When you take a portrait, you’re not just taking a photo of someone, you’re telling a story, one that captures your subject, their personality and emotions.

When done right – with the help of these tips – a meaningful portrait will highlight a trust and connection between the photographer and their subject, an artform in human interaction and experience with beautiful results.

There are a few basic rules that are important to understand when putting together the composition of a portrait.

Rule of Thirds: The main composition rule, which urges the photographer to frame their subject a third of the way into frame, to create a sense of space and story.

Rule of Space: Encourages the photographer to have the subject facing towards empty space in the frame, to increase the feeling of size.

Triangular Composition: A composition suggestion that any elements positioned in a triangle shape will create a hero area of focus in your images; an arm up over a model’s head for example, creating an area of focus for the viewer.

But hey, rules are made to be broken. Experiment with your composition techniques and create your own style. That’s where your work will shine.

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We could fill pages and pages going through the nuances of portrait lighting, but let’s stick to the basics for now. It’s always important to use soft lighting during a photo shoot; if in a studio setting you can achieve this with soft boxes; if outside, golden hour is your best bet for optimal lighting.

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What is Golden Hour? The term golden hour refers to the hour immediately following sunrise or the hour before sunset. Optimal lighting occurs here when the sun is at its lowest point.

Try to avoid lighting situations where the sun/light is directly face-on with the subject – it can be confronting for the subject, and typically will blow out the exposure of the image, compromising the detail and editing potential.

There is a fine line here, let that be said first and foremost. A well-placed prop can really make a photo, while an ill-advised or forced prop… well, that’s a whole other story. Choose wisely and choose a variety if going down this path – props are a great solution to a portraiture subject that is a little uncomfortable in front of the camera. Interacting with something could loosen them up just enough to snap the winning shot.

It’s all in the eyes
The eyes are the window to the soul. A picture is worth a thousand words. You’ve heard all the clichés before. In portrait photography, the eyes are everything, whether they are looking off frame or directly down the barrel of the camera.

Burst mode
A super handy tip for capturing the best portraits is to shoot with your camera in burst mode. The advantage is that instead of taking one image when you press the shutter, your camera will take multiple ones, meaning you will never miss a moment or have your picture ruined by a pesky blinking eye or unflattering facial expression again.

Shoot candidly
Taking candid portraits is especially useful when photographing subjects that are a little uncomfortable in front of a camera. This is especially handy when shooting multiple subjects – photos of them interacting with each other can create compelling visual stories.

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