I’ve been a children's and family photographer for almost ten years, and in all that time, I’ve learned a lot – and I’m always happy to share a few photography tips for taking portraits. Sure, landscapes can be fun, and action shots are great, too – but there’s something about portraits I love most of all. Whether you’re a semi-pro looking to hone your skills, or a mama-shutterbug trying to get better shots of your own favorite models (your kids!), it’s always fun to learn something new, right? Here are 11 photography tips for taking portraits.
1. Get down
If you’re photographing children or pets, get low! No, really, get down to their eye level, so you’re capturing them from their vantage point, rather than just getting a photo of the top of their head. It’s amazing how much better your pictures will be, and what you’ll notice from this perspective. Truly, this sounds so simple and basic and almost silly, but it’s landed at the top of my photography tips for taking portraits for a reason – it’s like an epiphany.
2. Get up!
Ah, but there’s a corollary to the “get low” rule! Try another angle – get up! I always bring a step-stool with me to portrait shoots because sometimes getting up higher makes for a great shot, too. It’s especially helpful when you’re shooting older people who are self-conscious about their necks or chins. Bonus: if your clients are sitting and you’re not happy with the shots, have them stand, or vice-versa.
3. Smoosh Together
This is one of my favorite photography tips of all time – when you’re shooting more than one person, just say the words “smoosh together!” and see what happens! It’s like magic – suddenly there are giggles and smiles and much more natural poses. I love it!
4. Not Too Matchy-Matchy
It’s tempting to put all three of your girls in identical dresses, but in photos, it can look a little odd, and the dresses can become the focal point of the photo, rather than the girls. Instead of getting all matchy-matchy, try getting matchy. For instance, for a holiday shoot, one girl can wear a plaid dress with cream and red and green, one girl can wear red, and the third can wear cream. Much better!
5. Avoid These
While we’re talking outfits, let’s also agree that you’ll never, ever wear a big bold print or incredibly obnoxious stripes, or any outfit that’s all white (unless you’re a bride) or all black (unless you just can’t help it). And let’s strike all yellow satin and lime green taffeta – those two colors can make anyone look sallow. Just choose colors you know you look good in, and you’ll look great!
6. Watch the Lighting
I confess: I loathe the flash. Natural light really, truly is best, so keep that in mind when deciding when and where to shoot. Aim to shoot just at sun-up or just before sun-down; we photographers call these the “golden hours” for a reason – the light is golden and gorgeous! No harsh shadows, no squinting, just beautiful, flattering light.
7. Get Close, or Far Away
Try both of these when you’re shooting portraits – get really close up, framing your shot just around the person’s head and shoulders – and do some detail shots, too, like baby’s hands. Then get far away, capturing some of the background. So many possibilities!
8. Use a Prop
Both kids and adults can get a little camera shy, and that’s when props come in handy. A child’s favorite toy or book or blankie, or even a shoe; a pencil or pen or a piece of fruit – all of these things can relax a subject, especially if you get them talking about whatever it is they’re holding or using.
It’s bound to happen when you’re shooting more than two people – someone in the group will blink, ruining the photo. Rather than having everyone smile, then count to three, then shoot, try this: ask everyone to close their eyes, and when you count to three, open them and smile, then take the photo. No one will blink – and the portrait will be awesome!
10. No More Cheese
Actually, “say cheese” still works to get people to smile big… and a little cheesy. If you want a more natural smile, make your subject laugh… or ask them to do a funny face, or ask them to do a serious face. Children won’t be able to help themselves – ask them NOT to smile, and they will, for sure!
11. Choose the Right Place
What is the right place for a portrait shoot? It ought to be somewhere you’re comfortable. A place with meaning – like your own backyard, your comfy couch, or a park your family loves – will make your portraits even more special and memorable. Before you shoot, look through your lens and make sure there aren’t any distractions, like cars in the background, or toys scattered around.
I’m sure you’ve already been using a few of these ideas, but I hope some are new, and that you’ll find them helpful! And… well… I’m always looking for some tips and tricks, too, so feel free to share some of your own advice!