Useful Photography Tip #156: How to Make a Portrait Subject Really Pop

Model: Bec Fordyce

Model: Bec Fordyce

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Before you go on, I want you to note that I’m purposely using a black and white photo because it simplifies the way things are rendered.

I’ve talked before about to create a sharper portrait in the camera, and this short tutorial is kind of an addition to that. To make your subject truly pop out in an image you need a couple of key components:

  • Effective depth of field (shallow depth of field)
  • Light in the right places (two lights can be enough, and sometimes even one is good)
  • Contrast between colors and shades.

Take the image above: parts of Bec really pop out from the rest of the scene because of the depth of field and the color scheme. The right side shows a lot of separation due to the contrast but the left and the top ould surely use more.

So how could I have fixed the image? By adding a flash behind and to the left of Bec. These are sometimes called hairlights and they provide a nice rim lighting effect. In a situation like the one above, it would’ve been enough to make her pop out more because again, it would have created more contrast.

Part of this has to do with color theory: if your subject is wearing red and they’re against a red background, then they’re not going to contrast much. If they’re against black or white though, they’ll surely stand out a lot more.

Don’t think that this is enough information? Give it a once over and then apply it to your photography. It really is that simple.