Home » Leedy Advice » 5 Ways to Improve Your Portrait Photography

5 Ways to Improve Your Portrait Photography

Jarrad is an Australian-based photographer who has travelled the world shooting remote cultures, international rockstars and strangers on foreign streets. His worked has featured in exhibitions around the world and seen by millions worldwide.

Portrait photography is all about people. And good portraiture can create the most beautiful, engaging and intriguing representations of the people being photographed. But it ain’t as easy as it might seem. It’s an intricate, delicate process drawing out what you exactly what you’re after from your subject. There can be so many factors at play – how comfortable or uncomfortable the person is in front of your camera, the lighting situation, the kind of equipment you are using, their vulnerability, your attitude and approach. How you form your creative vision, as well as how you get from there to the final product can be a tricky path to navigate. Here are some techniques and ideas I’ve developed over my years of photographing people around the world.

1. Non-verbal communication

A huge part of portraiture is how you communicate, not only verbally, but non-verbally. The way you move, the expressions you give looking at the preview images, and how relaxed and confident you appear all affect how at ease the subject may feel. If the shots aren’t turning out as well as you’re hoping, don’t let that on or you’ll risk putting your subject even more on edge. Calmly problem solve the issue step by step by making small adjustments to lighting, framing, settings and move closer to your goal. If you’re tense, the subject will be tense, simply as that


2. Light and shade

Portraits don’t always have to be about soft and even lighting. To change it up a bit, look for or create dramatic and moody lighting. Light that only comes from one direction always creates a more interesting and mysterious tone, which can really enhance your image if used in the right way. I used to always search for the most evenly lit shoot locations to ensure I came away with nice, balanced portraits… but now I tend to do the opposite when I have a more dramatic vision in mind. Embrace the darkness.

3. Depth of field

I always tell people, if you could choose just *one* technique to make your photos *seem* professional… it’s through using a shallow depth of field. Of course, this is a very generic blanket statement that could also totally backfire if you don’t know what you’re doing. But generally speaking, by using a shallow depth of field effectively in portraiture, you can enhance your image by clearly separating your subject from the background. Use a wide aperture (2.8 or wider) combined with a mid-long focal length (50mm+) to really isolate your subject and create smooth creamy backgrounds. But beware of overdoing it, or missing your focus – the downside of choosing a narrow plane is that fi you miss the focus by a millimetre, you could end up ruining the entire shot!


4. Use the environment to tell the story

Sometimes it’s not just about your subject, but the environment they occupy. Using your location deliberately to bring context or narrative to the image can add another level to your portrait. Consider shooting wider than normal to bring natural elements, textures and context clues into play.

5. Smiling is contagious

Okay, not *all* of the time… but *most* of the time… I’m wanting my portrait subjects to look happy. In fact, it’s probably what drew me to them in the first place. The joy behind their eyes, or their smile that stands out in a crowded marketplace. As soon as a camera comes out though, that smile can disappear. The best way to bring it back? Smile yourself. Trust me. If you have a big old grin peering back from behind the camera it’s going to be hard for your subject not to return the favour. It’s human nature! If all else fails, make yourself look like an idiot. Not that I have to try very hard in most situations. Usually it means deliberately butchering something in the local language to get a little chuckle out of them, or some over enthusiastic miming/interpretive dance.

Shopping Cart