Tips for Photographers

July 10, 2019  •  Leave a Comment
"Artistic portrait photography is all about finding the emotions and expressions in portrait shots"

I heard that great portrait photography is a result of combining the right technique with an artist's expression. Technique is very important, because in order for you to create stunning and emotive portrait, you need to know your camera setting, compositions, angles, lighting, backdrops, and poses. But just as these are important, your creativity is what makes your photographs...your artwork. It is in itself, your very own creative interpretation in how you see the world through your lens. Landscape and photojournalists are amazing at capturing those timeless moments but portrait photography requires some work. There are so many interpretations of how to become a great portrait here's my interpretation of it. Here are my key points in why I love portrait photography and confident that I am good at. :)

1. Get to Know Your Subject

2. Educating Your Subject

3. Direct and Guide Your Subject in Posing

5. Choosing the Right Background and Lighting

6. Shoot The Photos Confidently and Creatively


Get to Know Your Subject

People forget that the subject that we photograph is the most important aspect of portrait photography. That means making sure the subject feels comfortable with you is an important factor for a successful session. Even if you are familiar with your subject, people can get uncomfortable when they get in front of the camera. It is always a good idea to keep communicating with your subject before and during the shoot. Sometimes I don't get to meet my subject before hand or we had little interactions, so our session shoot is a time where I get to connect with my subjects. I would ask about their education and what they are trying to pursue in life. Even the most uncomfortable awkward people can be put at eased through a simple conversation. Another thing is that I try not to discuss my ideas about the shoot with my subject until during the time of our session because I need to meet with them first. I know that they have never met me or even experienced a photo shoot from me, so I usually start off on taking a couple of test shots and only show them the best ones. I do this so they have confident in what I can produce for them in these shoots. I am also trying to see how comfortable they are to exploring my creative innovations and factor in their preferences. By the end of the shoot, my subjects are so excited to see their images. I then give them a couple of sneak peeks so that they have something to look forward to from their session and they in return share it with their friends and family.


Educate Your Subject

One of the things that I do before our shoot is that I empower my subjects before the day of their shoot. This means, I have educated my shoot about what to wear and for the ladies, how to do their hair and make-up. I will send a style guide package and help them to choose the right time for photos, especially if they do an outdoor photo shoot. I can have the most expensive camera equipment but can still produce poor results if my subject is not ready, comfortable, relaxed and feeling their best. There is a difference in those clients that take my advice. Just like the day of your final exam, if you studied the materials you feel confident but if you didn't, you will feel insecure. So those who took the time with the style guide that I sent after the booking, you can tell. They do not have mismatched outfits. If it's a couple, they coordinate their outfits to compliment each other. That means soft, muted tones versus bright or dark contrast. If it's a family, you do not need to match in colors. It's about selecting a color scheme that all members can compliment with. I encourage all men to look their best and the style guide gives you pointers on that, even on how the ladies can encourage their man. As for the ladies, I encourage them to get their hair and make-up professional. Some of my engagement shoots, I tell the brides to have a practice hair and make-up run though with their stylist. There are some exceptions to the rule if you know how to do it yourself though. But the overall factor is this, you will be photograph if you want come out looking good in your photos...coming looking your very best. 


Direct and Guide Your Subject in Posing

This is a common thing that many photographers struggle with. They may have the skill sets in taking great photos but they are uncomfortable in posing their subjects. I realized that this is a skill set that you either have or need to learn. In the beginning of my photography session, I knew nothing about camera settings but I had no problem directing my subjects on posing. Even if my photos were low quality or in bad light, my clients would love how they came out in it. I know now that you need both, the technical skills and posing to produce a great image. Images that are not only your creative flare but also something that evokes genuine emotion. One of the things that we, as photographers, need to learn how to do is to use our photography to capture emotions and expressions. But this will surely fail if you have not focused on your subject and all you have been doing is to try to get those shots for your portfolio. You did not do the first step of focusing on your subject. You are not talking to them and making them feel comfortable. Your interest have been to just get the job done and not engage nor educate your subjects for their sessions. But if you sense that your subject is ready, comfortable and need to keep them that way throughout the shoot. Make sure that you avoid fake smiles and blank looks. What you need to look for is a genuine sparkle in the eye, a faint smile, or a confident expression. But this doesn't just naturally happen. Sometimes you have to guide the subjects to get there. Some of my photos have my subjects laughing or smiles where their eyes are closed. Those were candid shots after a lame joke that I said or I would encourage others a round them to make them laugh or have them recall a funny experience that they had. So I am not always behind my camera taking pictures, I look at them and I snapped the photo. I noticed that every time I am behind the camera, they are tensed and I can tell because their shoulders are raised and their smile is staged. So I gently remind them to drop their shoulders. Sometimes, I just pause and tell them to roll their shoulders back or shake off the nervousness. Work with your subject and give them time to get into the zone. Forcing or hurrying this process will not work. Even though I feel confident in my posing, a great photographer knows that enhancing your skills will only make your subject look and feel better. My job at the end of the day is to make sure that they have a great experience during their session with me.


Choosing the Right Background and Lighting

You may have heard this say: "The location you choose for the portrait shoot is going to be a significant influence on the final results". That means as the photographer, it is your job to work in the environment that you are in. Sometimes your subjects will go with the locations that you suggested but others just want some where completely different and usually, it's the first time that you have shot there. Well...a good photographer knows how to make use of their situation by using these three rules: 1) You want a neutral, uncluttered background that will not distract the viewer from your subject. 2) Control the depth of field for a blurred background. 3)Ensure that your subject is well lit.

  1. In portrait photography the background is just as important as the subject. A busy or distracting background will take attention away from the person in your photo. But you don’t have to choose a completely plain background. For instance, an interesting wall and sometimes a colored door could provide a wonderful pop of color or texture.
  2. Shoot with a shallow depth of field. This allows you to have your subject in sharp focus while the background appears blurred or out of focus, helping your portrait subject stand out. I found that blurring the background correctly can add more emphasis to the subject and make your work look more professional established. So it is important to see how the background will turn out and learn how to adjust the shutter and aperture accordingly.
  3. Lighting is critical to a photographer. A good photographer should be able to use the available lighting to his advantage. Natural daylight is the most attractive light source for portrait photography. The creative use of the sun as a light source in outdoor portrait photography can produce amazing results. Although shooting outdoors in natural light gives the best results but it can also introduce you to some challenges. You would need to plan according to the weather, time of the day, and changing lighting and environment conditions as the day progresses. Avoid shooting in direct sunlight as it produces harsh shadows and can make your subject to squint. But if you have no other shade, it's ok as you carefully shoot into the sun, with your subject’s back to the sun, that is. This is called backlighting and can result in a golden glow around your subject. But keep in mind that shooting into the sun does require you to provide some “fill” light to illuminate the shadows on your subject’s face. If you can choose mornings or late afternoons when the sunlight gets diffused, and you get a lovely, warm, natural glow.


Shoot the Photos Confidently and Creatively

First of all if you want to be confident in your shoots, you have to know your stuff. If this means you have to take some classes just to learn the basics, do it!!! I used to get these critiques after what I thought were amazing photos. "I love the photos but when I printed them they were grainy" or other photographers tell me "The photos look great but your background is too overexposed".  I could look at the feedback in two ways, 1) I can quit this photography business or 2) Use it to better myself. I obviously chose the latter. But know your worth and it does not come from your work or how many clients you book. For me, my worth comes from God and I am confident that he does not see me as a failure but as someone who has great worth and value in his sight. So after educating yourself, explore your creative side and add that style to your photography. Your style should be who you are as a photographer and why clients will choose you over the others. Watch what other photographers are teaching and use their techniques but have your own style. With this said, good luck finding who you were meant to be and have fun shooting!!!



Susan Arevalo,

Owner and Photographer of SuStudios


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