6 Portrait Photography Tips for Outstanding Images

September 15

7 min. to read

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Portrait photography is competitive, but rewarding if you create images that stand out. These tips will help you capture memorable shots.

Portraiture is one of the most competitive of all photography genres. These days, creating images that stand out is harder than ever. With that in mind, here’s a list of tips for portrait photographers to help you gain and maintain an edge. These pointers won’t make you an overnight expert. They will, however, help you make your subjects look their best and your work look better.

Make your Subject Comfortable

This is the first order of business in any portrait shoot. Mind you, we’re talking about more than physical comfort. A successful portrait photographer is a people person.

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The ability to develop a rapport with your customers is a skill that can’t be overrated. Spend a little time getting to know your subjects and put them at ease. The time and effort you invest will pay off in photos with natural expressions and good eye contact.

Physical comfort is important, too. Don’t put your clients in unnatural positions or situations. Consider the temperature in the studio or locations. Have water on hand to drink. Little details that make your subjects feel important will make for a much more successful shoot.

Focus on the Eyes

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This is probably the most repeated photography tip in history. It may also be the detail most commonly neglected by beginners. The eyes of your subject breathe life into the photograph. Getting them in focus is imperative.

If you’re using autofocus, you might want to set your camera to use a single AF point and center that on an eye, focus, then re-frame the shot if necessary without changing the subject to camera distance or zoom.

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You can enhance the sharpness of your subject’s eyes in post-processing to add more impact. Luminar includes several sharpening options to give you just the right effect.

Know your Lens

It’s extremely important to know the characteristics of the lenses you use for portraiture. Compression, distortion, depth of field, hyperfocal distance and diffraction are important considerations. The effects can be easily overlooked while shooting, but may rear their ugly heads after the fact.

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Lens dynamics can also be used to your advantage. Shallow depth of field can help isolate your subject. Perceived compression or expansion can help alter the impact of the surroundings in outdoor shoots. A hyperfocal chart can help you find the optimum focusing distance when your subject is farther away.

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Get to know what your lenses can do and how to get them to do it – or not do it, as the situation demands.

Mind your Angle

You camera angle is closely linked to lens characteristics. Any deviation from perpendicular will emphasize distortion. High or low angle shots. These tendencies can be beneficial or detrimental, so be aware of them.

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The most common choice for a portrait camera angle is straight-on at the subject’s eye level. Choosing a different approach can be refreshing and dramatic, but be certain that your subject’s features are suited to the change. As a general rule, you should move away from your subject when using these tactics.

Keep in mind, too, that distortion effects tend to be more pronounced at the edges of your lenses. Keep your portrait subjects well within the frame.

Don’t Push the Pose

While you’re trying to set up the perfect shot, you could be ruining it. The more you direct your portrait subjects, the stiffer they’ll get. Ease up and let them have a little fun. You don’t have to shoot candid shots, but you don’t have to control every moment.

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Spontaneity in a portrait can be brilliant. An uncontrolled laugh is much more effective than a forced smile. A captured awkward moment may be the saving grace of a boring series.  Learn to control the situation loosely. Capturing the personalities of your subjects is a valuable skill.

Work Hard on the Finishing Touches

When the portrait session ends, the real work begins. Your job is to make your subjects look fantastic. That means examining each shot, culling out those that don’t make the cut and getting the most out of those that do.

This is when you need to pay the strictest attention to details. Make sure the teeth are white. Get rid of the pimple that your teen subject was so embarrassed about. Improve skin tones and texture. Sharpen or soften the areas that need it. Apply a high-key filter to make that sunny shot pop.

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Retouching and editing skills are at least as important as your camera and lighting skills. Luminar filters and presets can be your best friend at this stage. From speed editing to precise retouching and corrections, you can get the job done in record time with professional results. You might even want to throw in some occasional special effects.


In today’s competitive market, it’s important for a portrait photographer to have an edge. These simple tips will help you create memorable images that your subjects will cherish and share. Happy shooting! 

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