5 portrait photography tips

November 08, 2015  •  1 Comment

Five tips to improve your family photos and snaps. By photographer Marion Wotton.

As I have progressed on my photography journey, certain things have become apparent to me. One of which is that I have often found objects and landscapes more intuitive to photograph. It took me a while to realise why this is - they allow me more time to make an infinite number of adjustments until I achieve the results I am looking for.

asparagusasparagusfresh British asparagus; styled and shot by London food and product photographer Marion Wotton Rose caught in the autumn mistRose caught in the autumn mistA late blooming rose in the rose garden of Hampton Court Palace on a misty autumn morning. By Surbiton nature and product photographer Marion Wotton


People, on the other hand, are a totally different ballgame! The way that light hits skin, and the different hues that skin can have ... colour casts from clothing, surroundings, reflections ... It's something that requires a lot of study, practice and training to feel like you're starting to get it right.

studio portrait - manstudio portrait - man


Talking about this with a friend recently has spurred me to put together a short list of tips for portrait photography - things to do/ try/ be mindful of regardless of the camera (or smartphone) that you're using and your level of experience.


If your subject is a bit camera-shy, photograph them in their 'natural environment' 

So if your kids are happiest playing with their toys, building Lego, weaving loom bands, reading, climbing trees .. let them do something they enjoy and snap away. You'll capture a far more natural moment.

boy and his trainboy and his trainyou can take a little boy anywhere, and he may as well be at home with his train set


Consider the light 

Bright, midday sunshine is very harsh and the light from indoor lights can be very unflattering too. Try positioning your subject close to a window and if there's bright sunshine streaming in cover the window with a white bedsheet. This will 'diffuse' the light, making it much softer and more flattering

school portrait - girlschool portrait - girl This was taken on a very sunny day - a diffuser was held above the subject and a white board was in front of her to reflect light back towards her face


Juxtapose clothing with surroundings 

If you think of kids wearing brightly coloured clothing in a ball pit ... It would be very easy to 'lose' their bodies and for them to appear as disembodied heads! Much better to have bright, plain colours against a muted background, or pale, unpatterned clothes in a brightly coloured location.


Try to avoid a 'forced' photo 

By this I mean the forced, cheesy expression that can result from the off-camera wave, smile and calling out "Hey Bobby, smile for the camera!!". Either try to pose your subjects properly for the camera or let them 'ignore' the camera for a more relaxed, natural picture


Think about the angle you're shooting at

If you photograph 'down' on someone you are 'belittling' them, whereas if you photograph 'up' on someone you are 'empowering' them. This is why photographs at the same level (or lower) for children tend to work far better than those taken from an adult's standing height. 

St Michael's, Barton, Cumbriagirl at St Michaels, Bartongirl at St Michael's Church, Barton (near Pooley Bridge) For this, I was kneeling on the ground, the subject was slightly uphill from me and the church in the background higher still, adding a sense of depth and perspective.


I hope you find these hints helpful - I'd love to hear your thoughts and if you'd like me to write some more posts like this.


Caroline Raj(non-registered)
Fabulous tips! I totally need to work out my new-ish camera and love these ideas - particularly 'empowering' them and photographing 'up'!
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