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6 More Tips and Tricks for Portrait Photography (part II)

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In our previous post we discussed 6 principles of portrait photography, such as the choice of lens and the settings of the camera, portrait composition, various crop options, and the importance of lighting. This time we will share some other secrets of portrait photography and will add some tips and tricks on how to make the portraits look more interesting.

1. Watch for the background

When taking a photo, we tend to concentrate on the person in front of the lens, often forgetting about the background and surrounding elements. It's only later, when we look at the photo on the computer screen, that we notice the background is just as important as the subject itself, and any distraction becomes more visible. Train your eye to see the person in the context of the surroundings, by taking time to look in all four corners of your frame and by making sure that the background works for the subject, instead of distracting from it.

Let's have a look at three examples below: in the photo on the left, notice the lamppost "sticking out" of Elena's head that ruins an otherwise nice portrait. On the right, there is no more lamppost, however, the background looks busy and uninteresting, and does not enhance the portrait in any way. Finally, in the middle photo all the attention goes directly to Elena, who is "framed" by an arch of the Louvre and stands out against a darker background.

Portrait2 watch for background

2. Rule of Thirds

The rule of Thirds, a classic for composition, perfectly applies to portraits. To use this rule, simply break the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically to create a grid. Next, instead of placing the person right in the "dead center" of the image, move them to one third or two thirds of the frame. As you may remember, the eyes of a person looking into the camera tend to attract our attention first. It will therefore work well to compose the image in a way where the eyes of the person are placed against one of the four intersections of the grid. As a result, your photograph will become more dynamic and more interesting visually.

Portrait2 rule of thirds Portrait2 rule of thirds

3. Give space to look into

The next tip follows directly out of the Rule of thirds. Imagine that the edges of the photo are walls. We rarely see someone staring at a blank wall, don't we? Neither does anyone want to be facing the edge of the frame. Once you have moved the person out of the center of your image to one or two thirds of it, make sure to leave more space in the direction of their gaze than behind them. This simple trick makes the photo look more natural and balanced than if the person faces the edge of the frame.

Portrait2 space to look into Portrait2 space to look into

4. Make use of perspective

Use perspective to add more depth to your images: instead of taking a "flat" photo of a person against the wall (photo on the left), use a shallow depth of field (low f-number) to create a "3D effect" by blurring the space behind them (photo on the right). Various alleys, narrow streets, archways, and doorways also work well for this purpose.

Portrait2 perspective

5. Match colours

Portrait photography is not only about composition and shallow depth of field, but also about colours. To add interest to your photo and to make it look more harmonious, look around for colours matching the person's clothes or accessories, their eyes, hair and complexion. In the image below, notice how the row of Christmas trees in the background match Elena's green scarf and even her green eyes!

Portrait2 match colours

6. Keep them busy

To add more variety, life and emotions to your portraits, think of something for your subject to do while you're photographing them. Depending on the surroundings, they may either stroll, enjoying the weather or the view, observe the details of the architecture, read a book, smell a flower, look at the map, play with their pet, feed the birds, blow some soap bubbles... the list is endless! Keeping busy will help the person relax and forget about the camera, while you can capture some candid shots full of emotion. Compare Elena simply standing in front of the building on the left photo to her sitting in a more natural pose in the middle photo, or to her walking along the Louvre and enjoying the view on the right.

Portrait2 keep busy

Next time you are out for a portrait session or capturing your travel companions and people you meet along the way, try to apply these simple tips and tricks and share your results with us!

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About the Author

Nadia Gric

Nadia Gric

Nadia is passionate about the visual aspect of life and the personalities she meets along the way. Living in the heart of Paris, Nadia never stops exploring the City of Light through her camera and readily shares her knowledge and love for photography.