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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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Great post!
Here is one I really liked:

December 10, 2007 1:56 am

That’s awesome — the photos on the wall in the background are a nice touch.

December 10, 2007 2:05 am

You mentioned over and under exposing, but how about taking that even a step further and going for high and low key pictures? Following are not the best examples, just quick searches.
-> http://www.flickr.com/photos/inkyfingerz/1090569329/
-> http://www.flickr.com/photos/phiggys/580482700/


December 10, 2007 4:19 am

Wow, great examples you’ve chosen! Thanks for adding those.

December 10, 2007 4:21 am

What can I say ??? those are just …. (sorry can’t find the words)

December 10, 2007 5:54 am

… is that a good thing or a bad thing? I only ask because I’ve encountered a few people who really don’t like my taste in photos.

December 10, 2007 11:23 am

Great set of photos. Always a good reminder of what you can be thinking of when taking a photo.

December 10, 2007 11:43 am

I definitely don’t belong to that group of people who don’t share your taste in photos, Brian.
These are AMAZING 2 bytes of portrait photo inspiration. How do you feel today – motivated again to try new portrait techniques?

December 10, 2007 12:16 pm

Thanks Vivien! (hahaha, two bytes — that’s funny). I’m feeling a little more up to it — I put this post together to help give myself a little inspiration. I can’t say that I’ll be going all out with these techniques on today’s portrait, but I’m feeling a lot better about picking up the camera and trying some things out.

December 10, 2007 12:41 pm

great themes, a very inspired and inspiring gallery ! Thanks for sharing it.

December 10, 2007 2:05 pm

Wicked awesome post, Brian.

I’m sure I’ll need to change things up, especially since there’s 21 more days left for this challenge! =/

December 10, 2007 2:26 pm

Thanks Bryan — I figured a lot of us would start getting tapped out on ideas since we’re not professional portrait photographers.

December 10, 2007 2:39 pm

No Brian it is not good it is GREAT :)

December 10, 2007 2:56 pm

phew… you had me worried there for a second. Sometimes I tend to be pulled toward images like #11 and #12, and some people don’t appreciate those types of photos the same way I do. Anyways, I’m glad you like the selections — if you like them as much as I do, visit the artists and add their photos to your favorites or leave them a comment.

December 10, 2007 3:07 pm

excellent tips & great pix.


December 10, 2007 3:16 pm

#11 and #12 are more “artistic” blurred and grainy IMHO it takes time and maturity for someone to start appreciate this kind of pictures.

December 10, 2007 3:24 pm

Great shots & great blog post!

December 10, 2007 4:52 pm

Outstanding ideas and photos………thanks for sharing some good ideas that I will follow up on.

December 10, 2007 8:14 pm

Some really cool tricks and techniques here. Gave me some inspiration for some portrait pics I want to take.

December 10, 2007 9:57 pm

Wow those are great tips!

December 11, 2007 12:44 am

Great work of compiling those images! I got some great inspiration from them!

December 11, 2007 12:55 am

Eye opening!!! Thanks.

December 11, 2007 6:51 am

Wow; great illustration of the techniques you’ve employed. Thanks!

December 11, 2007 7:53 am

Thanks so much for the great tips. Those will be very useful.


Also, check out my photography articles on Ezine@articles by Josiah Friberg.

December 11, 2007 11:31 am

What a superb collection to illustrate the different techniques and styles. As usual your text is thoroughly entertaining and informative too.

December 11, 2007 2:35 pm

really good and sound advice for those who are interested in photography or just looking at striking photos. don’t forget to drop by at: http://lemme.be

December 11, 2007 3:23 pm

Ouuu, beautiful images

December 11, 2007 4:19 pm

Wow, great pictures and ideas. Very clear writing style as well.

December 12, 2007 3:59 am

sure someone else already pointed out:
low key is not underexposed, high key is not overexposed…
all in all some pretty pictures but you better erase your own text…

December 12, 2007 10:00 pm

Thanks for sharing this article.
here’s for me to share. im just a newbie in photography.

December 12, 2007 10:05 pm

Thanks Abolutely interesting and inspiring.

December 13, 2007 7:03 am

The technique of overexposing is very great, if you have to take pictures of people who have a lot of blemish on their skin.

December 16, 2007 6:06 pm

Great list, but one is flawed.
For #8 reflections the example at first glance looks like the reflection in a window, but its really just a exact copy flipped with the opacity dropped. A real reflection would not be identical, but would be a slightly different angle. If the camera was on the exact same plane as the reflective surface then the reflection would be very nearly the same but still not quite. In this image a real reflection would be at an angle showing more of her face from the front. Test it for yourself if you think otherwise.

December 16, 2007 9:00 pm

hmmm… you’re totally right. At a glance it looks like a reflection, but it is just a copy. Good eye!

December 16, 2007 9:15 pm

Following this post, I finally managed to get a portrait I’m happy with:


December 16, 2007 9:32 pm

The first Photo by Paul, I know him. ^_^ He’s an amazing friend.

December 18, 2007 1:30 pm

that is very cool.

December 18, 2007 5:45 pm

Great Photos Thank You

December 20, 2007 10:27 am

All pretty obvious to even the beginner…

December 20, 2007 11:52 pm

Great tips…..I look forward to reading your blogs on regular basis.

January 2, 2008 8:00 am

Thumps Up!
This is a “best of the best” site for the occasional lay photographer who need to make documentaries and representative pictures for their community of viewers!

January 3, 2008 2:33 am

very good tips. would be helpful in my next wedding. http://www.rhemastudio.com

January 8, 2008 1:08 pm

very informative! thanks thanks!
may i use the texts and the photos you used here in one of my discussions on portrait photography with my class (high schol boys)?
yur tips are easy to follow.

January 11, 2008 11:02 pm

Yes, please do!

January 12, 2008 2:29 am

Great Article
very Helpful

I am actually a young ameture photographer (I’m 14)
Do you have any specific tips on how to get a better photo?

January 12, 2008 7:08 am

This article is very informative and helpful. It is a great post! I am starting up a site for amateur photographers. Its just getting started, but any comments/suggestions are greatly appreciated!
Again, great post!

January 12, 2008 6:00 pm

In response to these tips: thank you Captain Obvious.

This is the most obvious list of “tips” I have ever beheld.

Wait, wait, wait………………………… a person doesn’t HAVE to smile?! Who KNEW? You have revolutionized my career! Thank God I read this!!

January 13, 2008 6:05 pm

okay “that Guy” maybe this was intended for beginers like me, it may come as a surprise to you but most people in the world arent professional photographers

January 14, 2008 3:40 pm

Good point olecanoli. I can see that you have a better grasp on the intent of this article than That Guy does.

That Guy — it would be great if you could point us to the stellar article that you’ve written on portrait photography so that our more advanced readers (such as yourself) can actually learn something beyond this obvious garbage.

January 14, 2008 4:45 pm

there art brilliant !

January 23, 2008 9:18 am

Great diversified group of images. Really nice.

February 4, 2008 3:04 am

I like very much your page , I think you are a interesting person, I can think you feel the air around the people in the photographs. Have a nice day

February 6, 2008 12:40 am

Thanks for putting all of the into words and pictures. I’ve started giving photo-lessons and it was difficult to put into words what my brain seems to do automatically! This list is absolutely great!

By-the-way, I would even go one step further than “get close” and add “fill-the-frame”!

Thanks again!

February 11, 2008 1:01 am

These are realy good examples of several techniques. I like the last one… sometimes it will be hard to arrange this :)

February 11, 2008 2:51 pm

Very inspiring, I always come back to remind me of how to do a certain type of photography..

March 16, 2008 12:59 am

very cool, keeping this for reference. Thanks!

March 21, 2008 12:29 pm

Amazing illustrastions of the technique discussed. Art is so expressive; I love it.

March 23, 2008 5:34 pm

Thank you for putting this together… You’re very talented and those are some great tips. I think it’s great that you want to help people with the knowledge that you have gained. I am an aspiring photographer.. currently it is a hobby, but I’m on my way to school for it. I’m very excited! I’ve been working on my skill for the past couple of years, and have realised that I am very passionate about it!

April 10, 2008 4:23 am

i must say im astonished by your work:)amazing and the tips are really usefull for us:)i would love if you could take a look at my pics and tell me your opinion:)keep up the grat work:)

April 19, 2008 6:07 am

Great work of compiling those images! I got some great inspiration from them!
You had me worried there for a few minute and… I belong to that of people who share your taste in photos, really good and advice for those who are interested in photography and not just looking your striking photos

April 20, 2008 9:41 am

whats the effect of lenses in a portrait photography.. i mean,, can we use all kind of lenses, wide to tele?
realy great pics.

May 3, 2008 6:43 am

1. Digital Photography
2. Nikon

May 22, 2008 8:46 am

Just found this post, inspiring, thank you for the article especially reminding me how powerful the unfocus technique can be.

May 22, 2008 4:19 pm

Thanks for putting these together. I’m an amateur photographer, and it helps to see different styles together to label what I do with my camera :)

May 26, 2008 7:47 pm

I saw this a while ago but just came across it again on digg. Really amazing stuff. Nice post Brian!


June 24, 2008 11:47 am


June 24, 2008 8:26 pm

wow,it’s great images and thanks with your tips and makes me wants to be a professional photographer…

July 7, 2008 12:35 am

That was an educational and good article with fine illustrations. I will google some of those to find more inspiration for my own productions. Thanks.

August 3, 2008 10:14 am

Great post,

Love the work and advice


August 5, 2008 4:20 am

brilliant ideas, a lot of these concepts would lend to other mediums of art as well. brilliant post!

August 18, 2008 2:18 pm

Great list and very well illustrated. What would we do without Flickr?
Thank you.

September 24, 2008 4:29 pm

thanks for the list.. very helpfull..

October 1, 2008 6:25 am

Great advices:) thanks

October 20, 2008 3:38 am

Beautiful images and excellent work.
Thank you..

Unas imagenes geniales y un buen trabajo..


October 20, 2008 8:22 am

rules were made to be broken, in fotography u can do wherever u want, its my favorite part of art, thanks for the tips great photos, very good job

buenisimo el trabajo que hiciste…


October 20, 2008 8:57 pm

Wow, great list of tips. The photographs really do an outstanding job illustrating each point. I’m going to link to this article on my forum: Glamour Photography Forums. Hopefully it will help them out there too.


October 21, 2008 7:07 pm

Very good post. Just a little bit of text to illustrate those powerful images.



October 22, 2008 10:52 am

Wow, just wow. You seem to be able to ‘capture the moment’ with each photo selection.

October 29, 2008 3:33 pm

As usual, great ideas! Thank you!

November 6, 2008 6:46 pm

Really nice site. i liked the tipps. so i bookmakred your page ;=

November 10, 2008 5:42 pm

These are all pretty awesome! ^^

November 18, 2008 6:57 am

There really is something to be said about keeping things fresh and fun and yes, when you don’t do such a think portraits can become a bit mundane… So stop the mundane’ness and make it rock with those tips and more!!!

Wedding and Portrait Photographer in Ct. TAB Photographic

November 18, 2008 9:42 am

man i love this articles. its really awesome. Thanx mate.

November 21, 2008 4:20 am

I suspect this was where I learnt about backlighting – unlike “That Guy” I don’t automatically know the basics just because I wield a camera – and yesterday I finally got some results with the kids that I’m happy with!

Thanks Brian. Love your work.

Christmas present coming soon :D

November 21, 2008 6:33 pm

Kick-ass dude! I’ll be sending some goodies you way too.

November 21, 2008 9:10 pm

Beautiful images and excellent work.
Thank you..

December 3, 2008 8:58 am

sure someone else already pointed out:
low key is not underexposed, high key is not overexposed…
all in all some pretty pictures but you better erase your own text…

December 13, 2008 5:47 pm

Great pictures you selected as examples. Good job, guy!

December 15, 2008 6:17 am

What a superb collection to illustrate the different techniques and styles. As usual your text is thoroughly entertaining and informative too.

December 17, 2008 1:04 pm

I think it would be fantastic to have a Vol.2 of this post :)

December 27, 2008 11:41 pm

I loved the texturizing (second example). I should pay more attention to this feature of PS.
Thanks for inspiration!

December 28, 2008 3:59 am

There are definitely some great pictures here.

January 7, 2009 6:20 am

Thanks Brian, It’s a lovely post. I am interested in photography & with your kinda brilliant work, I think it would be gr8 to follow your blog to learn more.

January 10, 2009 4:56 pm

The post is great…

January 11, 2009 4:31 pm

oh is very very beautyfull images is a perfecet cong.

January 12, 2009 11:09 am

Wow! Thanks for not only providing details of the various ways to change the dynamics of portrait photography but then you also provided picture examples as well. As an aspiring photographer your post gave me several ideas on how to spice up some of my pre-existing photography! Thanks alot.

January 14, 2009 2:15 pm

these are amazing i wish i could take pictures that good. wow keep up the good work, you’ve got sheer talent.

February 6, 2009 10:44 am

These are simply amazing. If I only had the time and the skill to pull some of these off.

February 8, 2009 11:18 pm

These are amazing photographs! thanks for sharing them.

February 10, 2009 3:13 pm

Your photography is amazing. I’m going to Prague for a job, but want to get into photography while I’m there. Tons of cool castles, etc. I’ll be trying some of these techniques for sure. Thanks again.

February 14, 2009 9:57 pm

Great photographs. These photos are very inspiring. Thank you.

February 18, 2009 10:29 am

Amazing photos!

February 20, 2009 3:34 pm

I really love all the insightful tips plus the amazing photographs to go along with them. Amazing work!

- Tarah Cranford
San Francisco Photographer

February 20, 2009 11:49 pm

I’m researching for improving my photo quality. Most of the time all I get is words. It’s really great to see some actual picture representations to base my standards upon. Thanks much, I really do appreciate this blog.

February 22, 2009 6:23 pm

Comparto una par de mis fotos que caen dentro de estas categorías ilustradas:

Hi Key

Low Key

Saludos a todos!!

February 22, 2009 10:24 pm

Wow! This small collection of "emotions" is brilliantly made. My favourites are Underexpose and Get Serious. The overall impression is "inspirational". Many will feel like that, I am convinced.

February 26, 2009 7:18 am

These are amazing, my favorite is the first one. Such creative ideas.

March 4, 2009 5:47 pm

the images are really beautiful, and source of inspiration, compliments!!!!!

March 24, 2009 2:59 am

Just WOW , Actually Cant find words for these pictures and techniques

March 29, 2009 6:13 am

great pics and thanks for the tips…I hate posing so I always look for alternatives and shooting from different angles is a great idea. I will try that my next shoot and see what I come up with!

thanks for the post.

April 1, 2009 11:02 am

So amazing, the facial expression on every single photo has something compelling on every photograph. Can’t stop to stare at them for at least 5 minutes each. A great capture of the moment. I am a big fan of photography.

April 3, 2009 8:28 pm

They are all fantastic! My favorite is number 7, entitled CULTURE. You really captured the moment!

April 14, 2009 6:59 am

nice sharing!! really love the 10th photo.
Good collection yo!

April 25, 2009 4:01 am

Portraits with visible texture are amazing! Too bad they’re so hard to make that barely anyone even tries.

May 7, 2009 12:49 am

just bought a new cam last 2 months and as a beginner this info are very useful.. I like the back-light and props.. will try it for sure…

May 21, 2009 7:39 pm

Really cool stuff Brian, thanks for sharing. Just a question for you or anyone else – what lens do you reccomend for indoor portraits without a flash?

Help appreciated!

June 13, 2009 10:42 am

anything fast. a 50mm f/1.4 is a popular choice.

June 13, 2009 4:00 pm

Wow! The “movement” shot can really play some tricks on your eyes….Thanks Brian (and Authors) for sharing these interesting shots and perspectives.

June 16, 2009 11:35 am

i like all the photos especially the black-light and the (un)focus. .
i like its mystery parts. .
. .got an idea for our first FMA on Digital Arts. .
thanks for the inspiring photos..

June 18, 2009 1:17 am

Wow, some nice ideas… I am currently looking for ways to shoot hair accessories (on models) to make them stand out. So you have given me some ideas to think about.

July 26, 2009 8:45 am

Great list! I think I’ll bookmark it for inspiration! : )

August 6, 2009 11:10 am

Great post! Bookmarked!


September 4, 2009 2:04 pm

This is truly amazing work! In my line of work (Real Estate) good photography is a critical element.

September 16, 2009 1:46 pm

Oh Cool!! I have not really considered doing this for competitions but some of the points you have raised are simple enough to make me want to try them out….especially love the posing tip and already using props in some of the children’s portrait photography sessions that i do.

September 20, 2009 7:41 am

what great pictures! you have captured the art of portrait photography emphatically, and these examples are great. I have posted a link on twitter to advertise your work,
thanks for sharing

October 5, 2009 6:35 am

Wow, I’m truly in awe of these images. I would truly love to be able to create images that are even half as good as these. I did an evening course on PhotoShop a number of years and I didn’t learn much at all.

October 7, 2009 4:13 am

Beautiful photos indeed.

October 26, 2009 12:44 am

Excellent Tips Brian..
Thanks for sharing with us.

Keep it up..:)

December 12, 2009 12:01 am

I favor photo number 8. It demonstrates how emotion can be brought out by objects that can be included in your photos. Some of the most wonderful photos I’ve seen were made with water reflections.

Thanks Brian and Gary!

December 19, 2009 10:41 pm

What crap advice…Photoshop? that’s the number one answer…what a joke…
Please…stop giving advice now….and if you are going to suggest “reflection”…then for god sakes know what an actual reflection is….

December 22, 2009 1:25 pm

Lovely set of portraits.Thank you for sharing the tips.Will try to keep them in mind.

January 6, 2010 12:44 am

Very inspirational indeed!

January 14, 2010 6:06 am

Thanks so much for this great list – I know if I incorporate as many of your tips as I can into each of my genres then I’ll be a happy snappy photographer chappy! A big boo to that “THAT GUY” btw!

January 23, 2010 9:23 pm

great post, thanks for the tips!

January 31, 2010 10:51 am

Great portrait tips for natural light photography. It would be great to put together a list like this for studio work.

February 1, 2010 4:19 pm

Great ideas!

February 5, 2010 10:07 am

Awesome photos you have here! It’s almost like you can see the deepest details you have in each picture, thanks for sharing these amazing photos.

February 6, 2010 5:12 pm

Did you check out http://softlight.us? This website has amazing portraits of babies and children, even families. Most inspiring.

March 4, 2010 10:04 am

what a great set of inspirational images. Thanks for posting.

March 14, 2010 9:14 pm

What about depth of field / bokeh? Undoubtably one of the most powerful tools in the arsenal. Nice post though…

April 7, 2010 1:14 am

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.

May 16, 2010 12:08 am

Nice Shots and interesting tips!Thanks

May 20, 2010 1:55 am

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.

May 29, 2010 9:24 pm

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.

May 29, 2010 10:48 pm

I like #16 – a very good example of a candid prop.

June 5, 2010 2:59 am


June 6, 2010 1:37 pm

Nice! Just what I needed to read – something inspirational after a day of photographing toddlers.

June 26, 2010 9:36 am

Look at these portraits by Chinese artist Shen Wei, pretty amazing: http://www.shenphoto.com

July 14, 2010 1:26 am

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

October 30, 2010 4:43 pm

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