How to take good portrait photographs

To take good portraits, you need practise. On holiday or at a special event like a birthday party or wedding most of us are willing to have our photo taken – it seems appropriate because it’s special. Pull out a camera on an ordinary day and you’ll often be met with a wave of complaints, ‘I haven’t washed my hair’ ‘I’m too tired to smile’ ‘I’ve got a spot’! But we should persevere and insist because it’s the portrait photographs taken, or just ‘snapped’ at home on that wet Sunday afternoon in October that in years to come may become some of the most treasured.

how to take good portrait - photographer Teddington Richmond London

Using the camera’s flash has made this image quite flat.

Be known as a photographer

It might take bribery or perhaps a threat, but you just have to take control. Make them do it and make them move, they’ll forgive you. Work out where you want to take the picture and if necessary move the furniture and open the curtains. Natural light makes the best portraits; a north-facing window can give a lovely, soft but directional light. With the subject placed side-on to the window the shape and form of their face will be nicely modelled without casting any harsh shadows. Consider getting someone to hold up a piece of white card to act as a reflector if the shadows are too strong.

So don’t get too flashy

advice on how to take good portrait - photographer Teddington Richmond London

bouncing the flash off the ceiling has softened the light but produced a big shadow under the nose

To take good portraits, ‘keep it simple is good advice. For example, don’t use a flash. Many cameras have a ‘scene’ mode and ‘portrait is always one of them. This will tell the camera to automatically select settings that are more likely to produce a good picture. You can take good portraits with a flash, of course. The stark, flat look that camera mounted flash produces might be just what you want.


Did you know….

  • A narrow ‘depth of field’ helps reduce distractions from the background. You need a large aperture or low ‘f ‘ number. Move back from the subject and zoom in.
  • The eyes are the key – make sure at least one is in sharp focus and there’s enough light to them.
  • Using a wide-angle lens can give them a big nose. If they actually have a big nose no amount of zooming will remove it, unfortunately.
want to know how to take good portrait? Advice from the photographer in Teddington, Richmond, London

soft light from the window gives a much nicer, more characterful picture

(This is based on a talk I’ve delivered to a number of networking groups in London. I took the pictures while doing the talk, Peter Williams Managing Director at The Thames Club gave permission for the image use.)

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