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Beyond Boudoir: An Introduction to Portrait Photography

An Intorduction to Portrait Photography

Portrait photography is one of the oldest genres of photography. As soon as the camera was invented we started using it to take photos of the people around us. The portrait is both a genre and a specific type of shot. As a genre it’s about taking pictures of people and as a type of image it’s all about the face. One of the great things about a portrait is that you can use it in multiple genres of photography: boudoir, swim, travel, and fashion are just a few examples where the portrait is a staple for any shoot you plan to do. Which means working on your portraiture skills is a good area to practice your craft.


An Introduction to Portrait Photography

Portrait photography uses similar camera settings to boudoir so your goal is to use your aperture to either focus on the face or the body. Which means from time to time, and depending on the pose, you may need to raise or lower your aperture to get the correct depth of field and ensure your subject is fully in focus. When it comes to the other two sides of the exposure triangle your shutter speed and ISO will be used to get a proper exposure.


An Introduction to Portrait Photography

When it comes to lighting your portraits you have a few options. The simplest is using natural light when possible. I generally prefer this as it means not having to haul around extra equipment nor do I have a studio at my disposal for other methods. Your other options include using a flash or another source of lighting such as a strobe or a continuous light. The photo above is a good example of what you can achieve using a strobe in a studio environment.


An Introduction to Portrait Photography

One of the more enticing attributes about portrait shoots is being able to use almost any outfit you like. However, you will want to match the outfit to the emotion and the final look you are hoping to portray in your photos. The image above is a great example of this. When you see his outfit it works together with his pose, grooming, and facial expression to create the feel for the photo.


An Introduction to Portrait Photography

Like with most forms of photography that deal with people, posing can be a bit of a challenge unless you get lucky and have an experienced model available. If you don’t have the pleasure of working with a model that knows how to pose then the pressure will be on you to help guide your subject during the shoot. I find it helps to start with a basic pose and then refine it from the top down.

  • For long hair, pay attention to it. You can bring it forward, take it to one side, have it at the back, or put it up.

  • Bring the nose forward a touch to help prevent the double chin.

  • Shoulders down and a little back to create a good posture.

  • Keep the arms away from the body to add some separation.

  • Have them shift their weight from one leg to the other.

  • Add small bits of movement to help the “pose” feel more natural. This also helps them take their mind off posing and put it on moving.


An Introduction to Portrait Photography

With portrait photography the focus should always be on the model, or in the photo above models, and helping them show their inner personality or a specific emotion you are trying to portray for the shot. The ability to elicit genuine emotion during a shoot is what makes a great portrait photographer. To help you with that, here are some tips.

  • Build Comfort. If your model is uncomfortable it will show in the final photo.

  • Have the model think about things that bring out the emotion you are wanting. Happy thoughts equal happy photos. Sad thoughts equal sad photos.

  • Moving beats out posing any day of the week because movement is more natural to us than holding a static pose.

Types of Portraits

When it comes to getting variety into your portraits, focus on the following three shot types: wide, medium, and tight.


An Introduction to Portrait Photography

For wide shots you want your subject and the environment around them. This is also called an environmental portrait. At the very least the wide shot should be from the feet up. Keep in mind the further you move the subject away from the camera the more it becomes about the environment and less about the model.


An Introduction to Portrait Photography

As you punch in on your subject from the wide shot you come to the medium. These will be taken from the thighs or waist up, which places greater emphasis on the subject and less on the background. The medium shot will make up the bulk of your shots if you take up portraiture.


An Introduction to Portrait Photography

For tight shots you want to get in close and have the face fill the frame. This is a good place to use the rule of thirds and place the eyes on the upper horizontal line. If you don’t know about the rule of thirds check out my article on compositions here. Note: It’s OK to cut the top of the head off occasionally when taking a tight portrait.


An Introduction to Portrait Photography

While your focus will be on your subject/model, it pays to be aware of your background. Not only can it help elevate your photos but it can also help to avoid unsightly mistakes. A common mistake I see, and that I’ve done myself, is having telephone or light poles stick out from behind someone's head. Granted this might not be a big issue if you are using a fast aperture to get lots of bokeh behind your subject or if you have a uniform background like the photo above.

Final Thoughts

Portrait photography can be a rewarding experience. Not only can you walk away with some great images, but it will also give you more time behind the camera to work on your lighting, posing and composition skills.

One last thing. If you are enjoying this blog and wish to support the work I do here, consider using the Buy me a Coffee button at the bottom of the page to make a one time donation to show your appreciation.

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