Photographic technology may change and develop, but most of the fundamentals of photography are timeless. We’ve worked with eight professional photographers to put together a collection of tips to help you take better photos, no matter what genre you most enjoy shooting.
1. Discuss the lighting
Lighting can make or break the portrait. Discuss the lighting with the model. Explain the principles to non-professional models to avoid a badly lit face (especially if moving), and guide the professional to get the best result.
2. Make time for creativity
Running a portrait business is 90 per cent regular good shots and 10 per cent creativity. Always have a creative idea for a shoot after you’ve done the ‘regular’ portrait. These are the shots that become viral and are picked up by social media, and will help to promote you without any extra effort.
3. Ask before sharing images
Always ask clients’ permission before sharing their portraits on social media – even if you are legally allowed to share your work. Be especially careful sharing kids’ portraits.
4. Adapt to face shape
Narrow or broad faces can be portrayed in an exaggerated or flattering way. Choose optics wisely: use a longer focal length from further away to widen the narrow face, and use a shorter focal length shot closer to the face to narrow it down. Use shadows to sculpt or create accents.
5. Use slight distortion
Create unusual portraits by using distortion to your advantage. Using a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera from a distance of around 1m from the model’s face will create an intense portrait through slight distortion, as well as a particular tension from invading the model’s private space.
6. Mood is everything
The photographer is the conductor of the shoot, so it’s the photographer’s job to create the atmosphere where everybody can be most productive. The photographer’s own mood, inspiration, dynamism, jokes and music during the shoot help to keep the stress down and unify the team.
7. Hold a pre-production meeting
For larger commercial shoots directly with a client (with no ad agency’s art direction) it’s important that a photographer holds a thorough PPM meeting to discuss all the shoot details – including overall shoot goal, number of setups, mood board, style and light references, styling and make-up.
8. Always try to grow
No matter how much success you currently enjoy, repeating the same thing over and over stops your growth as a photographer. Always try to improve your qualification with classes, experimentation or by learning a new technique.
9. Use proven business models
Grow your business using the proven Ansoff Matrix. Start with market penetration (same product, same clients – repeat business with birthdays, anniversaries). Continue with product development (new product, same clients – new segments of business portraits, editorial, family). Advance with market development (same product, new clients – referrals, new geographies). Consider diversification (new product, new clients – video).
10. Do your own post-production
It becomes common to outsource portrait retouching, and while it may save you time, it will dilute your personal style.
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Create your own workflow of editing basics and add more value through personalised photo styling and colouring.
11. Go beyond the face
Portraits are not just about the face, it’s also an overall idea of a person. Portraits with no face can be much more powerful, as they trigger imagination and make the viewer concentrate on body language.
12. Don’t limit client time
Private clients aren’t professional models. My job is to show their character in a flattering way. Most photographers charge per hour. I don’t limit time and I charge per final photo that I’ll edit. This turns the session into a self-learning experience, brings fantastic portraits and increases referral rate.
13. Have personal projects
By working on personal projects you can forget the usual client constraints. This allows for greater creativity that you can later incorporate into regular work. They serve as shop windows and eventually bring more business by increasing visibility.
14. Keep client files forever
Clients may ask you for the shots even years after the job. It may pay back with more work/referrals if you can provide them.
15. Feed the models
During long shoots, despite the possible desire to finish the project in one go, it’s best to take a break, let everybody eat and restart.
16. Make models move
Capturing real and interesting faces becomes easier when models move – either their heads or the whole body. Twirling, walking and turning left or right works best for full-body and half-body portraits. Flipping hair upwards or side to side is great for head-and-shoulder images.
17. Aim for same-day client response
In the modern era of constant connectivity, potential/existing clients expect same-day response to their requests. Respecting this increases your chances of
getting the job.
18. Use gestures to direct
“Your left, my right” as directions can be confusing. Use palm inclinations and rotation to position the model’s head and body, and show directions with your hand instead of telling. Discuss this before the shoot.
19. Perfection is boring
We all laugh at plastic faces over the internet but we all went through [phases of] overdoing it. Perfection does not exist so over-editing creates boring portraits. Life and character are the essence of a good portrait.
20. Create your ‘trigger’ phrases
Models/clients are not actors. If they get too stiff make them think of something else. Create a list of questions that will trigger different reactions. My favourite question is “What’s 7 to the power of 3?”
All words: Julia Wimmerlin
Top image: Phutthiseth Thongtae, Getty Images