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5 studio portrait tips: How to get the best out of a studio photography session

Studio photography tips
(Image credit: Future)

Shooting a studio portrait can be a little daunting when you first attempt it. Some shoots are more challenging than others, of course, but when it’s just you
and a model with minimal props, you have to get the posing right. 

Every model will have their own style of posing, and as the photographer you will need to help as much as you can. Seeing angles through your viewfinder, you’ll be in the best position to judge – sometimes just a slight twist of the waist or bend of the arm can make the difference between an elegant shot or an awkward one. 

These are the best cameras for taking portraits (opens in new tab)

We’re going to take a look at some of the basics – the wacky Vogue poses can wait until another day. Once you become confident working with a model, you can get a little more creative.

(Image credit: Future)
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Of course, you don’t want to lock your model into a pre-defined set of poses; it’s best to let them bring their own energy and ideas. Just be there to make sure that everyone is represented in the best light possible. 

I always say, “If you look bad, I look bad, and I really don’t want that to happen.” Set up two simple lights to the left and right with softboxes, and we’ll start shooting portraits

5 top tips for better shots in the studio

(Image credit: Future)
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1) Set the correct white balance

Use an 18% grey card to adjust for your studio space’s lighting conditions. For my first shot, Ria is holding a grey card to give me the best reference point for color. (Averaging the light in an average scene produces an 18% grey tone, a value that camera meters use to get a ‘proper’ exposure.) 

What is white balance? When to change the WB settings on your camera (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Future)
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2) Shift the weight

At the start of the shoot, Ria is standing face-on to me with her feet side-by-side and her weight distributed equally. I then asked her to stand with her feet slightly wider apart, and to shift her weight onto her left leg. Although she’s still standing face-on, this has already created a subtle S-curve in her body. Next, I simply asked Ria to raise her head a little and put her hands on her hips – these three subtle changes make a huge difference to her pose.

(Image credit: Future)
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03 Don’t get too comfortable

For a slightly different shot, try bringing in a stool. If you ask your model to sit down as they would to be comfortable, you’ll find they will tend to lean back and have nowhere to place their hands naturally. So I asked Ria to move forward and perch on the edge of the stool. This brings everything forward and instantly creates a far better shot – a slight twist of the waist will make the model less flat-on. 

(Image credit: Future)
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04 Arms crossed 

While not overly elegant, this is a simple pose. As seen above, though (left), it’s easy to get crossed-arms poses wrong – Ria’s arms have become the closest point to the camera, and ultimately the biggest. So I asked Ria to bring her arms in tight, which automatically brought her chin in, too. It’s a far better pose all round. 

(Image credit: Future)
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05 See both sides of the story

Everyone has a ‘good side’ and while some of us have two good sides, one might be more photogenic than the other. This isn’t always obvious to the naked eye, so it’s a good idea to shoot both sides of your model. Often, hair will fall to one side better than the other, allowing you to see more of the model’s face, or produce a more flattering angle. 

Model: @Ria Williams (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Future)

Read more:

Best lenses for portraits
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Best photography lighting kits (opens in new tab)
Best light stands (opens in new tab)

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Alistair is the Features Editor of Digital Camera magazine, and has worked as a professional photographer and video producer.