These 5 tips will take your portrait photography to the next level

Portrait and Headshot Tips

By now, it’s common knowledge that a headshot is essential for anyone with a professional online presence.

To help media members and bloggers get a great image, we recently shared tips with the subject in mind. 

However, the person behind the camera should be just as prepared to ensure a great experience from beginning to end — whether you’re taking headshots for someone’s personal brand or shooting portraits for your stories.

If you’re looking for ways to enhance your photography in this space, here are our top five tips for your next one-on-one photo session.

1. Do your homework.

When taking a portrait for a written piece, you want to create an intimacy between the subject and the reader to help connect the audience to the story. To be successful, explore the person’s background, and think about what feelings you want to convey through your photography. If you’re taking a headshot, research your subject’s blog, the company they work for, and Linkedin profile to get a good grasp of who they are and what they’re about. You’ll want to ask thoughtful questions about their location preferences, the purpose behind the headhot, and what type of imagery fits their style or brand. If the client is having trouble putting their wishes into words, ask for a few examples to get on the same page.

2. Make them feel comfortable.

Explain from the very start of the shoot that you’ll be helping your subject through the entire process. You want to reassure them there is nothing to be nervous about, and that you don’t expect him or her to inherently know what to do. When posing, be very specific with your direction so that your subject isn’t feeling confused or misguided. To help your subject to relax, beware of too much silence. Talk to them, ask them questions, or share a friendly joke — anything to keep your subject positively engaged with your presence. Finally, don’t forget to tell your subject how great he or she is doing. It’s the perfect confidence booster.

3. Use flattering light.

If working with “natural light” outdoors, the easiest thing to do is meet with your client a couple hours prior to golden hour and find open shade. If you’re lucky, your session will fall on an overcast day and the clouds will act as a natural light diffuser so you can shoot pretty much anywhere. If photographing in the studio, this can be as simple or as complex as you like. Using just one studio light and a reflector can get the job done. If you prefer more dimension, add a fill light and hair light to the setup.

4. Come prepared.

In addition to the obvious camera gear, bring a few other items to help the shoot go smoothly. A hairbrush is always helpful when hair gets tangled or out of place. I think we all remember the classic black comb that was offered before yearbook pictures — it’s so helpful. You may also want to pack oil-blotting sheets and a bit of makeup for quick touch-ups.

5. Avoid distortion.

To help the images look as natural as possible, it is best to shoot with a longer lens such as 85 mm. If you are using a 50 mm or wider, the edges of the frame become dark and round creating a vignette effect. This also warps the subject of the photo, causing features to look wider and more exaggerated — in an unflattering way. If a 50mm prime is your go-to, you can do a quick fix for lens distortion when editing the images in post-processing as an alternative.

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Author Kim Garrison’s official title is Account Specialist at Cision. She is also a snowboarder, photographer, and Washington Capitals fan. 

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