14 portrait photography tips you'll never want to forget

Essential advice to shoot your best portraits

6. Creative compositions

Portrait composition

Don't be lazy with your compositions. Too often photographers stand back, thinking it's best to include all, or at least the top half, of their subject.

Zoom in instead to fill the frame for a more inspired photo composition. Positioning your subject to one side of the frame, with 'space to look into', is a great technique to master, as is experimenting with wide apertures to capture a very shallow depth of field.

7. Build a rapport

Build a rapport

If your model doesn't feel comfortable, then the final shots aren't going to work. Take time to chat with your subject before the shoot - have a cup of tea or coffee and talk over your ideas.

When the shoot begins, offer them direction - don't just shoot away silently. Tell them what you want and how you want them to pose. Remember as well to show them shots of the back of the screen as this can build confidence.

8. Use a reflector

Using a reflector

A quick and affordable way to brighten up your portraits and to give them a professional look is to use a reflector. Use them indoors (near windows) or outdoors to bounce light back onto your subjects to fill in unwanted shadows.

Using a reflector

Many reflectors come double-sided or with detachable covers, so you get a choice of white, silver and gold reflective surfaces. The white surfaces of reflectors can also double up as diffusers to soften strong direct sunshine.

No reflector

No reflector: Without a reflector, the side of the face furthest from the window is noticeably deeper in shadow

Gold reflector

Gold side: Gold gives off a warm glow, which works with the right subject, but looks unnatural in an indoor setup

Silver reflectors

Silver side: The silver side, being more reflective, bounces more light, and is slightly cooler than white

White reflector

White side: The white side of a reflector gives the most natural-looking results when shooting portraits

9. Focusing your camera

If you're really strapped for cash, you can make a reflector by simply using a large sheet of white cardboard - which you can also cover with tin foil for a silver effect - and it should still work a treat!

When using wide apertures (especially f/2.8 or faster), your depth of field decreases dramatically, so it's crucial your focusing is bang on, otherwise you could end up with out-of-focus facial features; the person's nose may be sharp but the eyes soft.


With tightly composed photos, focus on the eyes; with wider compositions, focus on the head. To help with pinpoint focusing, manually select a single autofocus (AF) point.

A good technique is to set the central AF point, half-press the shutter button to focus on the eyes/head, then recompose to position your subject off to one side before fully pressing the button - this is often a much faster way of shooting than fiddling with AF points.

Alternatively, set AF points in the top corners and place them over your subject's eyes to take your shot. Either option will help you position your subject off-centre for a more balanced composition.

10. Posing for portraits

Posing portraits

How your subject stands, poses and looks will have a dramatic effect on your results. A slight change in facial expression - such as whether they smile or not - can radically change the entire feeling of the photograph.

When shooting, try and capture a range of expressions so you can pick which you prefer when editing them back home on the computer.

Also consider setting up portrait shots where your subject looks off-camera, up or down, or to one side. Play around and see what works.