Portrait photography is one of the most common types of photography, and something everyone has a need for. Whether it’s senior pictures, newborn baby portraits or even family portraits, the rules for making a great picture are pretty constant throughout.
My first piece of advice when shooting portraits, especially studio portraits, is to set up a practice portrait session with yourself, or a friend. Set up a chair, a backdrop (start with a solid, then experiment with a crazy pattern or bright color), and a light or two. Experiment with angles, poses and shadows. Don’t be afraid to let loose and have your subject give you feedback. It is key to be as comfortable in front of the camera, as you are behind the camera. In doing so, you’ll be able to have a better understanding of the requests you would make to your subjects.
The next important factor in shooting an awesome portrait is the lighting. This is just as important, if not more important, then finding a good subject to shoot. Being a college student has taught me many inexpensive ways to create a professional looking light. Something as simple as holding a white or back foam board from Walmart against or next to your light source can make a world of difference in the softness or harshness in your photograph. A simple clamp-on, workshop light, is perfect with you’re on a budget. Buy several different wattages in light bulbs, and you’ve just made yourself a cheap, extremely successful, lighting kit.
The last tip I have for you when taking portraits, is to HAVE FUN! My favorite thing about photography is that it’s not a job for me. This is something to keep in mind especially when you’re shooting a group photograph. Posed formal portraits are necessary, but there’s no reason you can’t break loose once you’ve shot the standards. Ask your subjects to make a funny face, pick each other up, or even jump as high as they can. The best photos are taken when your subjects are being themselves. Sean McGrath does an excellent job of this in his portraits.
Hope these tips make your next portrait session more successful! Let me know what works and doesn’t work for you, and if your learn any new tricks of your own.