The secrets of a portrait photoshoot

Whether a new, amateur or seasoned photographer, your first portrait photoshoot may be a daunting prospect, but in this article, I’ll show you there is nothing to be afraid of!

Your camera & lenses: Do I need to buy the fanciest there is?

You might think that the more money you spend on the right camera for a portrait photograph will insure you take the best portrait picture, but you will find that’s simply not the case.

Some of the most exceptional portrait shots in recent times have been taken with low-spec camera phones, so, the first secret is, concentrate on your technique, not so much on equipment at first.

The Power of Light!

Portrait lighting, without a doubt, will make or break your portrait photoshoot. As a new shutterbug you may be relying on your camera’s flash and wonder why there might be harsh shadows around your subjects, or even redeye. Flash light can bounce from your subject’s retina, and cause the dreaded and unappealing portrait redeye!

Lighting direction, angle, brightness… all of this affects your portrait photoshoot in two major ways:

  • They can change the ratio between lit areas and shadows as explained above.
  • They set the lighting pattern on your subject’s face.

Therefore to get the best portrait photos you should keep in mind that…

  • The lighting pattern is a result of the light’s position.
  • You can control the lighting ratio with a reflector, a fill light, or if taking outdoor portrait shots, finding spots that have the right natural ambient light in the direction you want.
  • You can also combine and balance reflectors, lights and even flashes, with natural ambient light to create the ratio you want, just like the professionals do!

Planning for the portrait photoshoot: What’s the best way to go about it?

Whether you are doing a family or corporate portrait photoshoot, or individual portrait photographs, there is one simple secret that few seem to know about… and that is planning.

Planning not only means you should have a general idea of what you want to include in your portrait shot, but also:

  • Sketch ideas out in your notepad (stick figures are just fine!). Just figure out where each element will go before you position them in real life.
  • Keep the lighting configuration in mind at all times to avoid harsh shadows and odd facial expressions.
  • Keep a well-organized folder of great portrait shots. You can do this right on your phone or tablet, for quick inspiration on the go.

Strike a pose!

If you have ever spent time taking the perfect portrait selfie, you already know that the angle at which the camera faces your forehead affects your portrait picture immensely. The same applies to a professional portrait photoshoot. Learn to tweak your subjects just a little bit, so they can come out awesome. Just moving their chin up or down, can make a world of difference.

We already let you in on the secret of using a notepad to sketch ideas for positioning your group photography subjects, and keep a folder of great portrait samples to draw inspiration from. Here are a few more portrait secrets.

For an Individual Portrait Photoshoot

  • Keep your subject engaged in conversation with you during the portrait photo session, even if it’s you doing all the talking. You want everyone to be relaxed and loose. Their attitude will certainly carry across to the portrait.
  • If a planned photoshoot, choose a color palette with the person beforehand. Use a color wheel and make sure your subject wears and accessorizes with complimentary colors, always keeping in mind the location where the pictures will be taken. Focus on how light will affect the chosen colors.
  • Also be aware that colors have hidden meaning; cool colors such as blue bring a calming and nurturing effect, while warm colors such as red, orange and yellow can convey anything from anger to happiness. Choose wisely!

For a Group Portrait Photoshoot

Follow the guidelines above, and also make sure that you…

  • Ask your subjects to squeeze together.
  • If taking a family portrait, ask the parent to have children follow your instructions.
  • Again, if children are involved, ask the parents to avoid threatening or making the kids nervous. Kids should be relaxed because this helps the family portrait photoshoot feel natural and fun.

Now that you know a few of the secrets to a great portrait photoshoot, remember that the greatest photographers spend a lifetime refining and honing their craft, so go out there and start taking lots of portrait pictures. You will find you get better and better every time you press that shutter!