Portraits – Three Tips and the Work of the Masters

The National Portrait Gallery - see the works of the portrait masters

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) - see the works of the portrait masters

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is a superb national resource for UK photographers interested in portraits. There are great exhibitions and events many of which are photography based.

There is lots to learn at the NPG. Seeing the works of portrait masters helps you appreciate their work and think about your work too. Self analysis is important. So, it is worth going there with a few pictures of your own. Then you will have something to compare with the pictures you see. Contrasting and comparing is an excellent way to learn photographic composition. A well captured portrait brings out the character of the face through the lighting of the facial structure. The shadows and light on the face emphasises the unique form of that person. There is no good or bad light! There is just the light that makes that portrait work well – or not. A visit to the National Portrait Gallery will provide you with wonderful insights.

Three Portrait Tips To Get Started

Eye Contact…

Build a rapport with your sitter. They are happy about you taking their photograph. Make the most of this opportunity. Engage with them, talk to them, discuss what you are doing, most of all ask them how they would like you to take shots. You will get a better picture if your subject is involved. Get them to make eye contact with you. The portrait will work much better if there are connections between you and the person you are working with.

Use a Prop…

Having a prop often helps the person you are photographing to settle down and relax. Portrait sitters often feel nervous, especially if they are not normally the centre of attention. So if they have something to hold, play with or look at it gives them a little security. I often ask people to bring a favourite object of their own. That helps a because they are comfortable with it. The whole result of a portrait session can be vastly improved if the object says something about the person too. A pair of skis for a skier, a guitar for a guitar player, saw for a carpenter… nearly everyone has some sort of object that can say something about them.

Get them doing things…

Just sitting there is not interesting for the photo-viewer, and it will certainly be boring for your subject. Get them to do a few things that will look good in the camera. Use the prop, get them moving, sit them on the floor or on top of a table. There are dozens of things they could do in front of the camera. You and your subject should work out a few things that will enable you to bring out their character. While they are moving about to try different poses you can also get in a few sneak candid shots. See if you can get them to do something silly too. Pulling faces, jumping up and down, slow running, funny walks are all possibles. If they are slightly reluctant then that is actually a good thing. It will help them get into the session and will bring out their character in the shots.

Have fun with your portrait shots, then compare your work with others. Try the NPG… its a great place for photographers!

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
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