In just about every photographer’s career they try their hand at portraits. Whether it’s for personal or professional purposes, it’s a form of photography that can complement one’s skillset given its emphasis on lighting, composition and the like. However, despite being commonplace, it’s not unusual to see photographers make the same mistakes. Here are 4 things to avoid when shooting portraits.
Distracting the viewer
It might come as a surprise how many photographers try to incorporate too much external detail into their portrait shots. One of the biggest faux pas in this area is a ‘busy’ setting. While there are ways to incorporate a subject into a lively environment and still make them the focal point of the shot, it’s far from easy. Playing it safe and blurring the background via depth of field, or opting for neutral backgrounds is a sure way to maintain the viewer’s attention. Alternatively, you may even focus the frame of the shot exclusively on the subject and omit the wider setting.
Not drawing focus where it should be
Every professional photographer should be aware of how important a subject’s eyes are within a portrait photo. In most instances you want your viewers looking directly into the subject’s eyes as this is where they are likely to connect with the subject. As such, it’s usually paramount that this area of the photo is sharp and in complete focus – particularly where there is low depth of field. If needed, use reflectors to enhance lighting conditions. As noted, there are some exceptions, particularly in portraits that seek to respect the anonymity of the subject. In these instances, you may choose to focus on a pose or posture of the subject, their hands, or another mannerism that draws emotion. From time to time creativity can afford photographers some scope to focus elsewhere than the eyes, but approach with caution and foresight.
Relying on the one lens
Wide angle lenses are better saved for specific contexts where the environment is also being incorporated into the shot. For a typical head and shoulders portrait, using a wide-angle lens will often result in a less than flattering perception of the subject. For example, facial features tend to be over emphasised, thus throwing out the respective proportions. Further, when your subject takes note of this, they may well become self-conscious and restrictive in their expressions during subsequent shots. Longer lenses also need to be selected with caution since they may lead to distortion.
Making your subject uncomfortable
One of your roles as a photographer during a portrait session is to encourage and coach your subject. You want them to feel at ease and comfortable enough in your presence to strike the right poses. Offer guidance and direction, which is best complemented with examples. Avoid being critical or controlling. You won’t always be able to direct the subject’s particular positioning or their body, so take it upon yourself at times to find the right angles and conditions that enhance the subject. This includes shooting from an appropriate height, which may depend on such things like whether you’re working with children, or trying to create a sense of emotion such as empowerment.