An exceptional portrait will evoke emotion and will be treasured by its owner for a lifetime. As a portrait photographer, your work will be displayed in someone's home for many years to come. Keep the following tips in mind and watch your portrait photography (and your photography business) improve!
1. Keep it simple
Whether shooting in the studio or outdoors, try to keep props and backgrounds as simple as possible. They should be used to enhance and not detract from the subject. This means a solid colored background (I like black or white best) in the studio, and a nice subdued background if outdoors (make sure to watch for cars, buildings, and other people that might show up in your portrait when shooting outdoors).
2. Do not be afraid of close-ups
Remember to move in for your close up shots! Moms love a close up of their beautiful baby's face! Do not worry about facial blemishes being too pronounced (that's why you have Photoshop, right?)
3. Do not always go for the smile
Smiles are nice and you should always try to get some genuine smile shots. However, some of the nicest portraits have a more serious tone where a smile is not necessary. Try to get a range of expressions from your subject.
4. Get good catch lights
Catch lights are those little reflections you see in the eyes. Miss them and your subject will look lifeless. They are pretty easy to capture in the studio, but not so much when shooting outdoors. Bring a reflector along to outdoor shoots and make those eyes light up!
5. Use natural light or try to mimic natural light
Natural light in early morning or late afternoon (right before sunset) provides the most beautiful lighting for outdoor portraits. If you are shooting in the studio, you can get nice diffused light from a soft box.
6. Take numerous shots in one session
Do not limit yourself to a certain number of shots. Take as many as you can. Remember, you do not have to show all of them to the client. It's like the lottery … the more tickets you buy, the better chance you have of winning. So, the more shots you take, the better the likelihood that you will get some really great ones!
7. Stick to solid colors
Make sure to tell your clients to wear bright, solid colors. If you are doing a group portrait, some really like the look of everyone in the same color. Busy patterns on clothing are just too distracting.
8. Focus on relationships
When doing a group family portrait, remember that you do not always have to have everyone looking at the camera. Have them interact with each other and capture the feeling of those special relationships.
9. Get those heads close together
For family portraits, when you do have everyone looking at the camera, it is best to get heads close together … even touching in some situations. Everyone should be touching or near touching.
10. Watch your cropping
Finally, be careful when composing the shot in your camera. Leave a little extra room for cropping. You definitely do not want to cut off someone's hand, foot, etc.