1. Look Your Subject In The Eye
Make sure the eyes are sharp and breath more life into your shot by adding catch lights into the eyes.
If you're photographing children get down to their eye level. This leads to a more natural posture as they don't have to look up. The shot will also be more personal and intimate, particularly if you crop in close so they're looking directly out of the frame.
2. Simple Backgrounds
Take a good look around your shot before you hit the shutter button. Make sure there are no lampposts growing out of your subject's head and that cars or rubbish bins aren't stealing your attention. Plain backgrounds will always work best, as they help place emphasis on your subject, however you can't always find a plain wall to take your shots against so make use of your camera's wider apertures and throw the distracting background out of focus.
3. Use Flash Outside
Bright sunlight will create ugly shadows on your subject's face so use a pop of flash to eliminate them. Try using the flash from the side as this will give the image more dimension. While on cloudy days you can leave your flash in your camera bag as the soft, diffused light the clouds help create is perfect for portraiture work.
For more tips on using flash outdoors take a look at our previous article – flash outdoors.
4. Play With Backlight
By placing the sun, window or studio light behind your subject you'll be able to create hair/rim light that lights the edge of your subject. This can really make your subject 'pop' out of the image as the outline of light acts as an extra layer keeping your subject separate from the background.
5. Be A Director
Most people won't know what pose works best or what light works where so make sure you talk to them, giving direction when needed. If you make the effort to have a conversion they'll become more relaxed in front of the camera too.
6. Don't Centre Everything
Standing centre stage may work for an actor but off the boards and in a photo that's not cropped you want your subject to be slightly to the left or right of the shot. This gives the shot a more pleasing perspective and interest. If your subject's not looking directly into the lens give your subject room to look into and if they're moving through the shot make sure there's space for them to step, run or cycle into.
Imagine a rule of thirds board that looks similar to a naughts and crosses board sat over your scene can help with composition. Take a look at our rule of thirds advice.
7. Create Candids
Candids are shots of people who aren't posed. This could be children playing with their toys, a groom chatting to his new bride quietly in a corner or your mum making a cup of tea. The key to candids is not taking your shot straight away. Wait until the person you're photographing has forgotten about the camera so they're focused on their activity before you take your shot. If you're out on a planned shoot try taking a few photos while you're on a break as your subject won't feel as self-conscious and you'll be able to capture a few natural-looking shots.
If you're working with children make sure they're having fun because the minute they get bored they'll turn unco-operative. Don't forget the odd prop such as balls and sweets. They'll rarely get turned down and they'll soon have them so occupied they'll have forgotten you're there with your camera.
8. Make A Frame
When something gets in the way of your shot the first thing you think to do is move but this isn't always necessary. Finding spots where branches, walls, fences, flowers and other objects can add colour and interest to your composition by creating a frame. Just remember to use a longer focal length to blur your frame so all focus still falls on your subject.
9. Get Closer To Your Subject
Using longer zoom lenses will let you crop tighter on your subject without distortion or having to invade their personal space. This bit of extra space will leave your sitter more relaxed and as a result, you'll end up with a more pleasant portrait. As well as having a pleasing perspective your shot's background will be nicely thrown out of focus, even if you're using a smallish aperture and your backdrops only a few feet behind your subject.
Filling the frame with your subject will create a shot that has more impact, is more intimate and if you're using a longer lens, it will help flatter their features for a more pleasing shot.
10. Shoot Reflections And Silhouettes
Your subject's reflection will give you an image that's more visually interesting. For example, getting your subject to place their hands and head on a table with a reflective surface will add depth to a shot. Be creative with the surfaces you use and look for walls and objects that are reflective as well as using the more obvious reflective surfaces such as puddles and glass.
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