These eight portrait mistakes are so common, but so simple to fix
When taking photos, it’s good to know what you should so, but it’s equally important to know what to avoid. In this video, Karl Taylor discusses eight things that we should avoid in portrait photography, yet we do them so often. Luckily, they’re easy to fix, so check out the video and make sure to have them in mind at your next shoot.
1. The background
For many photographers, the background comes as a sort of an “afterthought” as Karl puts it. However, you should consider it from the very start of your shoot. Always think of your background carefully, make sure it isn’t a distraction and that it makes sense to the shot. It’s more difficult to get a perfect background on location though. Still, have it in mind and rearrange the background or reposition your model to improve it.
2. The little details
It’s easy to get a bit lost in everything you have to think about: hair and makeup, props, lighting, background, directing your subject… Still, take notice of the little details and try not to forget about them. Stray hairs, wrinkled clothes, and little things like that seem irrelevant, but they can take quite a lot of time to fix in post. This is something I personally often fail to consider and then I have to spend extra time in Photoshop to fix things.
3. Posing and positioning your subject
Placement of hands in portraits is something many photographers struggle with. Hands in photos may look awkward if they’re not positioned right, but here you’ll find a few great tips to make the hands look just right. Positioning subject square to the camera is another common mistake. This makes the subject seem wider and more confrontational than you may want them to appear. Follow this link and find many awesome tips for posing both men and women.
4. Separating the subject
Having the subject’s outfit and the background in the same color can produce very striking images. However, in cases like this, you should use proper lighting so that the subject doesn’t blend in with the background. Add rim light, background light, or just use a slightly lighter background.
5. Consider the lighting
Lighting is one of the most important aspects of every image. Still, keep in mind that not the same setup works for different images. Light tells a story, so think it through: should it be soft and gentle, or harsh and contrasty, and what you want to achieve with it.
Lighting on hands is another common problem Karl mentions. Since they are often close to the face, they can appear too bright and take the viewer’s attention away from the face. You can resolve this by flagging the light; or fix it in post.
6. Think carefully about the narrative and purpose
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” so make sure it speaks clearly. Think about what you’re trying to say with your image and if it’s clear. You can do it with proper lighting, posing, colors, as well as outfit and props.
7. Guide the viewer’s eye
Your photo should guide the viewer’s eye towards the point of interest. In portrait photography, it’s usually the face. If you manage to capture and hold the viewer’s attention, you’ve made a successful image. And you can achieve this by combining all of the aforementioned techniques and with good composition.
After the shooting is done, you’re left with retouching your images, and this can make them or break them. It’s important to know when you’ve done too much, but also too little. Make sure to remove temporary blemishes, adjust the light on the face and hands, and make sure to preserve the skin texture. Retouch with purpose, and here is a great video on retouching people if you’d like to hear more on this topic.
Did you also make these portrait mistakes when you were starting out? Do you still struggle with some of them? Let us know in the comments.
Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.