The best way to improve your portrait photography is practice. Make sure that you shoot anything each week so you get to the point where you don’t have to think about how to operate your gear. The following suggestions are hardly secrets and may be what you already know but may be tucked into the back of your mind, languishing and waiting to be jogged. Here’s that jog:
Search for interesting locations. New things inspire me. It can be a new camera, new lens, or just a new place to make photographs. While traveling around, I look for and make notes about locations that can serve as a location for a portrait session. You can even go looking for portrait locations on purpose. Recently I went to a state park with a large lake looking for a beach-like location for swimsuit photographs. I had my Olympus XZ-1 camera with me, and while walking around the lake’s edge saw many spots that would produce interesting photographs.
Keep your lighting tools simple. One of my early mentors advised me to work with as few light control devices as possible. I try to do that because the less time spent working with my gear, the more time I can spend putting my subject at ease. These days some of my people photography is done with natural light using a single reflector. Having a reflector on a light stand is useful when working alone but if an assistant is available I prefer to use them because it’s to get them to move the reflector than walking back to the light stand to make an adjustment.
Watch the background. It’s so easy to become so enthralled by the person you’re photographing that you forget about the background. There’s an old expression that goes, “if you watch the background, the foreground will take care of itself.” Nowhere is this more true that in making available light portraits. Busy, ugly backgrounds can be thrown out of focus by using longer lenses and wider apertures but it’s not uncommon to have to physically clean up an outdoor site before you can create a portrait. While you can always digitally remove beer cans and fast food wrappers, taking the time to clean up the trash in an area before you make an outdoor portrait leaves it clean for everybody else too.
Joe is the author of “Available Light Glamour Photography,” which is available from your favorite book or camera stores as well as including Amazon.com in Kindle, paperback and at (affordable) used prices.