FAQ : Tips for Portrait Photography


My mom insists she doesn’t have a favorite child. Pfffft. LIKE I BELIEVE HER. It’s clear I would be any parent’s favorite given my record of bribery and blackmail. You’re welcome, mother. Since I don’t have children I don’t know what it’d feel like to choose favorites, but the closest I get to this type of decision making is deciding what photos will be posted on the blog after an engagement session.

And right about…now…every mother reading this post is rolling her eyes. No, children and photos are nothing alike, but I can feel a sense of creative ownership and it’s hard to select which to showcase to represent the shoot as a whole.

I rarely display portraits. I shoot standard portraits at every engagement session, but I don’t showcase them on the blog because it’s not a specialty and I don’t think they’re the best representation of my work. I, however, ensure to capture a signature portrait because I believe it’s nice to have and rounds out the engagement session portfolio.

Okay, so now that I’ve established I include portraits during my sessions, I want to talk a little more about How to Make Portraits Look and Feel Natural {with an editorial flair}. I added that last part because, well, I like long sentences. I make a mental note to capture a portrait of the couple together (this would be a traditional photo for mom or grandma to hang above their mantel), and individual portraits of the guy and girl.

Portrait Tips for a Female Subject:
1. View the subject with a stylist’s eye. Take a look at her outfit and hair to ensure everything is neat and in place…what you’re trying to do is avoid fixing things in Photoshop (fly away hair, bulging pants, etc) later.
2. Talk to your subject from behind the camera while you’re shooting. By making the shoot conversational, the subject naturally loosens up and smiles organically. These photos work best at showcasing the subject in her truest form.
3. Give your subject something to do with her hands…not just one option, but four. Before photographing your subject, show her how you’d like her to position her hands, then give her three more options. These options allow for the subject to flow through her hand positions effortlessly while you’re shooting. Once she knows what to do, you’ll hardly struggle with the appearance of dangling arms. Amen.

Portrait Tips for a Male Subject:
1. Study poses from magazines like Esquire, GQ, and J. Crew. Truly understand how a male form works alone, leaning against something, and walking. Being confident in how to rearrange a male body is the first step in achieving natural poses.
2. Give your subject action. When working with men, I’ve discovered that when I give them something to do (look at your watch…adjust your tie…run your hands through your hair), they follow with a pointed purposes that results in a clean shot.
3. Act like a mirror. Being a female photographer, I try my best to stay hands off of my male subjects, simply for the sake of professionalism. If I’m struggling to get a guy into a pose, I position us face-to-face and ask him to mirror my movements. Chin down, chin down…look right, look right. Once we walk through a flow of the movements, I step back and then begin to photograph him in a way that allows him to mirror the movements from the beginning to the end yielding a natural look.

Portrait Tips for a Couple:
1. Be aware of their fingers. A couple might be looking fantastic together, but a revealing component to a photo is whether the fingers look cramped or limp. If the hands look dead, the picture is unrealistic. Remind the couple to keep their fingers light and happy…yes, this sounds ambiguous, but it works. Trust me.

2. Be aware of prom poses. It’s easy to fall into a traditional prom pose, elbows angled out and all. If you see a portrait that looks too stiff or awkward, don’t hesitate to ask your couple to shake it out. Literally. There are times when I ask subjects to shake out their shoulders and relax their backs…sure, it seems silly but it results in two people falling into each others’ arms with no strain or fakeness at all. And, no, fakeness isn’t really a word.

3. Encourage the couple to relax their smiles. It’s nice to have a big cheesy smile now and then, but it’s our job as photographers to instruct a couple on how to relax their smiles and, instead, rely on their eyes to convey emotion. Because, really, a fake smile doesn’t look good on anyone. Take a few seconds to demonstrate how to achieve the look you want and by doing so, you’re giving them the permission to blossom in front of your lens and become confident in the process.

If you’d like to learn more about How to Shoot Dynamic Portraits at an Engagement Session, feel free to check out this behind-the-scenes video tutorial HERE!

Happy Monday!

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  1. Dan

    October 29th, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Thanks for the tips, very easy and clear. I should know these by now but thanks very much for reminding me!

  2. Laurie W.

    October 29th, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Great tips. Thanks!!

  3. Lauren Kim

    October 29th, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Thank you for always selfishly giving of your knowledge and experience, for allowing young photographers like me to learn from a master like you. Thank you again

  4. Aimee

    October 29th, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I wish you had posted this Friday! 🙂

  5. Naomi Epstein

    October 29th, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    All advise on how to make your subjects Relax and Fall into Place! (for some reason I had this playing in my head) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyl5DlrsU90

  6. sue

    October 29th, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Thanks for this!

  7. Natarsha

    October 29th, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    This is such a great reminder especially when you can connect with your client to make them feel comfortable enough to be themselves and relax. Thanks!

  8. Cynthia Michelle

    October 29th, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    This was great – full of awesome tips! I would love it (and this sounds silly) if you would blog about what you tell your clients to do with their hands. When I am shooting individual portraits, this is the #1 thing I struggle with. What are some reliable ways to guide clients without them looking unnatural or awkward? Thanks in advance : )

  9. Susan Beth

    October 29th, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    Very helpful little tips here! Timing is great for me as I’m about to do some shots of the staff at my church, and will be wanting them to not look stiff!

  10. Alicia

    October 29th, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    LOVE! Thank you!
    I’m shooting my very first engagement session this weekend and you have just made my week. Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to put your tips into practice. x

  11. jamie

    October 30th, 2012 at 12:25 am

    this is great Jasmine… I always love picking up little tips to roll into photo sessions. Esp can relate to the tip on people smiling too hard! love your blogposts like this. 🙂

  12. Marie

    October 30th, 2012 at 1:33 am

    That guy Shane gives me hope baby Chuck will have blue eyes. I miss you!

  13. Ashley Christine

    October 30th, 2012 at 2:51 am

    Fabulous tips; thanks Jasmine!!

  14. Hannes Uys

    October 30th, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    These are some awesome tips!!

  15. Lem Lynch

    October 30th, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Back off and zoom in to achieve a nice background blur and isolate the subject. Your posing tips are spot on.

  16. Paul

    October 31st, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Great tips Jasmine – thanks for sharing

  17. Jeanne

    November 1st, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    This was such a great read!! Thanks so much!!

  18. Candice Frazier

    November 2nd, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Oooh! I heart this article! 🙂

  19. Lafayette

    November 9th, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    Thank you for sharing this.

  20. Brooke

    November 18th, 2012 at 6:17 am

    I love the tip about doing something with her hands…super important! Thank you beautiful lady!

  21. Alex

    August 21st, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Great tips. Are you a natural light photographer? I love your tips about getting the subjects to shake their arms. Subjects, especially if not used to posing in front of a camera seems to be too tense during a photo session, esp if your shooting them with lots of flashes.