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Quick Tips for Shooting Better Portraits

Before we get to the challenges for this chapter, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss some tips that don’t necessarily have anything specific to do with your camera. There are entire books that cover things like portrait lighting, posing, and so on. But here are a few pointers that will make your people photos look a lot better.

Avoid the center of the frame

This falls under the category of composition. Place your subject to the side of the frame (Figure 4.16)—it just looks more interesting than plunking them smack dab in the middle.

Choose the right lens

Choosing the correct lens can make a huge impact on your portraits. A wide-angle lens can distort the features of your subject, which can lead to an unflattering portrait. Select a longer focal length if you will be close to your subject (Figure 4.17).

Use the frame

Have you ever noticed that most people are taller than they are wide? Turn your camera vertically for a more pleasing composition (Figure 4.18).

Sunblock for portraits

The midday sun can be harsh and can do unflattering things to people’s faces. If you can, find a shady spot out of the direct sunlight (Figure 4.19). You will get softer shadows, smoother skin tones, and better detail. This holds true for overcast skies as well. Just be sure to adjust your white balance accordingly.

Keep an eye on your background

Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in taking a great shot that you forget about the smaller details. Try to keep an eye on what is going on behind your subject so they don’t end up with things popping out of their heads (Figure 4.20).

More than just a pretty face

Most people think of a portrait as a photo of someone’s face. Don’t ignore other aspects of your subject that reflect their personality—hands, especially, can go a long way toward describing someone (Figure 4.21).

Get down on their level

If you want better pictures of children, don’t shoot from an adult’s eye level. Getting the camera down to the child’s level will make your images look more personal (Figure 4.22).

Don’t be afraid to get close

When you are taking someone’s picture, don’t be afraid of getting close and filling the frame (Figure 4.23). This doesn’t mean you have to shoot from a foot away; try zooming in and capturing the details.

Find candid moments

Sometimes the best images are the ones that aren’t posed. Find moments when people are just being themselves (Figure 4.24) and use a faster shutter speed to capture expressions that happen quickly (Figure 4.25).

Shoot high and low

Portraits don’t always need to be photographed at eye level. Try moving up, down, and all around. Shooting from a high angle is a flattering way to photograph most people (Figure 4.26), and sometimes it can be fun to get down on the ground and shoot up at your subject (Figure 4.27).

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