Tips for Portrait Photography

dealing with a model's problems / positioning / hand posing within a portrait / shooting groups and couples / lighting tips / create a "People Kit" / a sample session plan / portrait gear for sale

Be sure to visit my expanded Big List of Photography Books for more great ideas!

Books on Photography / Portraiture / Lighting / How-To Videos / My Music and Video Picks

Related books: The Pro Lighting Series - Portraits / Professional Secrets of Natural Light Portrait Photography /
Understanding Exposure / Posing and Lighting Techniques for Studio Portrait Photography / Master Posing Guide for Portrait Photographers / Corrective Lighting and Posing Techniques for Portrait Photographers / High Impact Portrait Photography: Creative Techniques for Dramatic, Fashion-Inspired Portraits / Studio Portrait Photography of Children and Babies

Dealing with People Issues

Model Issue Resolution
Round or Fat Face Pose model 3/4 to the camera
Use short lighting
Raise camera angle slightly
Thin Face Pose model facing the camera
Wrinkly Face, Deep Lines Use softer, frontal lighting
Blemishes or Scars Shadow problem areas, or reposition
Big Nose Raise chin slightly
Pose nose straight into lens
Small nose Pose nose at an angle to camera
Square jaw 3/4 pose, higher camera angle
Multiple chins Stretch neck, lean head toward camera
Different sized eyes Largest eye close to camera, other in shadow
Largest eye away creates evening effect
Deep set eyes Light into eyes
Blinkers Time shot after subject blinks
Large Ears 3/4 pose
Only show one ear
Shadow second ear
Eye Glass Wearers Shoot with empty frames
Position glasses away from lights
Bring lights in from very high, or bounce off ceiling
People with Dark Hair Check to make sure that background doesn't show through hair, restyle if necessary.


Basic Positioning Tips

  • Position body and head facing different directions.
  • Masculine pose: tilt top of head toward far shoulder.
  • Feminine pose: tilt top of head toward near shoulder. Note: Women can typically pull off either of these two poses.

    Hand Posing Tips

  • Don't show flat surfaces of hands, show finger edges.
  • Fingers should not be facing into the lens.
  • Bend fingers at all joints.
  • Male hands should be more closed, female should be more open.
  • Use opposing diagonals: ie head resting on arm; each pointing in opposite directions.
  • Fingers should not be intertwined.
  • Never rest a head on a fist.

    Stuff you should have available for your models

  • Fresh combs
  • A mirror
  • Hair spray
  • Hair clips

    Session Plan

  • Start with head shots.
  • Move to head on hands, let the model pose naturally.
  • Finish with 3/4 and full length.

    Shooting Groups of People
    As a rule, the image should express a tone that all in the group are unified; either touching each other physically, or visually overlapping.

    Clothing Choices

  • Everyone should have the same toned clothing, either warm or cold.
  • Brightly clothed individuals should be placed in the middle.

    Posing Tips

  • Make men a little taller than women.
  • Stagger head heights.
  • Pose groups one person at a time, in relation to each other.
  • Pose men to the right of the frame, women to the left.

    Open Poses are defined as images with physical or visual space between people. Closed Poses are defined as images where individuals overlap each other, with no visual space between them. Note: Mixing Open and Closed Poses works well for large groups.

    Posing Couples

  • Front to Front Pose - fronts of both people facing, or touching the other.
  • Fronts facing forward - fronts of both people facing forward, possibly at an angle, one front to the other's back.
  • Avoid space between heads to create intimacy.
  • Use lots of negative space around couples in the frame.

    Suggestions for Lighting
    Match the mood of image to lighting.

  • High key --> happy
  • Low key --> dramatic

    An Example of a High Key Lighting Setup (four light setup)

  • Main and fill lights close to the same output (1:1 to 2:1 max ratio).
  • White clothing, white background.
  • Overexpose background by 1 stop.
  • Point background lights at opposite edge of background.
  • Meter background at its center, set background lights to +1 stop main (ie. f11).
  • Subject should be halfway between camera and background.
  • Two umbrellas should be the main source, equal powered, and when combined rated at f8.
  • Shoot at f8.

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