45+ Portrait Photography Tips and Guide for Anyone

Are you trying to learn how to capture the perfect photo of the newest bundle of joy in your life? Are you kicking yourself for not being able to get a clear first day of school shot of your little one? Or are you trying to figure out how to take a canvas print worthy photo of the whole family? Whatever your reason for wanting to learn portrait photography, we have you covered. In this portrait photography guide we’ll teach you everything from best technical practices, to how to pose your subjects, to general portrait photography tips. Start learning below so that the next time you’re looking to capture a once in a lifetime memory, you’ll be ready.

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What’s the Portrait Photography Definition?

Portrait photography is a category of photography in which a person or group’s personality is focused on through the use of lighting, poses, and more photographic techniques. Portrait photography ranges widely from nuanced and artistic to simple and documentation-focused. For additional definitions of related terms, refer to our photography terms guide or check out our guide on photography for beginners.

Portrait of a happy woman smiling for a portrait photography session

Portrait Photography Tips

There’s a lot of little factors than can either drag down your photo quality or make your finished project a stand out work of art. We’ve included our favorite portrait photography tips below to help you during your next photoshoot.

1. Get close.

While the zoom function on your camera may seem tempting, stick to your feet. Physically moving closer to your subject yields a much higher photo quality.

2. Pick your setting carefully.

Is the setting conveying the right personality or mood for your subject? Do you have enough light? Is there anything unwanted going on in the background?

3. Make sure your subject is relaxed.

If the subject is uncomfortable, it’ll show through in the final product. Try using easy conversation to help put your subject at ease and always make sure they’re dressed in clothes they’re comfortable in.

4. Candids are the cherry on the top.

Don’t forget to take photos in transitional moments. Catching your subject in a genuine laugh will always top a posed, smiling photo.

5. Try to anticipate.

Especially in the case of photographing large groups, try your best to predict the next moves of the group. This will help you plan for the perfect moment and click the shutter just in time.

6. Do you research.

Learn a few things about your subject ahead of time and try to incorporate details about them into the photoshoot.

7. Take as many photos as possible.

This will help make sure you’re not missing out on the “perfect” photo and you have plenty of options to pick from during editing.

8. Check your lighting and settings ahead of time.

Plan to take some time at the beginning to adjust your white balance and correct your settings for the amount of light for that time of day.

9. Bring in external light sources.

Use external light sources, such as an external flash or other, and set them up to the sides of your subject to make all the difference. This layering of lights help to ensure more flattering shadows and more even light.

10. For larger groups, try to stay organized.

Organization is key to making sure photoshoots flow as smoothly as possibly, especially with large families or other groups.

11. Experiment with depth of field.

Your depth of field and amount of bokeh in the photo will change the overall look and focus of your image drastically.

12. Eliminate photo grain.

Check your ISO settings well in advance to ensure your photoshoot will have as little photo grain as possible.

13. Use a tripod.

Especially in low light situations, a tripod will make a huge difference in how clear and crisp your final image turns out.

14. Invest in light reflectors.

Light reflectors help highlight your subject’s features and provide more even lighting, making them a must-have for many photographers.

15. Stick to the golden hours.

Golden hours occur during the first two hours after sunrise and the two hours before sunset. This timeframe provides what most photographers consider the best, most even lighting.

16. Try unique angles.

Sometimes an otherwise less interesting photo is easily transformed into something special just by exploring the subject from a new angle. Try it during your next photoshoot.

Happy family having fun in autumn park with taking their family pictures. Parents are holding their playful daughter on shoulders.

Types Of Portrait Photography

There are many different sub-genres within portrait photography, and each one has its own merits. From self portrait photography to pictures, each one comes with its own set of special portrait photography tips. Read below for some of our favorites:

Self Portrait Photography

Self Portrait photography sounds pretty self explanatory: it’s a style of photography in which you capture your own portrait. But anyone can take this genre in a new and creative direction.

Self Portrait Photography Ideas:

  • Silhouette: Capture your own silhouette using the outlines of your face using plenty of backlighting to create a visually interesting work of art.
  • Rainbow: Use the science behind prisms and color bending to create natural rainbows in your self photography.
  • Showcase a hobby: Try taking your own photo while playing guitar, or reading in your favorite nook, or cooking.
  • Have fun with wigs and costumes. Have some fun and play dress up! It’s the perfect excuse to dig deep in your closet for some long forgotten clothes.
  • Check out additional ideas in our resource for instagram photo ideas.

Female Carpenter In Her Workshop as an example of self portrait photography

Black And White Photography Portraits

The idea of black and white photography may seem simple enough, but learning how to properly balance lighting and whether or not to shoot in color and edit into black and white later will help your images stand out from the rest.

Black and White Portrait Photography Ideas:

  • Silhouette: Take advance of the nature of contrast in black and white photos by creating a silhouette!
  • Experiment with shadows: Shadows are more defined in black and white photography, making them a fun element to try and capture.
  • Make a home studio: Hang up a sheet, set up external lighting, and put together a makeshift home studio for a photoshoot. This is especially perfect for rainy days.
  • Separate people from their backgrounds: Set up a backlight in order to separate your subject from their black background.
  • Use light to highlight forgotten features: Add extra lights to help highlight features forgotten in the black and white setting.
  • Emphasis emotions: Encourage your subject to show a range of emotions. Black and white portrait photography emphasizes emotions more than color prints.

Black and white portrait of a young woman, laughing, looking to the side, holding hands together, against a plain studio background

Outdoor Portrait Photography

This genre of portrait photography is popular among many groups, but especially for graduation, engagement, and family photoshoots. In order to make the most of your time in the outdoors, follow the tips below:

Outdoor Portrait Photography Ideas:

  • Photograph through objects: Position a branch, bunch of flowers, or similar close and in front of the lens and photograph your subject through it. This adds an interesting element to the perspective.
  • Document the seasons: Have your subject dress to represent the season and use your photography to highlight your favorite parts and colors of that time of year.
  • For photographing trips outdoors or while abroad, make sure to read our guide on travel photography tips.

A beginner photographer looking through his viewfinder towards the mountains.

Professional Portrait Photography

If you have a professional portrait photography session setup for the near future, you may be wondering what to expect. We’re here to help:

Professional Portrait Photography Ideas:

  • Prepare everyone ahead of time: Plan out everyone’s outfit a few days in advance and make sure everything is clean and pressed for the photoshoot.
  • Don’t stray too far from your natural look: Do your best not to overdo your hair or makeup for the photo session. You’ll probably wish in the years to come you looked more like yourself.
  • Have fun: Make a day trip out of your photo session and have some fun! The photos will come out better if you feel more relaxed on the day of.

Family Portrait Photography

Family photos, while important to have through the years, are often a source of stress. But we want to help you get the perfect photos for your photo book without all the headache. Make sure to check out the resources below:

Family Portrait Photography Ideas:

  • Adaptation is key: When it comes to children, you never know what can happen. Prepare for the unprepared and come prepared with snacks and things to help the kids make it all the way through the photo session.
  • With children, turn the photoshoot into a game: Keeping the kids entertained will not only keep the photoshoot on track, but keep big smiles on their faces for a great final product.
  • Read our family photo focused resources on what to wear for family photos, the best colors to wear for family photos, and large family photo ideas.

Family with one kid holding burning sparklers and looking at camera during Christmas as an exaple of portrait photography

Child Portrait Photography

Are you trying to take forever photos of your newest little one? Or maybe you’re trying to take pictures of your child’s first day of school and you’re looking for ways to make it extra special. If so, check out our tips below:

Child Portrait Photography Ideas:

  • Make use of their imagination: Play dress up, start a new game, or make it up as you go– the more you play into their imagination, the more their personality will show through in the photo.
  • Use the opportunity to explore: Take your little ones and your camera to the park, museum, or zoo and explore something new! Their faces of wonder are sure to make the best portraits.
  • Make sure no afternoon tea party or rainy day in gets forgotten by taking advantage of our free photo book offer. That way you’ll have your child’s portrait photographs for years to come.

Portrait Photography Poses

You don’t have to turn your friends, family and loved ones into models in order to get great photos. Instead, just follow our best practices for portrait photography poses to get the most out of your photoshoot.

  • Turn the shoulders slightly: Turning the subject’s shoulders so they don’t face the camera straight on allows for a more flattering angle.
  • Pull the chin forward: When people naturally stand or sit straight, the face often sits further back than is photographically appealing. Pull their head and chin forward to create better definition.
  • Keep hair off the shoulders: For those with long hair, make sure their hair is pulled away and off of their shoulders. Options for the hair include putting it up, letting it rest in front of the shoulders or behind the back, or pulling it to one side.
  • Lift the arm slightly: Lifting the arm facing the camera creates more definition and slims the frame.
  • Shift their weight: Try having your subject shift their weight to their back foot.
  • Lean forward from the waist: Have the subject lean forward towards the camera for better looking posture.
  • Sit on the edge of a chair for sitting portraits: Don’t let the subject lean back against the chair. Instead pull them forward to help create better posture.

Portrait of smiling mature woman sitting by window for a portrait photography session

Best Camera For Portrait Photography

Sometimes finding the best camera for portrait photography can feel like a challenge. Is it easiest just to stick to your smartphone? What’s the main difference between different DSLRs? Check out our answers to these questions and more below:

Smartphone Portrait Photography

Many people are satisfied with the photo quality the newer smartphones produce and see no reason to invest in more technical camera equipment. However, if you decide just to stick to your smartphone, there’s still plenty of tips and trick to help you take better photos. Read our guide on how to take better photos for additional help with smartphone photography.

Canon vs. Nikon vs. Everyone Else

Most newer photographers won’t find significant advantages or disadvantages between Canon and Nikon cameras that might make either brand a go to. That said, there are a few differences between the these two main camera brands and other brands (Sony, Olympus, and other). Because Nikon and Canon are so popular, it’s often easier to find more compatible or more affordable equipment in the long run. But photographers with specific needs or existing equipment may find smaller brands to be perfect for them.

No matter what brand you’re leaning towards purchasing, it’s always best to rent the equipment first. This gives you the chance to try it out and decide if it’s the right fit for you.

Best Lens For Portrait Photography

Many photographers are surprised to learn lenses are sometimes more important than camera bodies. This is because camera bodies get outdated and need replacing more often than lenses. Additionally, Nikon, Cannon, and some other brands typically make sure newer camera bodies are compatible with older lenses– making lenses worth the investment.

So what’s the right type of lens for your portrait photography? It all comes down to your style of portrait photography and how much bokeh, light, and range you want. For example, many photographers prefer prime lenses for portraits. However, as these are fixed lenses, photographers who don’t want to pack additional lenses to compensate for a lack of range might prefer zoom lenses. Again, it’s always best to rent equipment to try before you buy.

Hipster freelance photography equipment, camera and touch screen devices on a wooden desktop, flat lay banner with copy space

Resources Related to Portrait Photography

If you found this guide on portrait photography helpful, and you’re looking for additional resources, make sure to check out our other photo guides below: