How to Turn Snapshots into Portraits

Family and friends are one of the most common subjects for people to shoot pictures of. So what is it that makes the difference between a snapshot of someone and a professional looking portrait photograph? It isn’t all about the type of camera and equipment you use. A skilled photographer can take a portrait picture with a mobile phone camera or basic digital compact camera costing under a hundred dollars. A few simple changes can make a great difference to your results when shooting pictures of people. The following tips will guide you to produce stunning pictures of your family and friends.

Most adults freeze when you point a camera at them, and it can be hard to get children to sit or stand still. One of the key skills of a portrait photographer is knowing how to pose and position people for a photograph. You can’t expect your subjects to pose like trained professional models, and you will need to guide them and suggest ways to pose. Shooting a person square to the camera doesn’t work well, and it’s usually best to get them to turn at an angle to you. Body language is an important part of how we convey mood, and the way a person stands in a photograph can convey powerful messages. Always experiment with different poses, and think about what you want to communicate in a portrait photograph.


 2)    Lighting the subject.

Unless you have access to a photographic studio, natural daylight is the best way to light a subject. Avoid direct sunlight, and position your subject in a shaded area where shadows will be softer. If shooting indoors, daylight from a window is a great way to light a portrait photograph. Using the flash on a camera will make any picture look like a snapshot. If you want to create an atmospheric portrait, position the subject so that they are lit from the side. A reflector can be used to throw light back into shadow areas, but male subjects often look better in this harsher light.


3)    Don’t ask the subject to smile.

Asking someone to smile for a photograph usually results in a false expression and a lack of sparkle in their eyes. Smiling isn’t the only expression which makes a great portrait photograph, and it’s worth experimenting with different shots. If you make conversation with your subject you will see a range of expressions and emotions which you can shoot. The best way to capture a smile in a portrait is to make the person genuinely smile by making them laugh or complimenting them.

michiyo clarkPhotographer: Michiyo Clark 

4)    Open the aperture.

Opening the aperture on your camera will reduce the depth of field and isolate your subject from the background. Distracting backgrounds can make any photograph look like a snapshot. The subject’s eyes should be sharply focussed in the image, otherwise the picture will look wrong. A pin-sharp subject against a blurred background is a very powerful image, and is an easy way to create a professional looking portrait.

Happy Girl 6

 5)    Framing and composition.

Paying care and attention to framing and composition is another great way to improve your pictures of people. Don’t be afraid to crop in tight to faces, and always consider how much space to include around a person before you press the shutter. Some portraits work well if the person can be seen in their environment, but framing tightly on a person creates more impact. Head and shoulders shots work really well. Move closer to your subject, and frame shots to exclude distractions and things which aren’t important to the picture.

By: Jillian Hayes (aka AtlCanonGirl)

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