Tips To Make Your Portraits Stand Out

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

Thanks to that nagging friend who dolled up for a day or your vanity, whether you're a photographer or not, you must have shot portraits.

But something seems to be missing from these pictures.

Get a grip, it's not the beauty from your face. Neither is it about the camera.

Then what could it possibly be? It's the edge that sets your portraits apart from the rest.

If you're a portrait junkie and wish to take your photographs to the next level, this is the list for you!

1. Shoot in RAW

You've probably heard this a gazillion times, and it's for a valid reason!

When shooting in a format like JPEG, information is compressed (thus lost forever) by the camera, and the resultant image is small in size albeit ready to use.

On the other hand, a RAW file is essentially a digital negative. It is unprocessed and retains all the original data, which enables you with better highlight and shadow recovery options.

With so much more data than a JPEG, RAW files can be post-processed to bring out finer details without a drastic reduction in quality. This factor becomes even more crucial while shooting portraits as there is skin retouching, colour grading, cropping, basic adjustments, and basically more levels of post-processing.

Shooting in RAW thus gives you more flexibility to edit, and makes your photographs look more professional and high end.

You can shoot RAW+JPEG to get the best of both worlds! Just stock some more memory cards.

2. Make a colour palette

The colours you choose to include in your composition have a huge impact on aesthetics and how your viewers perceive the image.

Invest some time in learning about the Colour Theory to understand colour harmony and psychology. Trust us, it's a game changer.

While planning the shoot, pick an outfit in colours that compliment your model's skin tone and the location you picked out. Make a colour palette for your frame before the shoot.

You can take inspirations for these colour palettes from your very surroundings, such as flowers, sunsets, buildings, clothes, movies, music, literally anything.

If these don't please you, you can always use colour palette generators such as Adobe Color and Paletton.

If you want something ready made, you can enter the name of a colour you have in mind followed by the keywords 'colour palette' in the Google Images search engine. Eg: Yellow Colour Palette.

Alternatively, you can also change the colour of elements or the whole hue of the image during post-processing in Photoshop.

3. Use Props

A variety of props can be used to add texture, colour, and element to your photographs. These range from costly lens filters to something as simple as an inch of cloth.

When held in front of the camera lens, they create some special effects.

Here are some common household items you can use as props for your shoot.

  1. CDs, prisms, or any other crystal from a showpiece to create rainbows. Prisms and crystal can also be used to create interesting blur, reflections, and patterns.

  2. Sieves, strainers, or lace cloths to create light patterns.

  3. Mirrors or any reflective surface to create a different perspective.

  4. Sheer cloth and colored gel/transparent sheets to add colour and drama.

  5. Glass for condensation or a rainy day effect.

  6. Projector to overlay patterns on the model's face.

PS: Make sure to check out the links tagged in photos below for BTS and more ideas.

4. Create shapes and curves in poses

Geometric figures are always pleasing and satisfying to the soul. Joints in the body can be used for the same purpose while posing.

Ask your model to bend the body to create curves, and limbs to create lines and shapes in poses. This adds tension to the frame and makes it more dynamic.

They also make the overall composition look more balanced and easy on the eyes.

5. Create depth in the frame

A photograph coverts a 3-D plane into 2-D. This makes the image flat and boring.

How can we bring back that lost depth and dimension? With perspective, of course!

It can be created through poses such as extending the hands or feet towards the lens, placing another subject in the foreground or shooting through something some objects (such as a branch of leaves, torn paper, etc.), and using accessories and outfits to create leading line or layers in the frame.

Along with these techniques, shooting at a low f-stop can help enhance the depth of field.

Tip: If you want to exaggerate the features (Jupiter sized head, Pinocchio like nose, Alien eyes), then get closer to the face, and shoot with a wide angle lens from a low angle.

Wide angle lenses distort things and enhance perspective. They converge straight lines, and also amplify the distance between the foreground and the background, thus making the nearer things appear to be bigger and the far away to be smaller than they actually are.

If done intentionally and effectively, the results are a sight to behold.

6. Shoot in continuous mode

Stop treating your model like a mannequin!

Keep your camera at a high shutter speed to get a sharp subject, and capture actions and movements instead of still awkward poses.

To get a variety of shots, shoot in continuous mode.

Direct your model to flail his/her arms freely, walk back and forth, twirl like a ballerina, run like an actress from a Bollywood movie scene, do a dramatic hair flip, everything and anything. Just do whatever feels free and natural.

This movement makes the subject appear more candid and also removes the tension from body parts that often manifests in holding a position while posing.