Portraits are all about people. Whether it's a studio shoot, fashion feature, family snapshot or street candid, you are photographing people. Although solid technique, inspiration & an understanding of lighting is hugely important, understanding people is the key to getting great portrait photos. Portrait tips are extremely common online & loads of other websites will tell you that using specific settings is a guarantee of success or they focus too much on gear and technique - frankly, they're wrong! Most other sites downplay the important of communicating with your model and focus instead on what photographers are comfortable with - gear, lights, settings. They have it arse-about-face, you don’t get better portraits by tweaking one button on your camera.
Here are MY top 10 tips for getting great portraits.
I do try to keep my tips short & succinct (honest) but some of them just warrant a bit more explanation. I'd rather spend more time to elaborate an important point than just give you a list of pointless, click-bait garbage :)
Talk to Your Model!
The number one, if-you-do-nothing-else-do-this rule is to understand the person (or people) you are shooting. Get to know them as best you can and build as much of a relationship as possible in the time you have. In a controlled, studio situation make time to sit down beforehand with them and don't even pick up a camera, just chat to them. Grab a coffee, talk about anything but the shoot. Once you've established the beginnings of relationship, move onto the shoot. Describe what you want to achieve, how you want to achieve it & invite them to help. It's especially important to restate any expectations of nudity, actual or implied, and to completely put the model at ease. Better to rectify any potential misunderstanding now than later. Never touch your model unless expressly given permission, even to tweak a pose.
If you lack confidence, join a group photoshoot and watch how more experienced photographers do it. Join in when you feel relaxed.
During the shoot, never forget that your model isn't a piece of gear. It can be easy to get caught up in the act of shooting but take breaks, pause occasionally to show your model the photos so far and invite them to make suggestions. Even if you have a professional, experienced model resist the temptation to just stand there and shoot while they pose. Trust me, if you are engaging & enthusiastic people pick up on it and your photos will be a LOT better!
For candid/unplanned portraits try spending time watching a location to understand how people move through it. You can fire off stealthy shots using a long lens but this is hugely unreliable and the results rarely work out. If you take the time to choose someone you want to photograph instead of snapping wildly, build the courage to speak to them. Say hello and ask to photograph them. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't but unless you're practicing ambush/paparazzi style photograph speaking to someone first will yield better portraits.
Finally, although for family & friends the relationship-building part isn't needed - if you don't have one you're doing it wrong - if you are "acting the photographer" can ruin your chances of a natural, fun image. By this I mean if you're the photographer of the family & are asked to take a photo, don't mess about with settings or blowing an informal snapshot out of proportion. Your best bet is to work fast, keep it short and sweet and use your relationship to get the most natural expressions from your friends.
Planned It then Candid
This is especially important for studio or fashion shoots. Everyone involved needs to know what the goals are & you should get your key shots in the bag as soon as possible. As photographer a lot of the inspiration & ideas for the shoot are expected to come rom you so make sure you have a clear plan in mind. After that, go with the flow! Change your angles, lighting, poses, expressions… sometimes you catch nuance of expression or position that just makes your image pop! Keep shooting even when chatting, when a model stops posing it totally changes their look. You don't need to go full spray-and-pray, just practice to catch candid moments.