3 tips to take better portraits today

Portrait sessions are incredibly rewarding. As a photographer, you have the opportunity and the responsibility to portray the personality of your subject - or your theme - through the images you create. Below are my 3 tips to take better portraits today.


Photograph your subject in their natural environment.

With my Framed Series, I’ve aimed to photograph people in environments they frequent. That may be the Central West End, Downtown St. Louis, a county park, or a coffee shop. The goal here is to make sure they are comfortable, but also to try to have the background match the theme of the shoot.

Take some time to learn about your client before hand. Do your homework, scout out a few locations, research permits, and do your best to gauge the weather. It could be that your client has seasonal allergies and shooting in a budding field is not going to bode well. Maybe an outdoor shoot in December could go well - maybe not. See if you can lock down some alternate locations in case things don’t go as planned. Ultimately, I like to include my clients in on these discussions and come to an agreement with everyone involved.


Move around as you shoot.

A couple weeks ago I had the chance to take photos of Maizy, my friend’s baby. Her daughter was turning one and she wanted some images to celebrate her birthday. I knew going into the shoot that it would be impossible to stand to get the images I wanted. In fact, I spent most of my time on the floor, crawling and sliding around, often on my stomach and back. Fortunately my friend’s house was immaculate, but if it wasn’t, I was prepared to be a little dusty and dirty.

Go into these situations with the idea that you will dive and move around whichever way you need to in order to get the best shots. It pays off.


Be careful of direct sunlight.

Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid shooting in midday sun. I already know it’s going to happen to me later this summer with a wedding I have booked, so I know I need to prepare now to be ready for the difficulties that will arise.

Something to look out for: harsh light that’s causing your subject to squint. Instead, put the sun to your subject’s back and work on getting the exposure correct for their skin tone. In this situation you may end up with blown out backgrounds, but overexposed portraits tend to look great. If the backlighting is intense, or your camera is having a difficult time metering, try using a fill flash or a reflector to light your subject. This is a great way make your subject pop in the image, but it can also help you save the image’s background if done correctly.