How do you take wow factor portraits?
Today, I want to write about taking out-of-the-box portraits. You know, it’s all well to have a portrait that meets all the rules, but it struck me lately that the most striking portraits are those that break the rules.
I want to look at certain ways to break out of the mold by cracking (or at least bending) the rules and bringing a little randomness to your portrait photography.
1. Alter your perspective
Most photographs are shot with the camera at or around) subject height. Although this is good common sense, shifting the angle you shoot will give your portraits a real wow factor.
Get up and shoot down on your subject, or get as close as you can, and shoot up. Anyway, you’ll see the subject from a perspective that builds excitement.
2. Play with eye contact
It’s incredible how much the subject’s eye orientation will affect a picture. Most portraits have the subject who looks down the lens—something that can build a real sense of interaction between a subject and the audience.
But there are a few more things to try:
A. Spect off-camera. Focus your subject on something beyond your camera’s field of view. This will add a sense of candidness, adding a little suspense and curiosity as the shot audience asks what the subject is looking at. This intrigue is especially intense when the subject displays some type of expression (i.e., “What makes them laugh?,” or What makes them look surprised?”). Just be mindful that when you have a subject looking out of the picture, you can also pull the viewer’s attention to the edge of the scene, moving them away from the point of focus in your shot: the subject.
B. Looking in the picture. Alternatively, you might see the subject (or someone in the picture. A kid staring at a ball, a woman looking at her new son, or a guy looking hungry at a large pasta plate—it can all work. You see when you give your subject something to look at, you establish a second point of interest and a connection between it and your primary subject. It also helps construct a picture narrative.
3. Break the rules of composition
When it comes to composition, there are many “rules” out there and I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with them. My idea is that while composition laws are useful for learning and using, they’re also useful for knowing so you can intentionally violate them – as this can lead to eye-catching outcomes.
Third-party law is one rule that falls successfully. See, putting the subject dead-center can often produce a powerful image. And imaginative positioning right on the side of a picture may also produce fascinating pictures. Another “rule” we also speak about in portrait photography is allowing the subject space to examine. This will work well, but sometimes rules are made to crack.
4. Experiment with lighting
Another aspect of randomness in your portraits is how you light them. There are almost infinite opportunities to use light in portrait photography.
Side lighting will build atmosphere, while backlighting and silhouetting the topic can be strong.
Using techniques like slow sync flash (and long exposures combined with light painting) can also produce amazing images.
5. Move your subject out of their comfort zone
Recently, I chatted with a photographer who told me about a corporate portrait shoot with a businessman at home. They took plenty of head and shoulder shots, shots at the desk, shots in front of framed degrees, and other “corporate” photos. The pictures had all turned out to be pretty ordinary – but none ever stuck out from the crowd.
The photographer and the subject decided there were plenty of available shots, but they needed something unique and out-of-the-box. The photographer proposed some “jumping” shots. At first, the subject was somewhat reluctant, but went out of his comfort zone – and then, clad in his suit and tie, ran!
The shots were amazing, shocking, amusing. The shoot finished with the target leaping one more picture into his tub!
Although this may sound a little dumb, the shots ended up being featured in a magazine about the subject. The collection of out-of-the-box photographs persuaded the publication that the subject was someone they needed to cover.
6. Shoot candidly
Often, shots framed can look somewhat…posed. In a framed scenario, some people don’t look healthy, so transitioning to a candid-type style might work better.
Photograph the subject with family, or doing something they enjoy. This will make them feel relaxed, and you might end up with some special shots of your subject responding instinctively to their condition. You may want to grab a longer zoom lens to offer your subject space to get “paparazzi” with them.
I think this especially well when photographing kids.
7. Introduce a prop
Attach some sort of prop, and build another point of interest to improve your shot.
Yes, you can run the risk of over-focusing your main topic. But you can still give a sense of narrative and location to the shot that brings it in a different way, giving the person you’re photographing an extra layer of depth they wouldn’t have had without the prop.
8. Focus on one body part (and get close up!)
Use a long focal lens, or get close so you can only photograph some of your subjects. Photographing paws, eyes, lips, or even just their lower body will leave the viewer’s imagination a lot.
Often, it’s what’s left of a picture that means more than included.
9. Obscure part of your subject
A twist on zooming into one part of the body is to mask portions of the face or body of the portrait subject. You can do this with clothes, artifacts, hands of your subject, or only framing part of it from the picture.
Using this involves leaving the viewer’s imagination much. Often, you concentrate the viewer’s attention on the areas of your subject you want to focus on.
10. Take a series of shots
Move your camera to burst mode (also known as continuous shooting) and fire multiple shots.
You construct a collection of photographs that could be viewed together, instead of just one static image.
This technique will work very well when you’re photographing kids – or when you’re photographing any active subject that changes its place or pose quickly