Some of the most powerful photographs are portraits.
To some degree, we all relate ourselves to the people we see in portraits. That’s why portraits have a unique penchant for eliciting some of the strongest emotional responses from their viewers.
Whether you are interested in street portraits, self-portraits, senior portraits, etc., the end goal should always be the same: create an image that conveys a story about your subject.
Quick tips to get the most out of your portraits
Implement the following suggestions to bump up your portraiture a couple notches. As with any photography skill – make it your own! Photography is about developing your own unique style, and having a signature portraiture is an invaluable asset for the professional photographer.
Make the subject comfortable
When photographing your subject, you want them to relax and be themselves. That is why it is so vital that you establish a bond built around trust with your subject. It’s especially important if you’re trying to ask a stranger if you can photograph them.
I personally use my sense of humor to break social barriers and build trust. That method doesn’t work for everyone, though.
Another approach I’ve had success with is being upfront – making my intentions clear and concise. This tactic may require some practice, but it works exceptionally well when you don’t have time to get to know your subject and you want a quick photograph.
I usually say something to the effect of, “Hi, my name is Kylan Thomson. I’m a photographer and I’m always looking for unique ways to tell peoples stories through my images. If you have a quick moment, I would like to take your picture as I think it would be a great adddition to my portfolio.” This usually works because it is quick, and assertive without being to pushy.
Consider the scene
Ideally, you’ll be photographing your subject in a context that contributes to your subject’s narrative. For instance, if you are photographing a fisherman, then preferably you would photograph them catching a fish, or inside their boat, etc.
Don’t forget to take a moment to examine your scene for objects and anomalies that detract from the story you are trying to illustrate and remove or crop these things out if you have the capacity to do so. One of my greatest shortcomings is often skipping this step… and I end up giving myself more post-processing than otherwise necessary.
The best way to shoot the portrait
Last, but not least, we have the technical aspect of portraiture. Portrait photography can get exceptionally technical, which is why I’m just going to focus on one common technique applied to most portrait photographs: depth of field.
Great portrait photographs often have a shallow depth of field with a crisp emphasis around the eyes and the subject set against a moderately blurred background. This technique is usually achieved by utilizing the correct equipment as well as the correct settings in your camera.
Most photographers use 24-70mm, 70-200mm, or an 85mm prime lenses to obtain this effect. Usually, their lenses (singular is lens not lense by the way!) set at a wide aperture in the 1.2-2.8 range.
Smartphones often have a portrait mode which automatically adjusts the shot to similar parameters! Try one of these recommended lenses to capture photos indistinguishable to a traditional camera. Also, consider whether editing on your phone on your PC is the best option for you!