Portraits are popular subjects for photographers, but people photography is notoriously tricky to shoot without ending up with artificial ‘say cheese’ expressions. In this post we’ll give you some common sense portrait photography composition tips to help you capture a variety of portrait styles. We’ll cover people photography composition techniques that both flatter the subject and remove background clutter.
How to hold the camera
Traditionally, portrait photography is taken with the camera held vertically. Reflecting how standardised this has become, it’s also known as the portrait format.
We tend to do this instinctively. The vertical format suits the proportions of the human face and allows a little extra space for the hair and the neckline. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Shooting in horizontal (landscape) format can produce equally interesting portrait shots, and although we naturally try not to crop off any of our subjects’ faces, it doesn’t really matter if you do miss a bit of the chin, the ears or the hairline.
- see our free portrait photography cropping guide for more information
In fact, by cropping in close, you often improve the shot because you’re squeezing out a potentially cluttered background. Your subject will still remain instantly recognisable and the resulting photograph can look a lot more spontaneous and interesting.
Formal, vertically-shot portraits adorn many mantelpieces, but they can look a bit staged, and many of us like to have characterful snaps as well.
That’s not to say that your portrait photography technique should look rushed, but it’s nice to have people actively doing something (the horizontal format allows extra space for the surroundings), or caught apparently off-guard and wearing a natural expression.
Whether you’re shooting formal or candid portraits, try varying your position. It’s better to have your subject looking slightly upwards at the camera, which emphasises their eyes.
Don’t shoot below, unless your subject is particularly proud of the contents of their nostrils!
PAGE 1: How to hold the camera
PAGE 2: Set up a home studio for people photography
PAGE 3: Direction of gaze
PAGE 4: What are you looking at?
PAGE 5: Find the right background for your people photography
PAGE 6: Using the sky as a background
PAGE 7: Composing light and dark elements
54 Portrait Ideas: free downloadable posing guide
40 More Portrait Ideas: part 2 of our free downloadable posing guide
Free family portrait photography cheat sheet
Wedding photography tips: 10 steps to pro-quality pictures