In this blog post, I would like  to tackle a few tips to create nice portrait images. Portraiture is certainly the most common type of photography, as it is extremely vast – it goes from a simple casual portrait, to kids portraiture, family portraits, corporate portraits, weddings, fashion … Obviously, you will not apprehend your clients from the same angle and with the same techniques if it is fashion or corporate portraits. But the few tips I will give you should enhance your images … hopefully 🙂

1. Communication with your model – it seems obvious, but when you are beginning in photography, it is not natural at all to communicate and direct your subject, and it is far more comfortable to be hidden behind your camera. Photography here is more about psychology ! Very few model believe they are photogenic – actually every subject is photogenic. It is our role as photographers to make them feel comfortable, to position them, to find the best angles and techniques to make them look beautiful and be proud of their images. This, of course, cannot be learned in a book – it requires experience, self-confidence, good communication skills, empathy …

2. Find a dynamic in your pose – the whole dynamic of a pose is made by your subject’s body, this is what we call “body language”. Here, the key parts of your subject’s body are the shoulders, the arms and hands, and the legs (if you’re shooting a full body portrait).

– shoulders should be 2/3rd turned – shooting a portrait of someone’s shoulders looking straight at the camera will make him (her) look fatter, as their shoulders will take more place of the frame. Instead of having our client face square to the camera, we need them to do a 2/3 turn away from the camera. Having them turn away will give them a slimmer profile look in the camera and shave off those 10 extra pounds 🙂

– arms and hands should be occupied – keeping your arms and hands straight down your side is really not dynamic and gives the impression of not being comfortable or of being bored. Asking your model to put a hand in his (her) pocket or a hand on his (her) hip will create diagonal lines which will provide a dynamic composition. Also, except for some specific messages that you want to convey with your image, avoid having your model with crossed arms.

– with legs, you can play with the height of your model, being seated, kneed, or standing. Legs can be crossed, one straight one in diagonal … You can make them jump … Any movement would be good for your composition, always trying to avoid having your model planted like a tree 🙂

3. Find an expression in your model’s face – I believe that this is a critical point to make a good portrait. When I am looking at most fashion images nowadays, I really get bored. There’s nothing, not a smile, not a look in the eyes, the skin is so made-up and photoshopped … there is basically no personality in those images, as the model is not the key part of the image – it’s more his (her) clothes that are important (which, I believe, is crap – a model, with some personality and showing happiness to wear those clothes, will certainly give a much more powerful message to potential clients). Hence my point, a good photographer should always try to convey emotions through his (her) pictures – in a portrait, emotions and feelings are initiated by the eyes, the mouth, the global face expression and the body language.

– focus must be on the eyes – that’s the basic of a good portrait: if the focus is not on the eyes (i.e. the eyes are not sharp but out-of-focus), but on the nose for instance, then you lose considerable impact (moreover if you use wide aperture like f/1.4)

–  focus must be on the eyes, not on the chin ! – be careful at your angle, it is always better to take a portrait of someone from a higher point of view. From there, your model will rise his (her) eyes up to you, making them pop up while his (her) cheeks will look thiner. Shooting a portrait from a lower angle is good to create an impression of power … but not really appropriate for beauty shots (except if you want to put the emphasis on the model’s chin) 😉 Thus remember, chin down, eyes up !

– make your model smile – attention, not 1,2,3 … smiiiile ! But really smile, with a good joke for instance. I mean, people look really better when they do smile, don’t you think so ? A beautiful smile should drastically improve 90% of your “not-so-good” portraits.

– avoid systematic direct eyes contact with the camera – looking straight at the camera is natural, as your model is reacting with your, who is behind the camera. However, and except for some specific images (ID portraits, corporate portraits, advertising portraits where the eyes have to “talk and sell something” to the image viewer …), it is also important look at something else – the horizon for instance, providing a visionary message; or a couple who look at each other, full of love, is a far better image than the same couple looking straight at the camera with a “cheesy” smile ! 🙂

– light the face of your model – the role of a photographer is to find the best light for his (her) model. Light will create texture, shadows, depth … a whole atmosphere that will bring personality to the image. The photographer will then have to position his (her) model according to this light, may it be natural light or flash.

4. Overall composition of a portrait – the rules of third is important in portrait, as it is in almost all fields of photography. The key element of a portrait are the eyes, they should be placed on a force line or a force point, as shown here:

Also it is important to pay a careful attention to the background when making your model pose. In Mauritius for instance, you need to be careful of the boats on the sea, of the palm tree that can look like Indian feathers behind your model’s head 😉

5. Specific portraits:

– kids portraits – kids are a difficult subject, like animals 🙂 Indeed, they don’t obey and don’t pose as we would like them to. In order to succeed in kids portraiture, a photographer need to get familiar with the kid (talking with him (her), showing him (her) the camera or your flash …). I also use a little plastic mouse that makes some noise when pressing on it … just so that the kid will look in my direction when I would like him (her) to 🙂

– group portraiture – an important point here is to constitute an homogeneous group, and then to make them do something – talking, laughing … Also try different situations where they are comfortable, as 2 parents lying down in the garden with their kids for instance.

– corporate portraiture – first is to understand the needs of your client (what will the image be used to), then is to find the place where to make the portrait (if in your client’s office), considering light, environment, composition.

– fashion portraiture – for fashion, except if you are working on your own projects, you need to meet specific requirements from your client. Those requirements concern the model, the pose, the clothes, the attitude, even the type of lighting you will use. It is thus very important to assimilate all those requirements before starting the shoot, but it also doesn’t prevent you from knowing what to do to get a great image 🙂

I hope those few tips will help you, photographers to make your model better pose for you, and you models, to be aware of what is a photographer looking for when making you pose for him (her) 🙂