One of the easiest things to do with your camera is take a portrait, and the majority of photos we take are images of ourselves, our loved ones, or complete strangers who have an uniqueness about them that we want to capture, save and show other people. The spontaneous or posed portrait is a mainstay of the photographic canon. However, that means 90% of them of boring stilted and uninspired. So how do you increase the punch of your portraits? That’s what we’re going to talk about today, and hopefully you’ll improve your simple snap shots after reading this.
Photo by rolands.lakis
One of the first things to think about when taking photographs is the consider your perspective — most people just take out their camera, hold it up at eye level of the subject(s) and snap away. But this is SOOOO boring… why not drop to one knee, place the camera and subject on the floor or get a higher vantage point. One time we did a group photo of “the fellas” and we gathered in a circle, and positioned the camera to be looking straight up and we crowded around. It took a few attempts to get it just right, but it’s one of my favorite group portraits.
Photo by Laenulfean
Create a Candid Look
Another great trick for more interesting portraits is to have the subject look away from the camera. When your subject’s eyes don’t bore directly down the lens barrel, it creates a more mysterious nature and quality to the subject (you ask yourself as the viewer, “what is he or she looking at?”). The portrait could look more like it was a “candid” photo, if you manipulate your subject this way. Or if you have more than one person in the photo, have them look at each other… this connection jumps off the page.
Try Different Lens
Also, don’t rely on the “standard” lens; in that people expect you to take portrait with a 50mm to 85mm, by why not try a 24mm? Sure there’s gonna a bit of distortion of your subject’s features, but that might make the photo (image if your lover held her hand out — it would appear much larger, and the overall image and composition will have a different feel… and that’s what you want). The non-standard lens issue leads me to another tip, junk all the so-called “composition rules”; so the Rules of Thirds is the first one to go. Why? Because sometimes a face dead-center, full-frame is more powerful than anything else or if the face is at the edge of the frame (most of it being truncated) can also be just as powerful in its own way.
A few other suggestions are: use a prop – people love to play with things and it brings out their personality, focus on a body part that’s not the subject’s face (and therefore exclude the face), use the “burst” mode on your digital camera (something that I learned when I first got a point-n-shoot) and you can emulate the photo booth effect. Experiment, experiment, experiment… otherwise, you’re not pushing yourself or the art.
These just are few tips and techniques and things to think about when designing your next portrait. Portraits should have a personality to themselves that reveals the photographer and the subject. That’s how people will remember your work as your work…
Top image by Eddy Van 3000
Chris Derrick is a writer, photographer, screenwriter and director living and working in Los Angeles. He studied film production and screenwriting at the University of Southern California, and continued to expand his photographic knowledge through classes at the Art Center College of Design.