5 Tips To Become A Better Portrait Photographer

Let's pretend you have a model lined up for the shoot. Before you take those great pictures of them, there are a few things you can keep in mind. Pre-production and post-production are the two most critical aspects to remember. From visualizing the whole image in your head to shooting it and then bringing it to life in post-production! So, here are a few pointers to help you improve your portrait photography. (Practice in real life to reap the rewards.)

1. Prepare a Mood-board

This is what pre-production sounds like! Instead of having the ideas in your head, try to find something closer to your idea. It may not be the exact picture you are thinking about but can be similar in terms of colors, poses, expressions, props or even the location. At the end this is just a rough idea because whatever you are going to shoot should be unique to you. I personally use Pinterest to create various boards that will assist me throughout the shoot. Take, for example, my saved boards.

As you can see how vague my mood-boards look. For instance, if I'm doing a portfolio shoot with an inexperienced model who has no experience with posing, I'll create a board with poses that will guide us in getting better photographs during the shoot.

It may be anything from beauty boards to framing or even places like the bathtub, parking lot, or Christmas concepts to having light setups as Pinterest boards.

2. Communication with the Model

You must have heard the quote "Communication is the Key to Success". It is definitely true when it comes to portrait photography. Get comfortable talking to the model, you can ask few questions and keep the conversation flowing. Keeping the energy at the same level is very important. There are few questions for you to get started:

  1. How did you get into modelling?

  2. Where do you work or study?

  3. How long you have been shooting for?

  4. What kind of genres do you like shooting?

Never forget to compliment them once you've started shooting. This gives them more confidence in their ability to strike good poses. Play some music that they enjoy to keep them focused. Talk to them about the concept you're working on, and make sure they know what kind of poses and expressions you're looking for. To give them an idea, show them the references from your phone.

One of the most important thing I've observed while clicking portraits is sometimes you may not get the desired results in terms of posing or expression because the model maybe trying very hard. In situations like these, give them a breather, tell them to just move their hands freely and relax a little bit. The model should never get conscious about their poses while shooting. Poses and good expressions will emerge as you gradually compliment them on the good poses and correct the bad or awkward ones. With time and practice, both the model and the photographer will improve.

3. Lighting

When it comes to photography, this is the most important factor to consider! It either makes or breaks the photo! To make things easier, decide whether you'll use natural light, natural light with off-camera flash, or completely indoor lighting.

As a natural light photographer, I can guide you to your perfect shot:

  1. Decide on the time of day you'll shoot; to avoid harsh light, shoot early in the morning or late in the evening during golden hours.

  2. Whenever you are the shoot location, take out your palm in air and look at direction the light is falling.

  3. The light is quite diffused during golden hours. You have the option of shooting directly in front of the source or using backlight. Hairlight can be created by using light from behind the subject, but be careful not to overexpose the highlights. This could result in blown-up highlights. If you don't have a reflector, you can either light the model's face with a reflector or shoot completely underexposed in order to retain the shadows in post-production.

Model: Shradha (https://www.instagram.com/shradharanjit/ )

As you can see, I shot this image underexposed and then added shadows in post-production. Similarly, you can do it in front of the light source or even at different angles, with reflectors or off-camera flash to correct the light.

Few examples of natural light portraits in-front and behind the source:

Model: Manishi (https://www.instagram.com/almondchampagne/)

4. Lens Choice

The Prime lens is the first and best option for shooting portraits. It provides a wide aperture, faster focus, sharper and better image quality compared to zoom lens. Choosing a perfect focal length is always a confusion among photographers but at the end it depends upon your requirement.

So the debate arises 50mm vs 85mm :

Why 50mm:

  1. There are two types of 50mm lenses widely available: f/1.8 and f/1.4. At a given shutter speed, the latter lets more light through the aperture, as well as a shallower depth-of-field. If you're using an APS-C camera, a 35mm lens would give you a 52.5mm comparable focal length.

  2. 50mm lenses are ideal for full-length and waist-level portraits, both outdoor and in the studio, for portrait photography. This is because the lens has a wider field of view than an 85mm or 135mm lens, and you don't have to be too far away from the model to get these results.

  3. If you're doing a headshot or a head-and-shoulders picture, on the other hand, being too close will distort the model's features, making the face too slim and the nose too broad. As a result, a 50mm lens isn't the right option for this shot.

Why 85mm:

  1. These short telephoto lenses usually have apertures of f/1.8 or f/1.4. Since the second is so much more costly, the budget will almost always play a role in the buying decisions. A 50mm lens offers an equal focal range of about 75-80mm for APS-C users.

  2. The 85mm lens is very flexible, as it can be used for full-length, waist-level, and head-and-shoulders crops. Tighter head shots can be taken, but this can be achieved with caution because facial expressions can be distorted.

So, in the end, it's your decision based on the requirements.

5. Retouching

A photograph that has not been edited is equivalent to a cake that has never been baked. Anything composed of ingredients must be transformed into a final product. In portrait photography these ingredients may include lighting, location, model, lens, etc. finished off with post production. In portraits, we can't get everything perfect on camera, hence we correct it during editing. There are many stages of post production to be kept in mind:

  1. Basic RAW adjustments like Exposure, Temperature, saturation, etc.

  2. Cleaning up blemishes, extra hair, unwanted materials distracting the viewers attention.

  3. Skin retouching includes darkening & lightening the irregularities on skin (Dodge and burn) and shaping the face (Global Dodge and Burn)

  4. Color grading the image according to the nature of the shot.

  5. Sharpening

  6. Exporting the image depending on where its going to be displayed.

As you can see in the images below, how the editing has completely transformed this picture.

Model: Keer (https://www.instagram.com/kee_eeer/)

Learn how to add artificial window & Sunflare: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obe6Nnuy_xs&t=6s

Learn how to Retouch a Portrait from scratch: