Portrait Photography Ideas

by | Light, Technical

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There are so many different photography styles to choose from. Today, I want to specifically talk about portrait photography. I have compiled by best portrait photography ideas to help you feel comfortable behind the lens the next time you pick up that camera.

Portrait Photography Ideas

Portrait Photography

Before we talk about portrait photography ideas, let’s talk about what portrait photography is. Portrait photography is definitely one of the most recognized styles of photography. The purpose of portrait photography is to use your knowledge as a photographer to create a connection between your subject and the viewer.

Your goal as a portrait photographer is to capture the personality of your subject in a way that resonates with the viewer. I love achieving this. There is no better feeling than to have your subject or someone they know say…” wow, you captured their personality.” It is a very rewarding feeling, and learning how to do this is key to becoming a better portrait photographer. So follow my portrait photography ideas and don’t forget to have fun!

Portrait Photography Ideas

Get To Know Your Subject

This may be the most important portrait photography idea that I can give you. Before photographing someone that I don’t know, the first thing I do is spend a few minutes getting to know them. I talk to them, get them to relax, get to know them, and understand their level of fear in having their picture taken. I do this even if I photograph my kids, husband, or brand new client. I ask them about their expectations from the shoot if they like getting their photos taken, or simply about their day. This helps your subject relax, and it helps with understanding their personality.

Portrait Photography Ideas

Understand Your Camera

Understanding and controlling your camera is so important in photography. Knowing how to change your settings and what to change them to, lets you control how much bokeh or blur you want, if you want to over or underexpose your shot, and the list goes on and on. Learning manual mode is where you get to set your white balance, control where you want the focus to be, and control the end product! Manual mode will change your portraits…You will never look back once you learn to take control of your camera and learn manual mode.

Understand The Light

Understanding light is also high up on my list of portrait photography ideas! My motto is “shoot for the light and not the location.” I say it all of the time. I tell my clients when I am photographing their sessions, and I tell my students when I am teaching them…I even tell my husband when he’s taking travel photos with his smartphone. Learning to use the light correctly will make your portrait photography go from mediocre to absolutely amazing! Be aware of what time of day you will be shooting, how to angle your subject to get flattering light, capture catchlights and watch your portraits improve.

Focus On The Eyes

William Shakespeare said it best “the eyes are the window to your soul” and liked I mentioned above…the key to portrait photography is creating a connection between the viewer and the subject. Do this by capturing their eyes and making sure they are in focus. Make sure that you use the correct settings to get tack sharp focus.

Use Your Knowledge of Composition

Composition is the arrangement of elements used in an image. Composition is used throughout the Art world…in paintings, television and photography. A well-composed image makes the viewer want to spend more time looking at the image. It doesn’t have too many elements to avoid confusing the eye, and it follows one or more rules of composition.


You can have a perfectly exposed photo, but your image will always be average, never extraordinary if the composition lacks. Remember to use the rule of thirds, and leading lines to bring your viewer’s eye directly to your subject, or fill the frame with your subject’s face. Do not take a perfectly exposed portrait, only to have it look like a snapshot because your image lacked composition.

Give Your Subject Direction

We talked about helping your subject relax in front of the camera. Part of helping them relax and feel confident is going to come from you helping them pose. Posing is as important as composition, and learning how to pose your subject takes time and practice.

Most people are not naturally comfortable in front of a camera, and your job as the photographer is to help them relax and pose naturally. Remind them throughout the shoot to avoid slouching. Help them remember to angle their bodies at a 45-degree angle, never lay their arms flat against their bodies-horrible look-push their chin slightly forward, and lastly, I remind them to move and have fun!

Shoot In Black And White

Shooting in black and white removes any distractions from your photograph. The color of the subject’s shirt or background does nothing to distract your viewer from the subject in a black and white portrait. The emphasis is completely on the subject. Black and white images are timeless and can help create a mood in your image.

Need more tips and tricks for your photography? Head over to the Learn Photography with Dena Facebook Group and learn even more about your photos, gear, composition and posing!

Lifestyle Photographer & Mentor

Hi, I’m Dena, a natural light lifestyle photographer with 20+ years of experience capturing other people’s memories and teaching photographers how to understand and easily use their cameras.

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