Taking a great portrait requires so much more than having an attractive model and being able to dial in the right camera settings. Instead, you have to be on your toes and take care of everything from having model contracts signed to getting the artificial lighting just right to worrying about how to pose the model for the most visually engaging shots.
And that doesn’t even address the issues related to hair, makeup, wardrobe, and the location of the photo shoot! It’s a lot, to be sure, but there are quick and easy ways that you can ensure that the portraits you take have the visual appeal you want. Here’s a few of my favourite ideas for more impactful portraits.
Invest in Quality Backdrops
Let’s call a spade a spade…
There are a ton of companies out there today selling backdrops for portraits. The problem, of course, is trying to find the few that not only produce excellent products but also take care of you before, during, and after the sale. If you’re like me, customer service is just about as important as the actual product, which is why I strongly recommend Click Props for all your portrait backdrop needs. In this business, you get to know companies pretty well, and I think I have a pretty good gauge of who’s only in it for the money and who’s in it to help photographers realize their best photos.
Click Props certainly fits into the latter category…
For starters, all their backdrops are handcrafted with 550gsm vinyl to ensure the highest quality. That means that the backdrop you get will be beautifully made so you don’t have to worry about a shabby backdrop ruining your portraits. They have an incredible range of products, too, which you can see in the video above. In fact, their collection features over 200 unique designs that range from damask wallpaper to stone to forest scenes to brick walls.
They even offer a selection of , too!
Their backdrops come in a variety of sizes – 5’x5′, 5’x8′, and 7’x9.5′ – and more, so you can customize your backdrop to your specific studio needs. And with reinforced grommets every 12-inches along the top of the backdrop, it’s easy to hang and swap out with another backdrop, and you don’t have to worry about the grommets ripping and failing, either. But don’t take my word for it – Click Props is 5-Star Gold Rated by Digital Camera Magazine and has won the Best Studio Accessory Award twice. In other words, Click Props puts their money where their mouth is. They produce gorgeous accessories that help you create better photos, commit themselves to taking care of their customers, and consistently update their collection to offer photographers like you and me even more products.
If that doesn’t help you enhance your portraits, I don’t know what will!
Don’t Be Afraid to Use Unique Lighting
Photography is all about light, so why not get creative and use lighting to produce unique portraits. I don’t know about you, but when I think of a portrait, I think of a traditional one – with a model in full view in a setting that’s well-lit. But just looking at the image above, you can see the value of changing things up and going with a much more subdued lighting scheme. For me, this portrait isn’t just beautiful, but it also exudes a feeling of confidence.
I like how the lighting – subtle as it might be – highlights the model’s face so we can see the contours of her nose, cheeks, and chin, which gives the portrait a little added detail. Another lighting idea that can be quite dramatic is to use sidelighting. Sidelighting is great because it adds so much depth to a portrait. Looking at the image above, you can see how the light accentuates the woman’s features much like in the first image.
But with her shadow falling to our right, the lighting serves the purpose of helping give the image a lot more dimension, too. In other words, if you’re sick of traditional portraits and want something with more drama, experiment with the placement and strength of the lighting you use for your portraits.
Resist the “Say Cheese” Face
This is an incredibly easy trick, but one that can have tons of impact on the quality of your portraits.
All you have to do is resist the urge to say “Say Cheese!”
First of all, no one is happy and smiling all the time, so there’s something to be said for taking a few portraits of your subject in when they look serious or thoughtful. As you can see above, a serious face doesn’t mean the person has to frown, nor does it mean that being serious results in a heavy, dowdy portrait. Quite the contrary, this portrait is engaging because the man is looking at the camera, his eyes are wide and bright, and the use of sidelighting as described above creates visual interest that keeps you engaged in looking at the shot.
But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to elicit a smile from your portrait subject, either. Just strive to make it a genuine, candid moment rather than one that’s forced with the instructions to “Say Cheese.”
In looking at the portrait above, you can immediately tell that this little guy is in the midst of a true moment of happiness. And doesn’t that genuine moment generate a more meaningful portrait than if you force the model to smile on command?
I sure think so!
The Perspective Matters
Not everything that influences how a portrait looks happens in front of the lens. In fact, one of the most important things you can do to enhance your portraits is to think about the perspective from which you’re shooting. A lot of portraits are shot at eye level, looking right at the model, and that’s totally fine!
But mixing up your perspective will help you create a series of portraits that have more meaning and impact. For example, if you take a high shooting position as seen in the image above, you give viewers an alternative take that, in this case, has a lot more drama than if the model was looking straight ahead on a plane horizontal to the ground. Likewise, the distance from which you shoot (or the level of zoom) has a tremendous impact on the visual appeal of the shot.
For example, by creating a close-up portrait as seen above, you give viewers a much more intimate experience. So, as this man is in deep thought, we get the feeling of being in deep thought with him as well. Additionally, close up portraits allow you to highlight small features that add interest to the shot. In this case, the man’s beard, the wrinkles on his face, and the reflection of light in his eye add tremendous depth to this portrait.