Photographers have the opportunity to show people a little window into our world, and we get to decide what view others get to enjoy. How we choose to frame the contents of an image, along with how we use light, texture, color, energy, and emotion, play such an important role in our art. Exploring them all and remembering to focus on simplicity is the most powerful thing we can do to create stronger imagery.
Simplicity is especially powerful when it comes to portraits. We put so much pressure on ourselves to capture the essence of a person, that perfect moment, the most flattering angle. I know how paralyzing that can be, how intimidating. While it’s great to have goals with your work, there are a few simple steps you can take to get closer to what you’re looking for, without stressing yourself or your subject.
- Slow down and pay attention.
If something attracts your eye, it’s usually with good reason, but often we’re moving too quickly to notice why. Decide what it is that you’re drawn to: is it the color, texture, light, composition, or a combination of a few elements? Recognizing that will help you with direction and focus, and allow you to spend time with it until you get the shot you envisioned.
- Try different compositions and angles.
Get playful! Try getting low or finding an elevated perspective, or another angle you haven’t tried before. Allow yourself time to explore how everything moves within your frame, and give your subject a heads-up beforehand that you want to play with different compositions. That will free you up to experiment, and turn your subject into an active partner in the creative process.
- Eliminate distractions.
Pay attention to the background of your photo — especially shiny or brightly-colored objects. Our eyes are naturally drawn to light and splashes of color, so if you can adjust your composition to avoid such distractions, or move your subject so they interact intentionally with those background elements, the resulting image will be stronger.
- Do your homework.
More often than not, your subject will have shared photos of themselves on social media. They will naturally post more photos of their preferred angle or “good side” and by doing a little research ahead of time, you can use that knowledge when shooting their portrait! You can also try a few quick shots from various angles at the start of your shoot, then have your subject look at those images so you can gauge which side they prefer before you continue. This will help your subject get even more comfortable with the process.
Lastly, the best tip I can give you is to just keep at it. Don’t get discouraged as you’re learning and refining your practice, and remember to simplify if it all gets too overwhelming.
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