easy portrait photography tips
how to improve your portrait photography poses real fast

These portrait photography tips will elevate the results you get with your portrait photos and they are very easy to try. This page is updated from the original post and also gives you links on this website to many more specific topics on shooting portraits. Read it to the end and then you can explore any related topic in more depth.

Portrait of basketball player

This first section is very simple. It covers posing tips relating to body position, background choice, and clothing for individual portraits.

Then there are dozens of links to articles on posing tips and ideas for families, babies and children. After the links, the second part of the article give tips on finding and working with a model to get the best results in your portrait photography.

In this section, you'll see a few portraits of one individual to illustrate the techniques. You can apply these techniques to individuals within a group or family portrait to improve the overall pose. Oaky, let's dive in!

1. keep Everything simple

Look for simple, natural backgrounds that are not distracting. Backgrounds that have several parts detract from your subject. It's too confusing if your background has trees, houses, the sky, cars, and other subjects.

Portrait photography - The dog named Quinn.Portrait photography - The dog named Quinn.

Don't get too elaborate with lighting schemes. Why make it so complicated? Look for natural, existing light that compliments your subject. The cute puppy photo above was lit with one flash gun, mounted on top of the camera and aimed up at the ceiling.

2. use appropriate props

Simple portrait poseBaseball bat handle

Look for supporting props that either can add the the story of your portrait or be an aid in posing your subject. In this photo for a high school senior, we used his bat as a prop for him to lean on.

Rather than just having your subject sitting up statically, you can add a little visual interest by leaning him onto a prop. I sat him on the bench in the dugout facing toward the baseball field which became my light source. 

The brick wall inside the dugout provided a nice, simple non-distracting background.

3. pay attention to hand and body position in each pose

Don't have your subject with his arms straight down at his sides. In this full length portrait, I did not aim him exactly straight at the cameras, and have him stand with both feet on the ground and both arms dangling at his sides.

Both of his arms and his left leg were angled to create some diagonal elements and create visual interest. try a few different arm and leg positions with your subject.

Full Length PortraitAdd a lean

You may also be interested in additional ideas for taking pictures of individuals with more on: Portrait Photography Technique.

You can use some of these techniques with family portrait posing as well.

Slight bending of knees and arms as well as adding a little lean are good things to do with group posing.

There are many additional article available and links to them farther down in this article.

4. plan the clothing for your portraits

What you wear has a big impact on how you look. Clothing can be a distraction or an asset. Bright colors, stripes and plaids and patterns are often distracting. Take a minute to think about color coordinating with other people or with the background in your photo.

Your portrait photography will look like it was shot by a professional photographer when care is taken when choosing the right clothing to wear: Portrait Clothing

senior boy portraitLeaning in

Generally, it's not desirable to have your subjects shoulders at exactly the same height. Having your subject at a 45 degree angle or leaning a bit in one direction will help you avoid this common photo mistake.

In this prom photo, I had my subject place his foot on the second step up toward his back porch. I then had him lean forward and rest his arms on his knee.

The leaning forward pose is traditionally a masculine pose. I then had him turn his head to his right just a smidgen and him look back to the camera. Perhaps it may seem a bit unusual. You may have to step out of your comfort zone, but you should try to test your photographic creativity by doing some self portraits.

Read a few portrait photography tips to get your creative juices flowing. Photography is definitely a creative process and self portraiture is a good way to expand your creativity.

These are a few portrait photography tips that will give you a good start. As always, it's important that you have fun while you're getting educated with tips on taking digital photography.

View the links below to other posts on portrait photography  or go to Part Two of Portrait Photography Tips 

portrait photography articles

Finding Good Locations. This guest post by California photographer, Nate Torres, gives you 5 tips on how to find great spots to create great portraits.

Portrait Photography Books. In addition to this Better Digital Photo Tips website, other great sources of information are tangible, printed, portrait photography books.

Artistic Portrait Photography. Digital technology has made photography more artistic and less scientific. Advances in photography have leveled the playing field for creativity to explode with portraiture.

Portrait Photography Guide. This is a downloadable guide with portrait photography tips and tricks, covering specific posing techniques for the body, waist, hands, arms bust-line and shoulders. It also covers lighting styles and has a creative section with 20 ways to take stunning portraits.

You may also be interested in a more specific kind of portrait photography tip: Beach Photography Tips or maybe natural Outdoor Family Portraits.

You may also be interested in reading about posing of groups of people: Family Portrait Poses.

Basic Family Portrait Poses. If you are seeking information about basic family portrait poses you will benefit by reading this.

Family Portrait Ideas. The samples on this page were for an individual. You can see some family portrait samples and get some creative ideas for family group photos here.

More Family Portrait Ideas. You can get more ideas for posing a family in their own home environment here. Good colors and location choice made these family poses work.

If you want a few general tips on outdoor family portrait photography, then try this page about Family Portrait Tips.

Pictures of babies are always fun to take too. Getting the hang of knowing what portrait pose to use for each age group of babies is important. Here are two easy Baby Poses to copy and get great baby pictures.

Portrait Poses. This article used examples of outdoor photography. If you would prefer to get some portrait photography tips of indoor poses of individuals, then try reading the photo tips titled Photography Poses.

Photography Poses. If you are interested in how to photograph people in a group of 3, you may want to read this.

Photos of Old People. For some thoughts on photographing the elderly, go to this article.

Portrait Poses for Children If you prefer to do photography of young children, I wrote an article on portrait poses for children. 

Portrait Photography Lighting. How I became portrait photography lighting geek, a great video showing the 5 main styles of lighting and links to more resources for photography lighting.

For 3 more portrait photography tips related to posing an individual's portrait: Posing Techniques.

Can you tell that I have a passion for taking photographs of people? I got my college degree in professional photography, but only took one course on portraiture.

My courses were more oriented toward the technical side of developing, printing and darkroom techniques with still life subjects and not people.

After graduation, I reluctantly took a starting job with a portraiture company and quickly developed an interest in photographing people instead of stationary objects.

Family Portrait Pose Ideas. Here are more portrait photography tips related to posing a family portrait.

Posing Families. I just added this article on posing families. It has two sample photos and a few tips on retouching family portrait poses.

Family Portrait Photography. I just added this article on evaluating family portrait photography. What skills should a family portrait photographer have mastered to be a great photographer?

5 Family Portrait Tips. If you were searching for what to do when planning for a family portrait, you can go to this article titled Five Family Portrait Tips. This is information on what to do when planning a family portrait.

p.s. As you can see above from the long list of articles on this photography site that I've had a chance to write, there a lot of photography tips available. In addition to portrait photography tips, I divided the other portrait-related articles into two main categories.

They are: Photography Poses and Family Portrait Ideas.

There is more related content on those pages as well as a bunch of links to more information. So I apologize for not having them in a perfectly logical order, but hey I'm a portrait photographer, not a professional web designer. Just click around and you'll find what you're looking for.

Maybe I'll put all of these in a portrait photography book someday.

portrait photography tips - part 2
(8 ways to improve your poses and how to work with your model)

This is the second part of the article titled "portrait photography tips." The first part concentrated mostly on traditional portrait photography posing. This article gives you 8 Quick and Easy tips for improving your portrait photography and getting your creative juices flowing.

1Practice with a model. There are thousands of models looking to gain experience in posing for portraits. Connect with one of them and avoid making mistakes on the portraits you will create of your loved ones or for paying clients. Websites such as modelmayhem or onemodelplace are great sources and there are many more.

You can trade their time for your photography (TFP) which is a quite common way to do business for new photographers and aspiring models.

2Always be encouraging to your subject. Never criticize what they chose to wear, anything about their hair or if they are posing in a stiff manner. You want them to feel relaxed and fell confident about themselves.

3Focus on the eyes. One of the portrait photography tips that has been discussed elsewhere is the technique of using a large aperture on your camera to get a shallow depth of field and a blurry background.

The eyes of your subject must be tack sharp. You may need to use your camera's spot focus or use the pre-focus and re-compose technique.

telephoto lens distant perspectiveDistant telephoto perspective

4. Keep your distance. Use a telephoto setting on your camera so that you are not invading your subjects "space" and making them feel uncomfortable. Longer focal length lenses also give a better perspective with less spatial distortion which is usually undesirable in portraits.

5. Change your angles. Not only should you have your model change angles, but also you should move around as the portrait photographer. Changing your angle will let you see a different perspective on your model as well as a change in the background.

This may include moving up or down which can emphasize different parts of the body or different features of the face.

6. Combine candid and posed portraits. If you are primarily taking posed portraits, include some causal less-posed portraits too. That may be your subjects interacting with each other or someone else who is not even in your composition. Sometimes you can fun with this by telling your model you are shooting in burst or movie mode.

You can also get some great candid portrait poses by shooting exposures before or after the posed photos. Just have your camera near your eye to be ready for the right moment.

7. Shoot from the hip. To shoot from the hip means to make a decision quickly or take a fast action without stopping to consider the consequences. In photography it can literally mean taking photos while your camera is at hip level, or at least not up to your eye level. This is just another portrait photography trick to catch your subject in a candid pose.

Using a wider-angle lens setting will help you compensate if your aim was a little off.

8. Go for the environmental approach. No I don't mean something that is kind to the ecology of our planet. Do environmental portraits in stead of the standard painted studio background.

There is more meaning for your subject when it is a "real" background. Your subject will be more relaxed. There is more visual interest that can ad to the emotion of a photograph. Just remember to choose a background that doesn't overpower your subject and become the main point of interest.

Interested in Outdoor Portrait Photography  This post gives you two simple tips for shooting successful outdoor portraits everytime.

Family Portrait Ideas, includes many portrait ideas submitted by readers of Digital Photo Tips.

Photography Poses, portrait photography tips for specific numbers of people in a pose.

Article published by Bruce Lovelace


Bruce is the publisher of this website. He is the author of the book "Improve Your Photography Instantly."  Read more on Bruce on his Bio Page. He's been known as The Traveling Photographer ever since 1994. Read more about this website.

View some of Bruce's photos on Instagram.   Visit the Facebook Page. Watch him on YouTube.  Bruce runs photo workshops for kids and adults, and provides one-on-one photography coaching.

Digital Photography Education Location on Google My Business

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