Portrait sessions can be daunting for a beginning photographer especially if they don’t have a studio or expensive gear. But with the right knowledge, any photographer can make the most any photo session regardless of equipment. Here are a few practical and technical tips to keep in mind for your next portrait session:
Create a relaxed environment
If you aren’t careful, portraits can look rigid if the subjects are uncomfortable in front of the camera. A good first step for any family photo sessions is to figure out ways to help the subjects relax in front of the camera for more natural, better quality looking photos. Having the family participate in games or activities – such as sitting around a campfire or playing at a park –are just a few ways to help them loosen up and to capture special candid moments.
In moments of activity, have your subjects look up at the camera for brief moments to get relaxed forward facing photos. The activities will also fix the issue, “What do I do with my hands?”
This image of the woman and the young girl seems almost candid but the girl is making eye contact with the photographer.
Take lots of photos with variety
The more photos the better and there’s no reason not to take as many photos as you can unless you’re using film. Take more photos to increase your odds of getting the perfect shot. Professional sports photographers are notorious for taking hundreds, or even thousands, of photos but only using a small fraction. Set your camera at a high shutter speed to capture moments without blur. Remember to set your aperture and ISO settings accordingly to compensate for light flow.
Add variety to the set by using different focal lengths and lenses. Try alternating between a wide angle lens and a 70mm-200mm lens. The different lenses and focal lengths will aid in providing a spectrum of focuses. Using the 70mm-200mm at 200mm with its most open aperture will give you more bokeh, or blur, in the background. Alternatively, using a wide angle lens will help you capture more environment and detail in the photograph.
Experimenting with lenses, focal lengths and perspectives will help you create more creative or original images.
The image of the father and the baby has a shallow depth of field. It has both bokeh in the background and in the foreground, a sign that the photographer may have used a zoom lens and a wide aperture.
Consider time of day and light
Light is the foundation of photography. Even with night-time photographs, you need light to create an image. Light can make or break a photo depending on the time of day, if photographing outside, or what kind of light is available inside.
If outside, early morning and late afternoon hours are the best times to photograph. They are considered the “golden hours” because the sun is not directly above and the light is softer. But timing is essential because this soft light won’t last forever before it gets too dark.
The image below appears to have been taken in the late afternoon because the light is soft.
At noon, light will be the harshest and shadows will be at high contrast. Noon light on a clear day can pose a few problems. First, the bright light is uncomfortable for the eyes – the subjects will struggle to not squint in photos. Secondly, because the light is harsher, you may get shadows where you don’t want them, such as in the eye sockets.
Artificial lights in buildings may cause unusual colored highlights or undertones, or may simply be too dark. If you aren’t familiar with postproduction color correcting, take your subjects near a window or other source of natural light. If the room is too dark, use a flash but do not direct the flash directly at the subjects if possible. Otherwise you will create high contrast shadows and washed out faces.
You don’t need an expensive studio to make great family photos. Having relaxed subjects and good light will make quality images. Taking as many photos as you can with as much variety in lenses, focal lengths and perspectives can increase your odds of getting good photos. So, give it a shot and try some of these tips during your next family photos session.