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!