This article shares 6 tips that can make your portrait photography even better, no matter what kind of camera you use – from professional DSLR to smartphone.

For a more thorough understanding of portrait photography, you can take our Portrait Photography for Beginners course. Or, you can get access to 75+ courses by joining our monthly membership: click here to get your first month free!

1. Choosing a Composition & Background

The first thing you need to do when taking a portrait photo is choosing a background.

  • Pick a background that isn’t too distracting
  • Make sure your subject stands out from the background

Once you’ve chosen a background, place your subject in your frame using the rule of thirds. This is a great place to start, rather than centering your subject directly in the middle of the frame, to get something more pleasing to the eye.

Try different compositions – wide, close-ups, with negative space, extreme detail shots. Of course, you’ll probably want to get a standard medium shot, but get creative with your compositions to have more options.

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2. Lighting

Lighting typically scares beginner photographers, but it doesn’t need to. You can take beautiful portraits without any artificial lights and flashes.

Start by picking the right time of day to shoot. 30-60 minutes before sunset is the best time to start. This Golden Hour provides soft, warm light without creating harsh shadows (like a bright sun overhead would).

Instead of having your subjects face the sun, put them in between you and the sun. This way, they’ll get a nice ‘back light’ that creates a beautiful halo effect.

If you are shooting in the middle of the day, put your subject in the shade. Be aware of how bright your background is too. Ideally, most of your composition is at a similar exposure. So if your subject is standing underneath the shade of a tree, your background should also be a bit shaded to prevent complete overexposure.

3. Exposure

Understanding the basics of your camera settings to expose properly is the first thing you should do before trying to take portraits. Knowing how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO affect your photo and the exposure is so important.

Take our FREE Photography Fundamentals course to learn the basics. Or, you can get access to 75+ courses by joining our monthly membership: click here to get your first month free!

Typically with portraits, the most important part of the image is your subject’s face. And traditionally, the eye is drawn to the brightest part of the image. So composing your photo so that the subject’s face is a brighter part of the image can help make it pop.

creative exposure guide

Most photographers would say that you need to get everything perfectly exposed to have a great shot. But I want to tell you to get creative with your exposure!

Some of the most beautiful portraits I’ve seen are underexposed, silhouetted, or even slightly overexposed.

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4. Depth of Field

A shallow depth of field, meaning a photo of your subject with a blurry background, is one of the best ways to take your mediocre photo to a wow-this-is-fantastic photo.

Getting that shallow depth of field isn’t always possible. Newer smartphones like the iPhone X with it’s portrait mode can get this shallow depth of field. But most smartphones don’t have the capability yet. This is one case where having a DSLR with an interchangeable lens that can open up to a wider aperture will help.

Ways to Get a Blurry Background:

  1. Decrease your F-stop (i.e. open up your aperture)
  2. Step back and zoom in to your subject
  3. Move your subject further away from the background

Anthony carbajal street photographer

5. Color

Pay attention to all of the colors in your composition. In particular see if there are any super bright colors that will distract the viewer.

Remember, the viewer’s attention should be on the subject, not the background.

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Also, ask your subject to wear colors that match their style. If you’re really prepared, know ahead of time where you’re going to be shooting so that you can ask your subject to wear something that contrasts with the background (for example, wearing a bright yellow or red dress when shooting in the greens and browns of a forest).

6. Interacting & Posing

Most people will feel a little uncomfortable taking portraits. Do your best to make them feel as comfortable as possible. Make sure to chat with them while you set them up. Tell them jokes. Make them laugh.

While you’re shooting, have them take photos while smiling, but also without a huge smile. Sometimes these more serious portraits can look even better. If they laugh, keep snapping photos.

Do a bit of research ahead of time to see poses that you like. Pinterest is a great place to find inspiration for different poses. Save them to your phone so that you can refer to them while filming. Even showing your subject a photo of a specific pose can help them understand what you’re going for, and result in a better shot. For more ideas about posing ideas for portraits, check out this Posing Guide: 100+ Ideas.

Your first portrait session might feel intimidating, and that’s okay. It will get easier over time!

Watch the Portrait Photography Tutorial:

In Conclusion

I hope these 6 tips will help you take better portrait photos!

If you want more help, we’ve created aPortrait Photography for Beginners course for people like you. With full portrait demonstrations walking through the entire process, from choosing a location and shooting your photos to editing them to make them look even better, it’s the perfect way to learn for complete beginners.

You’ll get premium support and feedback on your own portraits, so you can improve quickly! Enroll now for just $15 to get the full course. Or, you can get access to 75+ courses by joining our monthly membership: click here to get your first month free!

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