There’s a reason why people are the most photographed subjects in the world. Our many moods, shapes, sizes and ways of expressing ourselves make us complex and fascinating springs of creative potential. If you’re serious about improving your portrait photography, there are thousands of ways you can spend money on lenses and lighting to give you an advantage over the elements.

But in these lean times I want to show you how you can take portraits with some style without emptying your wallet. Next up are 10 quick portrait photography tips for working with what you’re given, making better compositions and inspiring great reactions from your subject.

1. Shoot inside the home

Starting a shoot inside the home is a great way to get everyone accustomed to your camera. If you start your shoot outside, for instance, you won’t see the kids again if you are taking photos of them. An intimate home setting is also great way to get an authentic shot of the people who live there.

2. Use dark backgrounds for a dramatic effect

A quick and easy technique you can use to get a few solid shots in the bag straightaway is to turn off all the lights off in the hallway. Next, ask the subject to stand about three feet in from the doorway. By exposing for your subject’s faces you will underexpose the dimly lit hallway behind them, thus creating a clean, black background behind them. If outside (photo below) the night can be your friend.

The dark sky of the night creates a interesting backdrop to the golden light in front of it.

3. Make a fun day out of it

It’s not enough simply to bring your subjects into their garden or down to the local park and take their photograph. A good portrait captures a genuine expression, an unguarded moment, and these typically only come when someone is having a great time and forgets about the camera. Instead, plan days out with your subjects. Think about your shoots as an experience – a walk through the woods, a picnic with family, a day at the beach – that everyone is sharing. People let their guard down, you’ll get more natural pictures, and at the end of the day everyone feels like they’ve had a fun day out rather than their picture taken.

The day is slowly ending as our shoot on the fortress also comes to an end. We had lots of fun and it showed in the images

4. Use different vantage points

If shooting indoors and the room feels cramped around your subject, try placing your subject in a corner and shooting from a very low angle. This vantage point gives emphasis to the lines where the floor meets the wall, which will travel from one central point out to the lower corners of your frame, giving the exaggerated appearance of wide open space. Using a wide angle lens for this type of shot will enhance the effect even further.

A lower angle creates an intimate feeling, as the subject becomes closer with the camera and we experience the atmosphere of the moment together

5. What to wear

Shooting outdoors, it can be hard in winter to find backgrounds with color. Instead, try asking your subjects to wear something colorful or stripey to give the image some extra visual interest and warmth. Conversely, in summer color is everywhere, from the golden light to the verdant green or floral backdrops. To keep from confusing an image with too much color or pattern, ask your subject to keep it simple with single colors and patterns

The bokeh of the background frames the subject, and the simple green tones make for a nice backdrop. This in return makes the subject pop out nicely.

6. Create a frame with natural objects

We’ve all used a canopy of leaves to create a frame around a subject in our compositions, but you can take this technique to the extreme by getting down low and shooting from the ground looking up. Try using individual blades of grass, wildflowers and other stray ground foliage to frame your subjects within the frame. The low vantage point gives dramatic emphasis to the subject, and the bug’s eye view of the grass in the foreground creates an other worldliness.

7. Look for interesting backgrounds

Clean backgrounds, of course, are one of the key elements of a successful portrait. In your house, simply drag a sofa near a doorway and turn the couch around. Sit your subjects in front of it so that you have a nice, solid block of color, which is the sofa back behind them. Because the sofa is being lit by light reflected in from outside, the color will be rich and warm. Even a black leather couch works nicely in this regard.

Taking photos of kids can be difficult (it wasn't in this case for me since I had a super model :) but make sure to control exposure and aperture manually for the scene so that you can shoot away and find "the moment"

8. Control Exposure

When you move from indoors to outdoors you are ceding your element of control over the light. If it’s sunny and conditions are high-contrast, zooming into your subject will give you a more balanced exposure. A telephoto zoom such as a 70-200mm is great for this very purpose on outdoor shoots. The more scenery you want to include in your background, the harder it will be to get an even exposure because of all the ambient light you’re letting into your camera at wider focal lengths.

9. Play with Aperture

Shooting outdoors is particularly tough because it’s often a blanket of color. If you shoot your subjects at f/8, they’re not going to be distinguished from the background. Use an aperture of about f/2.8 in your outdoor portraits so you can achieve minimum depth of field.

A dark "frame" makes the inner workings of this next shot pop out more. Not a portrait in the strictest sense, but it does portray the people and the moment they are in.

10. Use bounce flash indoors

Shooting indoors, you’ll likely want to use flash, particularly if your shot is posed. If you set a full aperture, an average shutter speed of about 1/60sec and bounce off-camera flash light from the ceiling or wall at your background (direct flash light will give you harsh results), you should be able to capture well-lit portraits at low ISOs of 100 or 200.

I hope you will find these tips useful. If you have any questions let me know in the comments below.

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