of your subject is extremely important when it comes to the final image in a professional portrait. Slight changes can make a significant difference in the final image. The best and most neutral position will be at the eye line, especially in portraits.

In some cases such as when you are photographing a pet or a child there will be a height difference making it harder to get the correct angle. If the subject of your portrait is taller or shorter than you are, consider having them sit for the photo so you can be at their eye level. If sitting is not an option, the next best thing is to zoom in from further away. This will minimize the angle of the camera, which will in turn minimize the height difference effect.

By following all of these tips you will find you are much more capable of taking a good photo of any subject. Once you have mastered these tips, consider taking your photography to the next level by experimenting with the even more complex art of portraits!

What are your best tips for shooting portraits?

-Backdrop Express Photography Team

Interested in learning more about portrait photography? Check out Improve Your Portraits in 15 Easy Steps!

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Comments (6)

  • Marc Young


    Thank you for the tips, some of these things I do I guess out of instict but it’s nice to get confirmation. I am always looking for ways to improve.


  • Teresa


    These tips were posted at the right time for me. I’m going to be taking some prom pictures for my niece. These tips are going to help me to get some great shots for her. I do mostly nature and haven’t had much experience with portraits. Thank you for posting these handy tips. Teresa.


  • Carlos Carpio


    I’m trying to get all the training I can get from every aspect of photography. I think it will help even if I choose one field of photography.


  • Pracious




  • Chroma Coat Green Screen


    The tips mentioned above are really means allot to me, am a newbie in Photography.


  • Nancy


    I always focus on the face, and very close up using a large lensas it is less intimidating for the subject. My best pics result from taking the picture when the subject doesn’t know it, or after they think I’ve finished capturing a specific image


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