15 Ways To Improve Your Portrait Photography

By EyeEm Team - 5 min read

Challenge yourself with these methods!

Smile, place a hand here, turn your face 45 degrees to the left, and tilt your chin down. Photographers know the tried and true tricks of the portrait trade, but what if you’re looking for something more than a studio headshot? You’re looking to shoot the kind of photo that doesn’t just wow your model, but anyone who sets their eyes on it. Here are 15 portrait photography ideas to take a step outside the box, and shoot photos that stand out.

1. Use natural light through a window or screen

Taking a photo in direct sunlight can be unforgiving on skin. Natural lighting through a screen, shutter blinds or windows can soften the harshness of the light and assist in an awesome portrait shot. Not to mention the fact that it’s inexpensive versus studio portrait lighting.

Depressed young woman sitting by window at home



2. Shoot from the right height

To capture your subject eye-to-eye, take the extra step. Use equipment or physically get down to elevate or lower your camera for the best shot possible.

3. Shoot flash from an angle

On-camera flash gives a deer-in-the-headlights look, and while flat lighting might be a look you’re going for, it’s more likely than not not the look you always want. Try flash from an angle by using a set-up with a light stand or having a friend hold it. Find lessons on off-camera flash at The Strobist.

4. Experiment with overexposure

Generally speaking, overexposure is something that photographers try to avoid. But unique to portrait photography, an overexposed image can actually help achieve a clean and polished look. This is because in an overexposure, some details, such as flaws, are lost. The trick here is to use it with moderation, so you don’t overdo it.


Junru Bian

5. Use unordinary angles to tell a story

For example, you can make a person seem more powerful by shooting from a lower angle upwards, a child not appear so small by photographing them face-on, or shooting from afar to emphasize solitude or insignificance.

6. Shoot candidly

Sure, you’re standing in front of your subject with a camera in hand, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a candid photo. Try distracting your subject with conversation either with you or a friend of theirs. You can also give them a task or photograph from afar.

7. Use a prop

A prop has all kind of power over changing up your image. It can introduce a pop of color, create a story, or simply add something of visual interest. Think something as simple as an umbrella or a stepstool to something more unusual.

Portrait of young man sitting on chair by trees


Sylvie Gagelmann

8. Use a wide angle lens

Traditionally, a wide angle lens isn’t the lens most portrait photographers choose – the reason being that it distorts whatever you place in front of it. While most photographers use a 50mm standard lens, shooting with a wide angle lens (something under 50mm) will challenge you to get creative. Find examples in this on wide-angle portraits, on using fisheye lenses!

9. Focus on who or what’s closest

When taking a portrait of a group, focus on the closest person to the camera while shooting with a larger aperture. If you don’t, the front person will be out of focus–even with a large aperture.

10. Don’t make your model the center of the photo

This technique in particular challenges your sense of composition. You might bring in elements of architecture, backdrop, or props. For a step up, brush up on the rule of thirds.



11. Use color for mood

Color or the lack thereof has plenty of power over the feeling in your photo. Consider asking your model to wear a particular color or scout a location ahead of time to get the scheme you’re looking for. Familiarize yourself with the color wheel to understand what colors complement each other and which clash.

12. Check your background

Can you imagine anything worse than taking a stunning portrait only to find out that a cat awkwardly propped itself on a fence in the distance. A cat can make for a great portrait subjects, but just make sure you know what’s going on in the background, so your excellent shot isn’t ruined.

13. Prep your lens

Know what conditions you’ll be shooting in ahead of time. Are you experimenting with a wide-angle a la #8? Maybe you’re shooting from afar like in #6. Think about the kind of shot you want first, and be prepared.

14. Know how to use your equipment like the back of your hand

If you have to fumble to change a setting then you may lose second, and in photography, seconds can be the difference between a good shot and an excellent shot. Being able to quickly change the settings on your camera or make edits to your equipment will allow you to actively get better photos!

15. Stay committed, keep shooting

The best way to improve is by getting as much experience as you can. If you’re new to the game, invite friends over for photo shoots. Ask your friends, family or colleague, get the camera in your hand and offer it for free until you’re phenomenal.

High angle view of woman lying on beach


Lauren Marek

If you’d like to check out even more portraits, browse our curated image collections. Start with Portrait pictures, People shots and photos of Women!

Header image by @sunchildrendontdie