Tips for Better Portraits

There is a common misconception that men are much easier to photograph. While this holds when it comes to men’s less demanding styling, women can be every bit as easy to work with as men. Understanding a bit of the psychology at play, setting expectations, and communication are vital elements to a successful shoot. These skills are not difficult to learn and easily mastered with practice. Plus, they will help you take better portraits.

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Communicate

Let clients know in the beginning that you are getting to know their angles. It’s like dancing with a brand new partner and working together to get your footing and develop a rhythm. Tell them of your pattern and any quirks you may have. I almost always forget my lens cap at least once during a shoot. I also have a habit of trailing off in thought when the images start coming together.

Communicating this in the beginning always elicits laughter when it comes to fruition during the shoot. Women naturally put a lot of stress on themselves, so showing that you’re very human eases the moment. It also builds a natural rapport with them quickly. That rapport is instrumental to creating powerful portraits that build confidence and a positive reputation. The relationships produced as a result are everything.

“Then I recommend taking a test shot of some sort and with the model holding the pose or something relatively close to it, and showing them what the framing will be and how to work with it. Then after each shot, just tell them to change it up a bit.”

From our article: How to Communicate with a Portrait Subject.

It is also essential to provide positive feedback during their shoot to get better portraits. Don’t be afraid to show clients the image and encourage them to get it better with a few tweaks if you want a little more. On the other hand, be honest when a proposed shot just isn’t working. For example, sometimes, a proposed picture just isn’t working. Rather than push something that isn’t there, acknowledge how the angle and timing aren’t coming together. Also, communicate that the two of you can do even better with something else. Circling back around to an idea once the cadence has been developed is always a possibility.

Eventually, successful communication often leads to connecting empathically. When this happens, both the photographer and client build off each other’s energy. This immersion allows communication without words, and the results are always worthwhile.

Stock Poses

One of the key ingredients to better portraits is having a list of basic poses and adapting them for every body type. Examples of these poses include a simple head and shoulders shot. A properly positioned hand by the face always works. Give them directions like bringing their forehead to the lens and show them the result. The accentuated jawline extinguishes the angst of a double chin while simultaneously building their confidence in you.

Another stock pose is an asymmetrical knee-to-head crop. For women, the focus is on creating an S-curve. Directions include placing their weight on the back leg and hands either at the side or in their pockets for a more pleasing look. I tend to photograph men pretty square on. Additionally, I tend to have them put their weight on the front leg to look more powerful. Try nailing these basic poses towards the beginning.

Bring It to Life

Sometimes heavily directing an image sucks the energy out of it. It becomes static and dull. A simple remedy is telling them it was a practice run and now it’s time to bring the image to life. Tell them you will give them a countdown and then ask them to hit it. Repeat it a few times and then direct them to laugh or try to capture an expression. Paint a picture of the overall mood you’re trying to capture and guide them through it. Magic happens once you hit this stride during a shoot.

Sensual Over Sexual: The Key to Better Portraits

Most women want to feel beautiful in front of your lens, regardless of the genre. There are many men and women who feel empowered when they feel sexy. Sensual can usually double as sexual. However, sexual doesn’t always come across as sensual. With a sexually charged mood, it’s easy to cross the point of no return, leading to objectification. Choosing sensuality taps into the soul and makes them feel attractive and confident every time. Stunning images can be created with layers upon layers of clothing. People do not need to bare it all to feel a certain way anymore. Tapping into that is powerful.

Women tend to spend more on feelings of empowerment than men do. It is refreshing to see men taking following suit. This means photographs of themselves to commemorate special occasions in their lives or build confidence in the photography world.

Building a safe space and communicating effectively also improves many aspects of day-to-day operations. Learning how to build a rapport with portrait clients quickly is a priceless skill to harness. You can chisel away at this skill with practice until it’s perfected and becomes second nature.

Brittany Smith

Brittany is a commercial fashion and portrait photographer working in Montana and NYC. When not behind a camera she can usually be found at a local artisan coffeeshop, writing for photography education sites and publications, teaching fitness classes, or baking something fabulous.