20 Tips for Taking Better Portraits

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

portrait of young boy smiling

Do you love portrait photography? Here are 20 tips to help make your portraits stand out from the crowd!

1. Change Your Perspective

In most cases, an image is shot from the approximate eye level of the focal point. Usually this is a good idea, but altering the angle of your shot can make your final image even more unique.

2. Experiment with Eye Contact

Your subject’s eyes can have a significant impact on your image. In most cases, a portrait will be taken with the subject’s eyes directed down the lens which can enhance the connection between them and the person viewing the image. Consider having your subject look off camera, focused on something outside the range of the lens. This technique adds mystery and interest, especially if the subject is expressing emotion about what they’re seeing. You could also experiment with creating a secondary focal point with a prop or another person.

3. Forget What You’ve Learned About Image Composition

Several “rules” exist that attempt to outline what you should do with the composition of your images. Some can be useful, but knowing and understanding them can allow you to “break” the rules and create your own style. One of the most popular guidelines is the “rule of thirds.” This is, in fact, a good rule to break by putting your subject right in the center of your image, or to the right edge. These techniques can  help you produce an image that is more visually exciting.

portrait of woman wearing hat

4. Practice Different Kinds of Lighting

A another way to add some flair to your portrait photographs is to change the lighting you use. You have nearly an unlimited number of possible choices when working with portrait lighting. Lighting from your subject’s side can add more feeling to an image, and using a back light or shadow can create an emotionally-charged final portrait.

5. Go Outside Your Subject’s Comfort Zone

Typical portrait images (often taken for businesses or schools) are admittedly boring. These shots usually include the subject’s head and shoulders, against a plain seamless paper backdrop with predictable props like college degrees or a corporate desk. These shots have their place, but if you want your image to stand out from the crowd don’t be afraid to mix it up.

6. Shoot Candidly

Many times a posed portrait looks like it was set up and the subject can often look stiff and awkward. Instead of posing your subject try playing around with their environment by placing them somewhere they feel natural in. This works well particularly when shooting children.
young girl laughing on a white backdrop

7. Use a Prop or Unique Backdrop

Many times a prop can take the edge off of your subject’s forced pose, and can provide that second focal point we mentioned earlier. Get them to play with the prop and hold it in various positions. Adding a colorful backdrop can help spice up your photo. If you’re looking for something really unique, consider using floor drops – some are sports themed or can even look like a country front porch.

8. Focus Upon One Body Part & Get Close Up

Use a long lens and focus in on a single part of your subject’s body. For example, shoot her hands, eyes or mouth. This will leave it up to the viewer’s imagination to interpret the meaning of the photograph.

older woman smiling

9. Obscure Part of Your Subject

Instead of focusing in on a single body part, try covering up various parts of your subject’s body with a blanket, cloth or other object. Be even more creative and only cover up one-half of your subject’s face with a scarf leaving one eye looking into the camera.

10. Take a Series of Shots

Use the continuous shooting mode on your camera and capture more than one shot at the same time. This could create a series of images that can be displayed together.

11. Experiment With a Colorful Background

The individual in your portrait image is the focal point,  but at times a bold background can actually help bring them out in the photo. You can also completely change the emotion of a photo by putting your subject in an alternative context simply by using a different background. Consider using bright seamless paper or a hand painted muslin backdrop.

baby portrait on orange backdrop

12. Place Your Subject in a Frame

Framing a subject is a way to bring the attention of a viewer to a single portion of the photo by surrounding it with another part of the photo. Using a frame provides your photo with a sense of depth and brings the viewer’s eye to your focal point. One way to accomplish this is to set your subject in front of a window or in the frame of a doorway, directing them to peek through a small opening or surrounding their face with their hands.

13. Use a Wide Angle Lens

Using a wide angle lens can assist you in producing images that are memorable when you’re working on portraits. Using a wide angle, you can play with the distortions it creates. While you may not end up with traditional looking images, you can use a wide angle to make specific body parts that appear on the edge of your frame look larger. A wide angle can also produce a dramatic effect, particularly if your subject is placed in a setting that is out of the ordinary.

14. Alter the Format of Your Frame

It’s common for a photographer to get stuck always taking landscape or portrait shots and you should identify which kind of approach you use more often. Simply because taking portraits is associated with a vertical shot doesn’t mean you have to always use it. Change up the way you frame your subjects and you’ll be providing viewers with a mixture of different images.

female fashion model

15. Angle Your Camera

You can take pictures in different ways that don’t include just vertical or horizontal. Take shots so that the subject is captured diagonally to add playfulness to your images.

16. Take Unfocused Shots

Shooting a portrait with a portion of the shot out of focus can make for an interesting display piece. One method is to focus in on a portion of your subject and leave the rest of it blurred. Another method is to leave the subject completely out of focus by focusing well in front of or behind your subject.

portrait of man outside

17. Introduce Movement

Adding some movement to your portrait can prevent the photograph from appearing too static. You can do this by having your subject or secondary subject move, or you can move the camera.

18. Experiment with Expressions

Instead of a simple, posed smile, have your subject play around during the photo sessions. Ask your subject to make funny faces, laugh uncontrollably, stick out her tongue or pout.

19. Fill the Frame

Capture the viewer’s attention by filling the entire frame with your subject’s face. This is not a widely used technique, but it is definitely one way to get the viewer to focus on the subject.

20. Find an Interesting Subject

Instead of waiting for someone to come to you asking for a portrait to be taken, go to them. Find interesting people in your neighborhood, at your school or just about anywhere. Ask for permission to shoot a few shots of them.

-Backdrop Express Photography Team

Love portrait photography? Check out Seven Posing Tips for Portraits!

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Comments (3)

  • Barbara Reiner


    this is a great article with excellent use of photos to illustrate technique and your products….thanks…..


  • Daniel


    3. Forget What You’ve Learned About Image Composition….???????????
    WHAT???? C’amon guys..!
    You can breake the rules if you know what are you doing after years of experience( do not apply for someone is begining , what kind of message are you delivering, that nothing matter..that is ok not to study the masters..?
    Do not use rule of thirds..? Thats came from Fibonachi spiral , is all around us in the nature , and you are telling the people not to use it…Geeezzzz!!!
    This kind of things make me sick…..


    • Backdrop Express Photography Team


      Hi Daniel,
      Thanks for your comment. These tips can be useful for not just beginners, but more experienced photographers as well, who are looking for ideas to add creativity and individuality to their portraits. We do not suggest to throw out good rules, but that occasionally it can be fun to step outside the box and practice unconventional techniques.


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