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Travel Portrait Photography Tips

Portrait photography tips offer various practical tips when photographing people. People are great subjects for any photographer but people can be challenging subject as well. They move, they blink their eyes at the wrong moment and they can be too self conscious which can result in awkward photography poses.

Portrait is not just a portrait. It's neither a passport picture nor necessarily a picture of one person posing for the camera. We use the word portrait for all pictures of people. They can be posing for the photo or they can be unaware of their photo being taken. It can be a close up or it can be taken from afar. It can be a picture of one person or more than one person.

Practical Portrait Photography Tips

The first thing to consider is whether you want your subject to pose for you or if you want to capture it unaware. The first scenario, posing, is easier to control but many people get tense in front of the camera, resulting in stiff body language and frozen smile which tends to be obvious on the photo.

Portrait of an elderly woman in Sapa in Vietnam

The reasons why so many portraits lack impact, are kind of boring, are because people just stand there in awkward photography poses and stare at the camera. Taking a portrait is very much about building a rapport with your subjects, getting them to relax and open up to your camera.

That's why many photographers prefer taking photos of their subjects when they are unaware of being photographed. These portraits can be more natural and more fun but the photographer has less control over his subject and its surroundings.

Another option is to take two photos almost simultaneously. When people hear that a photo has been taken, they often relax, resulting in a more natural pose on the second photo.

Lighting is always important when taking photos and portrait photographs are no exception. Soft lighting usually suits best for portraits but strong light often caused by the camera flash (causing heavy shadows) should be avoided. Controlling the light is more of a challenge when you are taking portraits of people that are unaware of you being photographing them.

Light is usually softer or easier to control indoors but hazy days can be better than sunny ones where outdoor portrait photography is concerned. To soften a light from the sun when taking outdoor portrait photography try to keep the sun behind the subject at 90 degree angle to the left or right.

Distracting background can enhance or ruin your portrait, so how you frame your subject is important. This is though easier now when you can crop your digital photos afterwards. But try to look at what is happening behind the subject before you take the photo and adjust your position accordingly.

Few flattering portrait photography tips include:

  • The most flattering portraits tend to be taken when using a focal length in the range 70 - 150 mm
  • Don't go in too close with a standard or wide angle lens, it will make your subjects face appear rounded and less attractive
  • Soft light coming from behind plays down wrinkles while strong light from the side will make them more visible... wrinkles can give portrait a great character but many still prefer their photos without them
  • Shooting from a slightly higher than usually angle makes the neck partially obscured and helps hiding double chins, asking the subject to push their chin out slightly will also help
  • Long and large nose can also add great character to a portrait but if you want to minimize it then shoot with longer focal length then normal (200 - 300 mm), also shoot head on rather than from the side

Portrait Photography Tips
When Taking Photos Of More Than One Person

You face some different challenges when taking photos of more than one person. You will still face the challenge of awkward photography poses so building a rapport with your subjects is still one of the key factors of getting a great group portrait.

When taking portrait of couples the most obvious way to create a feeling of connection is to get them to touch. This of course depends on the relationship between the couples, it can be as simple as tilting their heads together to kissing or embracing each other. It usually also works well to let them look at each other instead of the camera, again creates feeling of connection between them.

Three young boys in a orphanage in Moshi Tanzania

When taking a group portrait there are many things to consider. Lining the group up in a row can work but can be a bit boring.

It will help if your subjects touch shoulder to shoulder and smile but you might want to consider some alternative setups.

You should aim for extra depth in your photo, you can achieve this by different means, e.g. let some people stand in front of the others, one person could be sitting with others around her, etc. Overall the aim should be to prevent the eyes being in the same height.

Think about pop group photos, usually the band members pose in different positions, hence adding more spark to the portrait. Try this simple trick next time you take a photo of your friends.

Child Portrait Photography Tips

Children of all ages are great photographic subjects. They can be challenging subject as well but they are always fun to photograph, not least as they tend to be less self conscious in front of the camera.

Few practical child portrait photography tips include:

When taking portraits of babies do so when they have been fed, changed and are settled and then photograph them either when they sleep or are being held by someone

Young child in Moshi Tanzania

When taking portraits of toddlers you have to be quick as they usually don't stay still for very long, go down to their level when shooting their portrait

With younger school age children everything is possible, just have fun with them and your camera, enjoy the brief moment when they are not self conscious in front of the camera

Older children and teenagers tend to shy away from the camera and you may struggle to get them to pose for you so taking their photos without them being aware tends to give the best, and sometimes, funniest results

Also soft light is ideal for child portrait photography, avoid direct flash whenever possible. Taking child portrait photography indoor is best by the light of a large window or patio door but when taking outdoor portrait photography hazy days tend to give the best results.

These basic portrait photography tips should result in better portrait photos both at home and away. If portrait photography is of special interest to you then there are many excellent portrait photography books. There are also wealth of online portrait photography tips and lessons available.