When I began pursuing photography three years ago, portrait photography wasn’t really something I wanted to do. I found it difficult not only that you have to be really careful with facial expressions and body languages of your subjects, but that people may not always appreciate what you did for them. It wasn’t until a little more than a year ago that I began photographing people on a more regular basis, and I still find it is challenging sometimes.

I did a short, casual photo session for my sister Irene this past Sunday. It was a nice day with plenty of sunlight that came down at an angle, which is ideal for outdoor portrait shoots because it offers a lot of shade where you may position you subjects. More importantly, sunlight that comes down at an angle tends to be a bit red-ish, making the subject’s skin more attractive while giving your photos an overall feeling of warmth. As we wrapped up the day, I compiled a list of tips I found quite useful in portrait photography, and I’d like to share them.

Tips #1: Pose Your Subjects

Aside from planning the shoot ahead and be knowledgeable of the scene and weather, you should also have some basic understanding about posing your subjects. When I shoot portrait photos in my first year in photography, I often found both myself and the subject not knowing what to do with posing and facial expressions. Unless your subject is a professional model or a trained dancer, you, the photographer, are expected to direct your subject in posing and make adjustments as the shoot progresses. I would advise you to find someone who has experience in modeling to be your model, but since it is often not possible it is best that you know how to pose your subjects so things may move forward. There are many photography websites that have information on posing that you can start with, and you should experiment to see what poses best suit your preferred scenes and your subject’s physical appearance.
Irene2014-3Tips #2: Get Them to Smile Naturally

The most common facial expressions we see in modern portrait photos are smiles. However, there are people who just can’t smile naturally in front of cameras, and the results are usually very unsatisfactory. To avoid this, you need to find ways to make them feel relaxed and comfortable. I have discovered that the best way to do so is to crack jokes. In the picture below, I was able to get Irene to smile by joking about the size of her arms in some of the previous photos. That got her to laugh for a while and I was able to capture that smile I was looking for. Although I was able to get her to smile, you need to know that such jokes may not work for everyone for obvious reasons.

Tips #3: Connect with the Scene

Other than striking the perfect poses and having great smiles, we also want our subject to be connected to the scene. The best way to do this is by using props that identify with the scene. If you are in a library, you may have your subject holding a book while standing in front of a shelf full of books; if you are on the beach, you can make the photos more lively by having your subject hold a water gun. Whatever it is, you need to make sure that the props are associated with the scene and not seemed out of place.

Tips #4: Try Random Spots

There is nothing wrong with wanting to find a great spot for your photos, but I discovered that it is better not to look for it. Instead, you should try to randomly pick spots and work with what they have to offer. This may sound a bit challenging, but if you have a good grasp on compositions and lighting, you will find the experience very interesting and enjoyable as long as your subjects do not seem out of place at these spots. Irene2014-3Portrait photography can sometimes be challenging, but it is a lot of fun and very rewarding if you know how to do it. I hope you find these tips useful in your pursuit of photography. Should you have any questions or would like to share other tips, please do so by leaving comments below. By the way, today is Chinese New Year, so Happy New Year to you all!