How to shoot great portrait photos

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Portrait photography is an art that requires a number of skills. The photographer has to pay attention to the lighting and must be able to put the subject at ease. Portrait photography often takes place in the controlled environment of a studio. Yet some of the greatest and most natural looking portraits are achieved when the subject is photographed in a more natural setting.

Capturing a world leader addressing an audience, an actor playing a role or a pianist at the keyboard provide some of the most powerful and natural looking portraits.

A studio generally gives the photographer a choice of backgrounds and lighting options. Many photographers do not have access to this luxury and have to make do with more natural settings for their portrait photography. Selecting an appropriate background or setting may be the first step towards giving the portrait a natural look and feel. Photographing an artist in a art studio defines the artist in the resulting portrait. Capturing the picture while the artist is at work will produce the most telling results.

Professional models are usually quite comfortable posing in front of the camera, but other subjects do not feel the same way. They tend to feel and look quite self conscious when posing for a picture. It is up to the photographer to engage the subject in conversation in a way that will make her feel relaxed and at home. Young children make excellent subjects for portrait photography. They respond to objects such as balloons and to rewards of sweets at the end of the shoot. A photographer that has a little of the comedian inside may be able to break the ice more easily, but taking an interest in the subject and listening to what they have to say could produce the right atmosphere.

A good portrait can be achieved either outdoors or indoors. Outdoor photography means relinquishing some control of the lighting, but natural lighting and shade can be very effective in producing good results. Using a medium telephoto lens and blurring the background by using a wide aperture is very effective way to create an effective portrait. Couple this with a little back lighting produces a soft effect.

Children can be photographed under almost any lighting conditions. For adults, softer lighting options are more flattering. A diffuser should be used to break up the light. Alternatively, bounce the flash against a white ceiling or screen to produce a soft and balanced effect.

The effective use of light is one of the keys to produce natural looking results. A light or flash should never be pointed directly into the subject’s face. A diffused light slightly to the one side is effective, but it may be necessary to provide additional fill-in light and possibly even some back lighting. Good use of lighting will help to avoid flat portraits with dark shadows on the face. Harsh shadows from a flash or a direct light are always to be avoided.

Using a medium telephoto lens is generally my preferred option. It allows for a close-up without over-emphasising the features. It is also simpler for a subject to feel relaxed and at home when the photographer is at a greater distance.

When the photographer devotes some time to engage with the subject can help to achieve a more relaxed and natural looking portrait. This coupled with the right lighting should produce good results.

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