studio lighting

What Are the Portrait Photography Approaches?

It may seem repetitive to snap the same pictures over and over, so you may like to take pictures of people using a wide variety of techniques.

Even though that may not seem like a lot, there is much room for customisation within these fundamental categories by changing subject placement, camera angle, and pose.

Keeping these basic methods of portrait pictures in mind can assist you in guaranteeing a diverse set of images from a single shoot.

Table of Contents

FAQs About Photography

First, a good portrait draws attention to the subject. This is normally achieved through some combination of a shallow depth of field, composition, color, and lighting. When it's done right, as soon as a viewer looks at the portrait, their eyes instantly settle on the subject.

Most people think a portrait is a photograph of a person that only depicts them from head to shoulders. But a portrait can also be of your cat or your brother's feet on a skateboard. It should say something about the person you are photographing or the person you are creating with the camera.

It can be as simple as a pretty picture, a visually stunning place, or something more emotional, a direct photo journalistic story. Adding this personalized depth to images really helps them stand out from the others.

And nearly 200 years on, portraiture remains one of the most popular pursuits within the art form. This is a history of portrait photography told through the lens of great portrait photographers.

A great way to supplement income, portraiture can take the form of baby, pet, family or couple shoots. Extremely popular but hard to master, only a few photographers will be able to make a living from landscape photography. Most businesses need a shot of their building both exterior and interior.


What Is a Portrait?

A person's face and expressions are the primary subjects of a portrait. Nonetheless, photographs can be more than just headshots; they can also be full-body shots. Photographs aren't the only medium in which portraits can be viewed; portraits can also be found in other media, such as paintings, drawings, sculptures, and so on. The objective of any photograph should be to convey some aspect of the subject's character or emotional state.

Before delving into the many methods of taking portrait photographs, let's spend a moment discussing the camera gear that is essential for doing so.

Do I Need Lots of Expensive Portrait Photography Lighting?

hair and makeup stylist (3)

To begin, you need basic lighting equipment consisting of two flash heads and two stands; however, you can also use natural light for some portrait photography approaches.

Basic Equipment

Flash Heads

A flash head is an essential accessory when taking portraits indoors or in a studio. To begin, you don't really need that many lights; just one will do. However, having two will give you many more options for lighting your subjects in portraiture.

Light Stands

You can secure your flash heads at varying heights and angles using these. As a bonus, they collapse flat for convenient stowage.


A softbox is a good first-light modifier while you get the hang of things. When used with a flash, softboxes are like tents that enclose the unit, diffusing and bouncing the light to make it much more gentle than it would be without the softbox. Because of this, they excel at taking pictures of people and food, fashion, and other products.

Look for softboxes that come with a 1.5-stop diffuser and a 2-stop diffuser, which reduce the amount of light entering the camera by half. A 40-degree grid is included to provide a sharper, more defined illumination.


Using flash heads does not require a tripod, but it is recommended to have one, especially if you intend to photograph in low light or outside. You can confidently point your camera in any direction when using a tripod. A perfect portable tripod combines strength and portability.


In terms of portrait photography, these are the cheapest and one of the most useful pieces of equipment. Use a reflector to direct light into the dark areas of your portrait, and you'll notice a dramatic improvement in the final product. White, silver, or gold material encases a bendable inner core. They often have a circular shape and may be folded into a bag.

Types of Portrait Shots

The Head Shot 

Taking professional headshots is an excellent strategy for attracting new customers. Headshots are an everyday need in virtually every industry. A headshot can serve as a profile picture on social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn, in addition to its traditional uses.

Even though headshots are often reserved for professional use, you have plenty of room to exhibit your artistic side by emphasising facial expressions. The result will be high-quality photographs that capture your subject's individuality.

It's common practise to include just the head and shoulders in this portraiture. As a rule of thumb, the eyes should be the subject of your photo.

The absence of eye contact is another type of "headshot." Having a strong emotion or feature to bring attention to you in the photo is preferable if you choose the no-eye contact route (whether on purpose or because the little blighters won't look at you).

The Half Body Shot 

When cropping the body, it's best to avoid cutting into joints like the elbows and knees in favour of more fleshy areas. As with any physical component, it's important to remember to capture the entirety of the subject within the frame to avoid accidental mutilation. You will only capture her upper body if you shoot your subject when she is lying on the ground.

Once more, making eye contact isn't crucial, but it helps if anything else interesting happens in the shot.

The Full Body Shot 

The final option is a full-body shot, which is quite self-explanatory as well. If you're trying for a full-body shot, don't cut off any limbs at the knees or elbows; instead, make sure that everything is included. The subject can be seated or lying down as well as standing.

It is up to the photographer to select what kind of mood or vibe they want to convey in the portrait; making eye contact is not always necessary to make a statement or bring you into the picture.

You can also go for a full-body image to show more of the setting, provide some background information, or focus on "who" your child is rather than just "what" they look like.

Ways to Take Stunning Portraits

how to direct your models in a photoshoot

A technically perfect portrait is fine, but the most interesting pictures frequently defy convention.

Alter Your Perspective

For the majority of portraits, the camera is held at or near the subject's eye level. This may seem obvious, but a new perspective can give your portraits a new dynamic.

You can either get above your target and shoot downwards or drop low and fire upwards. In any case, you'll gain a fresh perspective on the topic.

Play With Eye Contact

The direction of a subject's eyes can remarkably affect a photograph. Common to most portraits are the subject gazing down the camera, which can be a problem because it prevents the viewer from feeling like they know the person in the picture.

Still, there are a few other options to explore:

  • Focusing their gaze away from the camera. Direct your subject's gaze to an object or area out of the frame. As the viewer of the photo, you may find yourself wondering what the subject is staring at, which can provide a sense of candidness and pique your attention. When the topic elicits an emotional response, this fascination is amplified. Keep in mind that having a subject glance outside the frame can distract the viewer's attention from the topic and instead direct it to the perimeter of the image.
  • Focusing on what's in the picture. You could also solve your problem by focusing on an object or person within the picture. It can work with a youngster staring at a ball, a mother gazing at her newborn, or a man drooling over a mountain of pasta. Giving your subject something to focus on within the frame establishes a connection between that object and the principal concern. It's another way to add depth to a picture.

Break the Rules of Composition

Knowing the principles of composition is useful in and of itself, but knowing them so you may knowingly breach them can lead to striking results is much more valuable.

The "rule of thirds" is just one of those that can be usefully disregarded. An effective photograph is sometimes achieved by centring the subject. In addition, bringing your subject to the very edge of the frame can create some striking photographs if you use your imagination.

Giving your subject plenty of depth of field is another common "law" of portrait photography. This has the potential to be effective, but like before, there are exceptions to every rule.

Experiment With Lighting

The lighting of your portraits is another opportunity to provide an unexpected twist. In portrait photography, the ways in which light can be used are practically endless.

Lighting from the side can set the tone while lighting from the back and creating a silhouette can emphasise your topic. Slow sync flash (and long exposures mixed with light painting) are two other methods that can be used to produce striking photographs.

Move Your Subject Out of Their Comfort Zone

A large number of "corporate" photographs, including head-and-shoulders shots, desk photos, pictures with framed diplomas, and more, had been taken. All the pictures came out adequately, but none were really striking.

Many good photos were taken, but the photographer and model both wanted to do something different.

Shoot Candidly

The subject need not look directly at the camera in a candid portrait. Although that is unnecessary, you want to capture the same mood as if you were taking photos of random people on the street.

Photographers that specialise in candid street photography give these portraits a lot of credit for their widespread popularity. Pictures of individuals in their natural states are the key to creating a realistic image.

In a world where memories fade swiftly, candid portrait photography freezes time for what it is: a moment.

Photographs taken while posing often look too posed. A more candid approach may be more suitable if you don't feel comfortable being photographed in a posed setting.

Capture your model in natural settings, whether at work, home, or engaging in a hobby or pastime they enjoy. This will help them feel more at ease and provide you with the opportunity to capture candid reactions in your photos. Consider grabbing a longer zoom lens to get really "paparazzi" with your subject by giving them some breathing room. In my experience, this is very useful when photographing kids.

Introduce a Prop

Including a prop in a photograph can add a new dimension to the image.

Yes, there is a possibility that you will detract too much attention from the primary topic. But you can also add a sense of story and place to the image that takes it in a new direction and gives the person you’re photographing an extra depth that they wouldn’t have had without the prop.

Focus on One Body Part (and Get Close Up!)

Get close with a macro lens or use a long focal length to capture a small portion of your subject. Photography focusing on a person's hands, eyes, mouth, or lower body can give the spectator much to think about. What's missing from a picture can often say more than what's there.

Obscure Part of Your Subject

Instead of focusing on a certain area of the body, you might also choose to hide some of your subject's face or body in a portrait. You can do this by blocking the viewer's eye with an item of clothing, an object, the subject's hands, or even just by cropping out a portion of the subject.

By doing so, you allow the audience some room to fill in the blanks. And you direct the audience's attention precisely where you want it to go.

Take a Series of Shots

To take multiple images quickly, your camera has a burst mode called continuous shooting mode. Doing so yields a sequence of images shown concurrently, as opposed to a single image.

This method is particularly useful for photographing children or any energetic subject prone to frequent pose and position changes.

What Are the Best Lenses for Portraits?

It's up to the photographer to decide which lens will best capture the subject in a portrait. Longer focal length lenses are typically used when shooting portraits. Two excellent lenses for beginners are 50mm and 85mm.

How Do You Photograph Someone’s True Self?

Ask your customers questions and compliment them to keep the conversation going. These two factors will help them open up to you and feel safe sharing who they are.


Typically, a portrait focuses on the subject's face and the way they're looking at the camera. Images of people aren't limited to photographs. Other forms of art, such as paintings, sketches, and sculptures, also feature portraits. Any good shot should be able to tell something about the subject's personality or how they're feeling. While a tripod is not strictly necessary for using flash heads, it is highly recommended.

Your portrait will look much better once you use a reflector to shine light into the shadows. Avoiding bony prominences like the elbow and knee while cropping the body is recommended. The photograph's outcome is profoundly impacted by the position of the subject's eyes. The photographer gets to decide what kind of feeling they want to capture with the shot. Most portraits have the subject looking down the lens, which can be off-putting because it limits the viewer's ability to connect with the subject.

Among these is the so-called "rule of thirds," which can often be ignored to good effect. If you want to take a picture that really pops, try moving your subject to the border of the frame rather than placing them dead centre. If you can, give your subject a lot of depth of field, but remember that every rule has an exception. You can get up and personal with a macro lens or a long focal length to capture an intimate detail of your subject's physique. The things that aren't in a photograph might sometimes say more than the ones that are.

A portrait can be altered by covering up a portion of the subject's face or body. The listener's imagination can then fill in the holes, focusing their attention where you intend.

Content Summary

  • To avoid getting bored with your photography, try photographing individuals in a variety of settings and poses.
  • Although that may not seem like a lot at first, there is a lot of leeway for variation within these broad categories by adjusting things like where the topic is located, the camera's angle of view, and the actor's pose.
  • A varied group of portraits can be obtained from a single shot by remembering these fundamentals of portrait photography.
  • Typically, a portrait focuses on the subject's face and the way they're looking at the camera.
  • Let's take a moment to talk about the camera equipment that is necessary for taking portrait shots before we go into the many techniques for doing so.
  • You can utilise natural light or start with the very minimum of lighting equipment, which consists of two flash heads and two supports.
  • When shooting portraits indoors or in a studio, a flash head is a must-have piece of equipment.
  • Two, though, will provide you with a wider range of lighting possibilities for your picture models.
  • These allow you to safely mount your flash heads at a wide range of heights and angles.
  • While you're still getting the swing of things, a softbox is an effective initial light modifier.
  • This makes them fantastic photographers for food, fashion, and other consumer goods.
  • While a tripod is not strictly necessary while using flash heads, it is highly advised, especially for low-light or outdoor photography.
  • When utilising a tripod, you may confidently point your camera in any direction.
  • A sturdy yet transportable tripod is ideal.
  • If you use a reflector to bounce light into the shadows, your portrait will look much better overall.
  • An effective method of gaining new clients is by using professional headshots.
  • You'll end up with professional-grade shots that really show off your subject's character.
  • The eyes should generally be the focus of any photograph.
  • Another form of "headshot" is avoiding eye contact.
  • If you shoot your subject when she's lying on the ground, you'll only get shots of her upper body.
  • Again, this isn't absolutely necessary, but it does assist if there's something else happening in the frame.
  • A full-body shot is the last available choice, and its name pretty much says it all.
  • Making eye contact is not always necessary to make a statement or bring you into the picture; it is up to the photographer to pick what type of atmosphere or vibe they want to express in the shot.
  • Another option is to use a full-body shot, which will allow you to display more of the environment, give some context, and put the emphasis on "who" your child is rather than "what" they look like.
  • The camera is typically held at or very close to the subject's eye level when taking a portrait.
  • The obviousness of this next statement may be lost on you, yet a change in viewpoint can breathe new life into your photographs.
  • You'll certainly learn something new about the subject.
  • The photograph's outcome is profoundly impacted by the position of the subject's eyes.
  • Point the subject's eyes at anything out of the frame.
  • Consider that a subject's gaze outside the frame may draw attention away from the intended subject and towards the image's borders.
  • Paying close attention to the visual details.
  • One other option is to zero in on a specific element or person inside the image to find the answer.
  • Assigning your subject a visual target within the frame helps to forge a link between that object and the issue at hand.
  • This is another technique for achieving a more three-dimensional effect in a photograph.
  • Knowing the rules of composition is helpful, but knowing them well enough to break them intentionally can yield far more impressive outcomes.
  • Among these is the so-called "rule of thirds," which can often be ignored to good effect.
  • Sometimes, putting the subject dead centre in the frame is the key to a great photo.
  • Moreover, if you use your imagination, photographing your subject right up against the edge of the frame might provide some spectacular results.
  • Another "rule" of portrait photography is to give your subject plenty of depth of field.
  • Another way to add a unique spin to your photos is through the use of lighting.
  • You can create a mood using side lighting, or draw attention to your subject with back lighting and a silhouette.
  • Put your subject in an uncomfortable situation.
  • Numerous "corporate" photographs, such as head-and-shoulder shots, desk photos, and portraits with framed degrees, had been taken.
  • There were a lot of great shots taken, but both the photographer and the model were looking for something new.
  • In a candid photo, the subject need not even be looking at the camera.
  • Even though it's not necessary, you should try to get the same feel in your images as you would if you were photographing strangers on the street.
  • These photographs have gotten a lot of attention, and candid street photographers have a lot to do with that.
  • Realistic portrayals of people require photographs of them in their everyday environments.
  • Nothing beats candid portrait photography when it comes to preserving memories in a world where time moves so quickly.
  • Images captured while posing tend to have a stilted, artificial quality.
  • If you feel awkward with staged photos, a documentary-style shoot may be more your speed.
  • Photograph your subject in everyday situations, such as at work, at home, or while participating in a favourite pastime.
  • Having them relax can allow you to get more natural expressions in your photographs.
  • If you want to get up and personal with your subject without being too "paparazzi," consider picking up a longer zoom lens.
  • You may, in fact, draw too much focus away from the main point.
  • A prop not only helps you snap a better picture of your subject, but it may also offer the photo context and a layer of meaning that wasn't there before.
  • Use a macro lens to go up close, or a large focal length to capture a narrow section of your subject.
  • Images of a person's hands, eyes, mouth, or lower body might provoke deep thought.
  • The things that aren't in a photograph might sometimes say more than the ones that are.
  • You can choose to obscure part of your subject's face or body in a portrait instead of emphasising a specific feature.
  • You can do this by cropping out a piece of the topic, or by having the subject wear or hold something that obscures the view of the camera.
  • This gives the listeners some imaginative leeway.
  • In addition, you focus the listeners' attention exactly where you want it to go.
  • Your camera features a burst mode called continuous shooting mode that allows you to snap several pictures at once.
  • The result is multiple images being displayed simultaneously rather than just one.
  • When taking a portrait, it is up to the photographer to choose the appropriate lens.
  • When photographing people, photographers frequently use lenses with a longer focal length.
  • Make conversation with your consumers by asking them questions and giving them compliments.
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