Oh no, something went wrong. Please check your network connection and try again.

10 Portrait Photography Tips for Beginners

a black and white photo of a woman smiling at the camera

Portrait photography is not just about pointing a camera at someone and pressing the shutter button; it's about connecting, understanding, and exploring the depth of human emotion and expression. In this guide, we'll walk through the basics of portrait photography, from understanding its definition to grasping the foundational techniques.

What is Portrait Photography?

Portrait photography, at its core, is a genre of photography focused on capturing the personality, expression, and essence of a subject through carefully composed photographs. Unlike candid photography, where moments are captured spontaneously, portrait photography is usually more planned and deliberate. It can range from shooting a close-up of someone’s face to a more environmental portrait that includes the surroundings to tell a bigger story about the subject.

Portrait photography encompasses a wide range of styles and techniques. It invites photographers to experiment with lighting, angles, backdrops, and compositions to bring out the best in their subjects. The core of portrait photography is about finding the essence of the individual, whether it be the wisdom of an elderly woman or the innocence of a newborn baby.

How To Help Your Subject Feel Comfortable

Creating a comfortable environment for your subject is crucial in portrait photography. A relaxed subject naturally leads to more genuine expressions and poses, which in turn results in captivating and authentic portraits. Here are some effective tips to help your subject feel at ease in front of the camera:

Step 1: Establish a Connection Before the Shoot

Begin building a rapport with your subject long before you pick up the camera. Take the time to get to know them, discuss their interests, and understand their expectations for the shoot. This pre-shoot interaction can significantly reduce the initial awkwardness and help your subject feel more comfortable with you as a photographer.

Step 2: Clearly Communicate the Process

Many people feel anxious in front of the camera because they don't know what to expect. Take a few minutes to explain the process, including how you'll be directing them throughout the session. Knowing what to expect can help alleviate any nerves or uncertainties.

Step 3: Start with Simple Poses

Begin the session with simple, easy-to-achieve poses. This approach allows your subject to gradually warm up to the camera without feeling overwhelmed. As their comfort level increases, you can gradually introduce more complex or creative poses.

Step 4: Play Their Favorite Music

Music can be a powerful tool in creating a relaxed atmosphere. Ask your subject for a playlist of their favorite songs to play during the shoot. Familiar tunes can help them feel more at ease and can even inspire spontaneous moments that are perfect for capturing.

Step 5: Give Positive Feedback

Positive reinforcement goes a long way in boosting confidence. Compliment your subject on their poses, expressions, or how well they're doing in general. Avoid giving negative feedback; instead, gently guide them with constructive suggestions if needed.

Step 6: Keep the Atmosphere Light and Fun

Maintain a friendly and light-hearted atmosphere throughout the session. Jokes, interesting anecdotes, or simply engaging in a casual conversation can help distract your subject from the camera and reduce feelings of self-consciousness.

Step 7: Allow Them to See the Photos During the Shoot

Occasionally, let your subject see some of the shots on the camera. This can be reassuring and boost their confidence, especially if they are unsure about how they look. Use this as an opportunity to discuss what they like and any adjustments they'd prefer.

Step 8: Encourage Their Input

Involve your subject in the creative process. Encourage them to suggest poses, locations, or ideas they feel would reflect their personality. This not only makes the session more collaborative but also ensures the final images are more personal and meaningful to them.

Step 9: Be Patient and Reassuring

Patience is key in portrait photography. Understand that not everyone is comfortable in front of the camera right away. Reassure your subject that there’s no rush and that you’re there to help them look their best.

Step 10: Create a Safe and Private Environment

Ensure that the shooting location is somewhere your subject feels safe and private, especially if you're shooting outside of a studio. A comfortable environment free from onlookers or interruptions can significantly help in making your subject feel at ease.

Implementing these tips can dramatically improve the experience for your subject and ultimately, the quality of your portraits. Remember, the goal is to capture the essence and personality of your subject, and a comfortable subject is the first step in achieving that.

woman laughing

10 Portrait Photography Tips for Beginners

Embarking on portrait photography offers an exciting avenue to explore creativity, connect with people, and tell their stories through the lens. Here are some foundational tips for beginners eager to dive into this rewarding genre:

Tip 1: Understand the Basics of Composition

  • Rule of Thirds: Imagine your image is divided into nine equal segments by two vertical and two horizontal lines. Placing your subject along these lines or at their intersections can create a more balanced composition.
  • Eye Level: For a natural and engaging portrait, try to keep the camera at the subject’s eye level. This angle fosters a connection between the subject and the viewer.
  • Fill the Frame: Don't be afraid to get close and fill the frame with your subject. This eliminates distractions and focuses attention on the subject.

Tip 2: Master Natural Light

  • Golden Hours: Shoot during the golden hour—usually an hour after sunrise or before sunset—when the light is soft, warm, and flattering.
  • Shade is Your Friend: On bright days, find a shaded area to avoid harsh shadows and squinting subjects.
  • Window Light: Indoors, position your subject near a window for beautiful, diffused light, especially when studio lighting is not available.

Tip 3: Experiment with Different Perspectives

Changing your perspective can dramatically alter the mood and meaning of a portrait. Try shooting from above or below, close up or far away, to discover unique and compelling compositions.

Tip 4: Invest in a Good Camera

Investing in a quality camera is crucial for portrait photography, as it allows you to capture images with better resolution, color accuracy, and low-light performance. Start with a DSLR or mirrorless camera that fits your budget and learn its features and settings inside out. Experiment with different lenses; a 50mm or 85mm prime lens, for example, is great for portraits due to its ability to produce sharp subjects with beautifully blurred backgrounds.

Tip 5: Use a Wide Aperture

A wide aperture (low f-number) creates a shallow depth of field, which blurs the background and keeps the focus on your subject. This effect helps eliminate distracting backgrounds and makes your subject stand out.

Tip 6: Engage Your Subject

A comfortable and relaxed subject naturally looks better in photos. Talk to them, make them laugh, and keep the atmosphere light to capture genuine expressions.

Tip 7: Pay Attention to the Background

A cluttered or distracting background can take away from your subject. Look for simple, unobtrusive backgrounds or use a wide aperture to blur the background.

Tip 8: Experiment with Lighting

Don't be afraid to play with light and shadow to add mood and depth to your portraits. Side lighting can emphasize textures and shapes, while backlighting can create a dramatic silhouette.

Tip 9: Practice Posing

Learn some basic poses to guide your subjects, especially those who may feel awkward in front of the camera. A slight tilt of the head, a hand in a pocket, or a genuine smile can transform a portrait.

Tip 10: Keep Learning and Experimenting

Photography is a journey. Continue to learn, experiment with new techniques, and seek inspiration from other photographers. Your style and skills will evolve with practice.

By following these tips, you'll be well on your way to capturing beautiful, expressive portraits that tell a story and reveal the unique beauty of your subjects.

How To Get Portrait Photography Clients

Attracting clients is crucial for turning your passion for portrait photography into a viable business or side project. Here are strategies to help you build your client base:

1. Build a Strong Portfolio

  • Showcase Your Best Work: Your portfolio is often your first impression. Include a variety of portraits that showcase your style and versatility. Ensure high-quality images that highlight your best work.
  • Online Presence: Create a professional website and utilize social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest) to display your portfolio. Regularly update your online galleries with your latest work.

2. Network Both Online and Offline

  • Social Media: Use platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn to share your work, connect with potential clients, and engage with your audience. Hashtags can help increase visibility.
  • Local Networking: Attend local events, join photography clubs, or participate in community activities. Personal connections can lead to referrals and bookings.

3. Offer Special Promotions

Launch promotions for holidays, special occasions (like Mother's Day or graduation season), or even a "mini-session" day where you offer shorter photo sessions at a discounted rate. These can attract new clients and provide great portfolio material.

4. Collaborate with Other Businesses

Partner with local businesses such as salons, boutiques, or event planners. For example, offer a free portrait session as part of a salon's makeover package. These collaborations can introduce your services to a wider audience.

5. Collect and Share Testimonials

Positive reviews from past clients can be incredibly persuasive. Ask satisfied clients to leave reviews on your website or social media pages. Personal stories and endorsements can significantly boost credibility.

6. Utilize SEO Strategies

Optimize your website for search engines to increase your visibility online. Use relevant keywords in your website content, blog posts, and image tags. Local SEO strategies, such as listing your business on Google My Business, can help local clients find you.

7. Create a Blog

Blog about your photography sessions, share tips, or discuss trends in portrait photography. This can not only showcase your expertise but also improve your website's SEO, drawing more traffic and potential clients.

8. Offer Referral Incentives

Encourage your existing clients to refer others by offering them a discount or a free print for every referral that books a session. Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool.

9. Attend Bridal Shows and Events

If you're interested in wedding or engagement photography, bridal shows can be a goldmine for finding clients. Set up a booth to display your work and connect with attendees.

10. Practice Consistent Branding

Ensure that your marketing materials, social media profiles, and website have consistent branding. This includes your logo, color scheme, and the overall "feel" of your communications. Consistent branding makes you more memorable and professional.

Gaining new portrait photography clients often requires time and effort in both marketing and networking. By implementing these strategies, you can increase your visibility, showcase your talent, and start building a strong client base.

Written by: Emily Newton

Frequently Asked Questions about Portrait Photography

What does a portrait photographer do?

A portrait photographer captures the personality, expression, and essence of a subject through carefully composed photographs, often focusing on the face and eyes to convey emotion and tell a story.

What makes a picture a portrait?

A picture is considered a portrait when it intentionally focuses on a person or group of people, capturing their appearance, personality, and mood, with the subject typically aware of being photographed.

How do I start being a portrait photographer?

To start as a portrait photographer, invest in a good camera, learn the basics of photography and lighting, practice by taking portraits of friends and family, and build a portfolio to showcase your work.

Emily Newton author bio

Find Your Next Portrait Location on Scouter

As you enter the world of portrait photography, discover your ideal shoot location with Scouter, the peer-to-peer marketplace that connects photographers and filmmakers with unique and inspiring spaces. Whether you're envisioning a rustic barn, a sleek modern office, or a lush outdoor setting, Scouter offers a diverse array of locations listed by local hosts. Start your search on Scouter today and turn your creative dreams into reality.

Browse Locations
woman smiling with a flower crown on