Top tips on portrait photography

This week media photographer and PhotoBox guest blogger Maria Slough is kicking off the year with some tips and suggestions on how to get the most out of portrait photography. Over to you Maria…

For me, portrait photography is one of the most rewarding forms of story telling you can achieve with your camera. From the simplest shot using natural light, a candid ‘snap’ taken with a smartphone or a full-blown studio style set up, capturing the character of who you are photographing is the challenge for the photographer in us all. Below are my top tips for capturing stunning portrait photography; moments in time that ultimately become a memory within a photograph.

Capturing Character

Character within portrait photography comes from expression, personality and mood. Portraits don’t have to be static or face on – inject some movement into the shot and take the photo as your subject turns to look over their shoulder.

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Consider creating portraits that include an item that is particularly relevant to the person you are photographing – such as a musical instrument or possession.

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Creative Portraits

Try out different ways of framing and editing, making bold choices will help your portraits stand out. The picture below was taken as part of the FACE BRITAIN project – a portrait collection organised by the The Prince’s Foundation of Children & The Arts, of triple jump world record holder Jonathan Edwards. It was taken as a single shot, copied and then ‘mirrored’ in the edit and layered into a single shot.

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A top tip when photographing someone who is a little camera shy is to find out what they are most and least comfortable with. Always photograph the beauty that you see in them, giving your subject a chance to see themselves in a different way once they see the final photos. In this digital age everything can be undone, so have fun with filters and effects to make great Canvas Prints.


Experiment with part facial portraits – focusing on a particular feature will create an instant intimacy between your photograph and its viewer.


Candid Portraits

Candid portraits are taken when the subject is largely or totally unaware that their picture is being taken. With their point of concentration focused on something else, these moments can result in stunning photographs of the many ‘instant portraits’ that are offered up to us in our everyday lives.


Capture some candid portraits using a zoom lens if you have one. Look out for moments that include more than one person portraying varying emotions, which adds extra dynamism to your shot.


Environmental Portaits

This approach to taking a portrait photograph depicts the subject in their environment, be it work, social, family or just relaxing. We see this kind of portrait photography in our everyday lives much more than one would imagine. For example, every time we go to the theatre, buy a programme and browse the rehearsal photographs – such as the picture below.


Experiment with recreating this kind of portrait photography to capture a different side of a person you have photographed before. How about your child as they study, or a family member as they are decorating or cooking.

As shown in the pictures below of artists Simon O’Rourke and Volkhardt Muller, you will have the chance to photograph the connection between the person you are photographing and what they are doing.


A Brief Note on Lighting

Pay particular attention to light when capturing portraits. Window light portraits are a fantastic way to create professional looking results, without the need for an expensive lighting kit. On a good day, the light is at its best either in the early hours of the day or the latter hours of the afternoon. Place your subject with their back to the window to create a ‘backlit’ effect, as shown in the picture below.

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To inject mood into your close up portraits, keep part of the face in shadow and keep the eye in focus using a single key light.



Constructionist Portraits

Finally, for the photographers amongst us looking to push the boundaries a little, create a story around the portrait that you want to capture and set about visualising it. This can be achieved with props, clothes and imagination, giving a highly atmospheric end result.

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What type of portrait photography inspires you to pick up your camera or smartphone? What stories do you want to tell in a portrait? We would love to see what you capture, so please do share them with us.


All images by: Maria Slough, all rights reserved © Maria Slough Photography


Last modified: 38months ago


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