Portrait Photography Tips For Beginners

Portrait Photography Tips For Beginners

Don’t you know the situation when you want to shoot a good portrait but somehow all the portraits you shot are pretty standard?

 and you feel like something is missing?

I had the same problem when I started with portraits and it took me a month to figure out what was wrong.

But when I did I found some things that can spice up every portrait and make it a uniquely powerful picture.

So I though in order to make your life easier, I make a post about portrait photography tips for beginners.

That will offer you some ideas and guidelines you can hold on to for your next portraits.

So Let’s Go! 🙂


Catchlights

My first tip for a beginner is trying to use catchlights on purpose.

It might be just a small thing in the picture, but it gives a lot of depth and dimension to the eyes and makes them look alive instantly.

Portrait Photography Tips For Beginners
Catchlights in the eyes by Jessica

What is a Catchlight

Ok, this is only a quick explanation. If you want to read more about them click here.

Catchlights come from a light source near the eye.

This could be a window, a light, a softbox, a reflector or just simply the sun.

Of course, the size of the catchlights depends on the size of the light source.

How to use Catchlights

Catchlights are usually applied in the 10 or 2 o’clock position.

Because those positions look most natural to us.

Since the sun wouldn’t shine from a 6 o’clock position.

Just keep in mind that, like always in photography, this is just a rule of thumb and not a 100% law. 🙂


Layers

The second tip for portrait beginners is to use layers and what I mean by that is put things in front of the subject like a branch or some leaves.

But you can also shoot through a window or along a wall literally everything that creates depth.

But make sure that the model keeps eye contact with you.

If you don’t the picture can very quickly look like it was shot by a stalker. 😛 and you probably don’t want that.

Portrait Photography Tips For Beginners
Here is the light chain the front layer. By Brandon Woelfel

Different Perspectives

Portrait tip number 3 is, try different perspectives.

Some people like to shoot slightly from below and some people like to shoot slightly from above.

Even if you move your lens just a few inches it can change a lot.

Portrait Photography Tips For Beginners
By Aarongrafic

Also, try perspectives you would think they are rubbish for portraits like from straight above or straight below.

 

Interesting facts about perspectives

Shooting a subject from below makes it seem powerful.

Shooting a subject from above makes it look more vulnerable.

The bigger the person is inframe the more powerful the picture gets.


Use The Rule of Thirds, But Also Brake it.

Portrait beginner tip number 4 is trying to use the rule of thirds as often as possible.

Of course, it’s not a law and you can shoot different ways too.

But when I started out, it helped me a lot to get a feeling of what looks good and what doesn’t.

So use it to develop a feeling for the good stuff.

By Aarongrafic

Use the Right Light

This is one of my BIGGEST portrait photography tips for beginners.

If you only use one tip from this list use this one.

This is so super important and you will be really super amazingly amazed how much of a difference it makes.

Use the right light when you go outside.

Try to shoot in the morning or in the sunset, golden hour, blue hour or whenever the light is not coming from straight above.

Here is a free app where you can see when best light is.


Use a Reflector

Portrait tip number 6.

Use a reflector. They are super cheap on Amazon (like 10-20$) and super portable.

Use them to create catchlights or just as fill light you will be amazed what you can do with such a simple thing.

Just go and experiment with it.


Depth of Field

Tip 7.

Try to use a wide aperture to create a nice bokeh and isolate your subject from the background.

By Carolina Porqueddu

If you want to know more about the depth of field and how to create a nice bokeh click here.


Eyes

Tip number 8. This one is a big one.

The eyes are the most important piece of a portrait.

Just think of it that way the eyes are the window to the soul.

(somebody famous said that just don’t remember who if you know it tells me in the comments) 🙂

Double check after you took the shot and zoom in to see if they really became as sharp as you wanted them.

On the other hand, putting sunglasses on your subject can also tell a story.

My experience is that  9 out of 10 times you want to shoot with focused on the eyes.

By Emmett Sparling

But as always it’s not a 100% rule just use it as a guideline.


Choose a Background

Beginner portrait tip number 9.

Often people just shoot where they shoot and that’s cool.

But you know what’s also cool? A pre-organized background.

Think about what kind of portrait you want and then think about what kind of background would be nice to have.

The background really plays a big part in a portrait even if you blur it all the way.

I mean imagine a Pirate of a ship… that would make a good portrait right?

A Pirate in front of a concrete wall would be weird.

By Alexander Vinogradov

And not because a concrete wall is a bad background, it’s because you need context.

 

Little tip: Don’t tell yourself like I did that there is no good background in your area.

It doesn’t need to be big or fancy it just needs to be big enough for your viewfinder and fit your portrait idea. 🙂


Isolate Background or Integrate

Portrait tip number 10.

When you shoot against a solid background or any background,  move your subject a little bit away from it.

You can isolate from the background.

This helps to separate for the viewer the important stuff from the rest.

And of course as always not 100% 😛 Because it can be also very cool when you let your subject interact with the background.

For example when you have a tree let him or her climb up on it or when don’t put her in front of the bush put her right inside it.

By Drew Buckler

Get Close.

Beginner tip number 11.

When I started I always tried to get the whole head from neck to the top into the picture.

Which actually would make sense if you try to shoot a pass photo. 🙂

try to get just capture what’s important for your portrait idea.

If you want to show how beautiful her eyes are, get close even if you only get half her face in the picture.

By Patrick Feldhusen

(I personally really love these kinds of pictures).


Don’t Try to Pose Too Hard

Portrait beginner tip 12.

Models know how to pose because it is there job to look unnaturally natural in every way.

“Normal” people usually don’t know how to pose or only have one pose.  

What I do when I shoot with non-model people I just start a conversation with them while I’m shooting so they concentrate on the conversation and don’t start to try posing.

When I want them to laugh I say something funny and when I want to cry I hit them.

NO JUST KIDDING DON’T DO THAT. That’s gonna land you in jail. 😀

but I hope you get the method.

Also always tell them how good they look and what an awesome job they are doing, so they relax and act natural.


That’s already it with my portrait photography tips for beginners I hope you liked it and that it was helpful for you. If you have any questions or opinions, ask me in the comments and I will get back to you as fast as I can. Until then have an amazing day. 🙂

If you liked this post you might want to have a look here:

8. Ways to Make a Good portrait

Portrait From Above

Natural Light Portrait Photography Tips – For Recreation

How to Make a Profile Portrait

Cheers Aaron.

24 thoughts on “Portrait Photography Tips For Beginners

  1. Mia

    Hi Aaron!

    I read your article and it is so interesting! I have always loved photography, but I do not know the important techniques there are and your post just gave me a good insight on how to make a portrait. I have a question. Do some of these techniques also work when taking a self-portrait, or a “selfie”? I would like to know more techniques to do so, as I more often than not look awful in selfies ahah.

    Thank you,
    Mia

    1. Aaron

      Hey Mia, thanks for the nice feedback. 🙂  of course you can apply most of these techniques also in selfies. But the two biggest tips for taking selfies are look for good light (go close to a window and turn yourself the way you want the light to shine at you) and the second one is try to be creative with angles try unusual perspectives. (try to shoot from a bit above) and you will see you will look as cute as in real life 🙂

  2. Jack Taylor

    My wife recently bought me a digital camera for Christmas last year and I’m finally going to use it. I came across your awesome article and never knew there was so much to learn about photography. I saved your website to my favorites and I’m going to practice some of your tips as soon as I’m done writing this comment. Thanks for all the great tips!

    Jack

    1. Aaron

      Hey Jack, Happy to have you here. It’s about time to get started then 😛 And yes there is a lot of theory you can learn but the best way to learn is 20% theory and 80% practice.  🙂 When you run out of ideas for pictures at the photo blog or the projects for beginners. until then shoot some amazing pictures. 🙂

  3. criticalreader

    Wow! I am floored by the photos in this article!

    Indeed, these tips are beautifully and very clearly presented. It’s obvious you know your stuff! Impeccable composition, beautiful lighting and editing, and even resources to improve photography skills and tricks. I may never get the chance to use all these tips, but I will certainly give it my best if the opportunity arrises!

    Thank you for sharing this information!

    1. Aaron

      Hey Criticalreader, cool name. 🙂 and thanks for your great feedback. Just try to to keep them in mind and you will see they work. 🙂 

  4. Ed

    Hi Aaron,

    Wow, what beautiful portrait photos and excellent advice.
    You really know what you are talking about.
    How do you keep catchlights from turning into redeye? This is one of the biggest problems I have with portrait shots. The other suggestions that you offer will all help me improve a lot.

    Thanks,
    Ed

    1. Aaron

      Hi Ed, thanks for the nice feedback. The red-eye-effect only occurs when the flash is very close to the lens like on a compact camera. Most newer DSLRs sense this effect and delete it. But if you have an old camera or a compact camera you can use Lightroom to get rid of it with just one click. 🙂 I hope i answered your question. 🙂 Cheers Aaron.

  5. Andrew Bromley

    I can now appreciate to get a descent portrait done in photography is not simply to just point the camera and shoot as there are some preparations to do first. I have done some photography in the past with some portrait’s and now i can see what an amateur i am. Your article is just what i have been looking for. Thank you.

    1. Aaron

      Hey Andrew, I’m glad you found what you where looking for. 🙂 

  6. Bini

    Hi Aaron
    What an amazing article. My brother wants to start photography as a hobby so we were searching for some tips for beginners. I am so glad that I came across your article, it’s very helpful and informative.
    We both are thinking to try few of your tips. I definitely would like to try tip no. 11, I never thought closeup can result in such a masterpiece.
    Thanks again for sharing.

    1. Aaron

      Hey Bini, yes getting close to the subject can make a portrait much more intense. I like to play with the aperture settings a little when I shoot close ups. To focus the view even more to the eyes. 🙂 Just try one tip at the time and you will improve your photo skills with a steep learning curve. 🙂

  7. Celeste

    I love photography. I had no idea about catchlight. Your explanation has made it so simple and understandable. I am very excited to try some of the techniques out especially the one about catchlight. My nieces are visiting this weekend and I was planning a shoot with them, so I was very happy I came across your article. You have given me some inspiration.

    1. Aaron

      Hey Celeste, I’m glad you found the information you needed. I think you will be amazed when you get the hang of it and see how easy it actually is to use them. Plus how good they look. 🙂

  8. Soraya

    These portrait photography tips for beginners are just what I need. I want to go out and put them to the test right away! Let’s see if I can take some cool shots with the help of these tips.
    I’m a beginner and I don’t really understand what you mean in point 4, the rule of thirds. Could you explain it a little more for me?
    The portraits are to-die-for beautiful. Very inspiring.
    Thanks for this great post! 🙂

    1. Aaron

      Hey Soraya, the rule of thirds is described in the 4th picture. It is very simple actually just line (in case of a portrait) the eyes up with a line or a cross point, and you will see that 9/10 times this will improve your composition. Here is also a video where everything is explained. since I don’t have a post about it yet. 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GcpP-n-94I
      and thank for the great feedback.

  9. Ann & Alex

    Hi Aaron,

    I just starting taking a photography course online because I love taking pictures. So I wanted to get better at it, not sure I will actually become a photographer but you never know.

    Your tips are awesome, I love all your ideas and they make so much sense when someone points them out to you. Like I said I just started taking a course and I so look forward to all the great photos I will learn how to take.

    I will remember where I got some of the information from (Your Website) 🙂 I will be book marketing it and checking back to keep learning.

    Thanks for helping out a beginner like myself in the world of Photography.

    Ann

    1. Aaron

      Hey Ann & Alex, It’s always a pleasure to help somebody 🙂 If you want to become a professional photographer just do it 🙂 people will tell you it’s super hard and bla bla. If you really want it you will get it. 🙂 A course is also a very good start just don’t forget to go and take hundreds and thousands of pictures to get the practice. If you have any question how to get started with your photo business or other photo related questions feel always free to ask me in the comments or via e-mail. 🙂

  10. Megan

    Wow! There are some great tips here. I’m a hopeless photographer – just ask my arty teenager! Mind you she takes wonderful photos – I’m jealous. I am always looking for tips to help me take a better shot and especially ones that seem natural. I will be coming back to your blog for inspiration and so I can show my daughter that I can take a good photo. Thanks!

    1. Aaron

      Hey Megan, Nobody is hopeless 😀 even though I was laughing about your story 🙂 Just keep on practicing and use all the tips mentioned in the post above and you will shoot professional looking pictures in no time. A big tip is try to look for interesting light. I hope soon I will read a comment from you that is about you taking better pictures than your daughter 🙂 until then have an awesome time taking pictures.

  11. Daniella

    Hi Aaron,

    This article came just in time, I am traveling to Belgium next week with my children, and I wanted to know so badly how to take nice portrait pictures of people in the street. This is by far the best tips for beginners, and I thank you for it! My question may seem a bit stupid, but I’ll ask anyway:). I have a Nikon, but let’s say I forget it at the Hotel. Can I use your tips on an iPhone or it’s not possible?
    Thank you for this excellent post!

    1. Aaron

      Hey Daniella, Belgium is awesome (even though France is better) ;P  you will have a lot of good photo opportunities there. 🙂 But to answer your question about the portrait photography tips. Of course you can use most of the tips also with your phone. 🙂

  12. Cheryl

    Hi Aaron, I really enjoyed reading all your tips and they are very helpful. I am not the best photographer but after reading your post there is really good advice and I will certainly come back and use these tips.

    Maybe you could answer a question for me though, when I get a photograph taken I always seem to blink so I have my eyes shut and wondered what is the best thing I could do to stop that as I have ruined so many photos with that problem.

    1. Aaron

      Hey Cheryl, I’m glad to hear that my tips where helpful to you. 🙂 To your question: what I like to do when people do that is to either shoot on burst so you will have you eyes open at least in one picture. However, when you cant open your eyes because of the sun or so you can look at the floor and in the last second before the photo is taken look up so you eyes don’t have the time to blink. I hope that somehow helps you. Other ways there might be no cure for that 😉

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