How much thought do you put into your snapshots? Snapping pictures of friends or family is great, but you might want to consider stepping up a notch to portrait photography. Do you notice the angle of the shot or the lighting? These are both common elements to portrait photography along with capturing the emotional expression of your subject. Whether you are an amateur photographer looking to take family holiday pictures or you are serious about improving your skills, you need some basic knowledge about professional techniques.
The first rule of portrait photography is to study the facial features, as this will tell you the best angle to shoot from. It may sound cliché but people do really have a “good” side. Sometimes it is obvious which side to downplay, for example scars or acne but in other cases the differences are more subtle. I, for example, take a horrible head on photograph because my left eye is slightly larger than my right. Generally, my portraits come out much better when the angle is coming in from the right and slightly up, this allows light and shadows to even out my features while not distorting my face.
When doing portraits you are trying to capture the essence of the subject, their personality if you will. The face contains little nuances that will add character to the image. Your subjects should be relaxed or “loose” in order to get these perfect shots. A good rule of thumb for aspiring photographers is to meet your subject before the photo shoot, learn a little more about who they are. Of course, when its family or friends this is not necessary.
Another very important aspect of portrait photography is lighting. Do you want natural light or artificial? The subject of the shoot will play a role in determining the right lighting. Of course, you can only use the light you have available! When you work with natural light, you have to remember to set your aperture to compensate for a lack of definition. To put it more plainly you will need to figure out how to create contrast with the shadows and light to achieve the effect you are looking for. Artificial light gives you more control but it is often harsh and not properly directed outside of a studio. This brings you back to the camera settings, if you want to get the perfect shot.
Light is important but so is your background. Professional photographers are very careful to choose the best background for each subject, something that will not wash out clothing or features. The goal is to achieve a distinct contrast between the background and the subject. It is not much different in home portrait photography. Seek out areas or backgrounds that will provide color to the subject, not remove it. Trees and mountains in the background are fantastic, but make sure there are no other “busy” elements in the shot. These elements will distract the eye and take away from the portrait as a whole. Your subject should look to be a part of the scenery not outside of it.
Finally, you must consider the camera and film you will be using, as each will determine the final quality of the portrait. When you can combine understanding your subject with technical aspects such as angles and lighting you are well on your way to providing professional quality portraits for your friends or family members. Snap shots are great, but why not get in a few gorgeous portraits as well.