16 Inspirational Portrait Photography Techniques

I’m learning that portrait photography can be tough in more than one way thanks to my participation in the December Challenge. I’m already getting bored with taking the standard cookie-cutter portrait, so I started digging around Flickr for some inspiration. Here’s what I turned up:

[tweetmeme]And yes, I realize that the accompanying text is much shorter than I would usually supply, but the idea of this post isn’t to teach these techniques — it’s to introduce you to them and hopefully give you some inspiration with your own photography. I feel that these photos are strong enough to stand on their own without lengthy descriptions.


Subscribe to the Feed

Want more great projects, amazing photos, Photoshop tips, and articles on photography? Subscribe to Epic Edits today so you don’t miss a thing.

1. PHOTOSHOP

If you’re good with post-processing and manipulations, use it to your advantage. Get crazy with the adjustments, try some new Photoshop techniques, and maybe even a composite image.

2. TEXTURE

If texture is a big part of your subject, make it stand out and make it obvious. Match up the textures between your subject and your background. You might even try texturizing the entire photo for additional impact.

3. OVEREXPOSE

Blowing out the highlights or making a high-key image makes a nice soft portrait with kind of a light airy feeling. Another advantage of high-key photos is that the smaller details and defects are blown away, making the image look much smoother.

4. UNDEREXPOSE

A dominantly dark or low-key image will naturally draw your eyes to the lighter parts. These tend to have a grittier and harder look to them than the high-key images.

5. BACK-LIGHT

Hair lights up like crazy when it’s back-lit, so if hair is a big part of your subject make it stand out by placing your subject between you and a light source. You could also take this a little further and push the image to a silhouette.

6. POSING

Get crazy with the pose and positioning — extra points if it looks uncomfortable. Not only with the poses, but also with your own positioning — shoot from different angles to achieve different impacts.

7. CULTURE

Capture the local culture — what’s mundane to you is exotic to us. Culture is everywhere, even in your own town. Just image you’re visiting from a different country — what things would then seem more interesting to you?

8. REFLECTIONS

Make use of different surfaces to add that extra dimension — windows, mirrors, and water are all very good reflective surfaces that give a different result and texture.

9. SHADOWS

Make the shadow an important part of the image. Sometimes the shadow can even be more prominent than the actual subject casting the shadow.

10. GET CLOSE

There’s no rule against cropping out most of the subject’s face. This draws more attention to the parts that are left in the frame.

11. (UN)FOCUS

Out-of-focus subjects can be more interesting than the in-focus subjects. It kind of adds some mystery to the image because you can’t quite make out who that person is.

12. MOVEMENT

Use movement to show action, even if it blurs out the subject entirely. In cases like this, think of the person as a means of creating the subject rather than being the actual subject.

13. CAPTURE THE MOMENT

Catch somebody doing something they love, even if it’s not staged. Street photography is one of my favorite genres because it captures life as it happens — unstaged and unposed.

14. COLORS

Use vibrant and contrasting colors to draw attention to parts of your subject. This could be makeup, clothing, accessories, or whatever else you can get your hands on.

15. GET SERIOUS

Not all portraits need to have a smile, capture the serious emotions too. Some of my favorite portraits have no hint of a smile in them, and they’re highly emotional.

16. PROPS

Use the props and tools around you to make the setting more interesting. Find things to place your subject in, on, under, around, etc.

160 thoughts on “16 Inspirational Portrait Photography Techniques

  1. Pingback: Retratos: 16 tecnicas inspiradoras | Adventure Graphics

  2. Simon Ellis

    Some outstanding shots and some really great portrait tips. I struggle to get people to smile until I read on another blog about getting people to put their tongue to the roof of their mouth.

  3. Bryan Agoncillo

    I often find it hard to single out a perfect image from a distracting situation. I love the images you have posted in this article.

    Silly question but do you keep your WB on Automatic or do you control this manually.

  4. Brian Auer Post author

    Auto — I shoot raw, so it doesn’t really matter, plus the camera gets it right most of the time unless I’m shooting with incandescent lights.

  5. Alex

    Brilliant collection! Excellent to get this distilled overviewed of tools. I would add that “high key/low key” does not necessarily mean “overexpose/underexpose”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>