100 Tips to Make Stunning Portraits

100 Tips to Make Stunning Portraits

Have you ever wanted to make images that capture the essence of a person?to achieve this,we require a mixture of creative seeing,a precise sense of timing and an attitude that strives to reveal the real person .Ambarin afsar walks you through a few simple tips.


What strikes you the most when you view an image?possibly that it is joyous,humourous or sad.this mood is the foundation of every photograph.

Consider the images that are summoned to your mind when you think of the word ‘portrait’- a painting of an ancestor hanging on a wall in an old family home or even a photo of your parents,from their wedding.

Think about these portraits .They are a means to remembering .They are the essence of a person and a slice of time immortalized within a frame .This is what makes portraits sacred and lasting.

1)What is a Great Portrait?

A great portrait is more than a likeness.the dreaded passport photo has taught us that capturing character is not easy.Good portraiture begins with knowing that it is not just about pointing the camera and releasing the shutter.

2)Forge  a Connection?

Make an effort to be friendly with the person you are shooting.Develop a rapport as soon as you can and do not let them feel awkward.when you are photographing strangers on the street,try to break the ice by smiling,saying hellow and asking for permission.

3)where will you find inspiration?

Study people the human form,faces in cinema and magazine portraits.look up the works of master portraitists and quiz yourself about the stories that they tell.determine whether the portraits are flattering,personal or distanced.

4)who is your subject?

You may be shooting a family member,a friend,an acquaintance or even a corporate executive for a professional assignment.regardless of this ,give yourself a brief and identity the context of the image.

5)What are you going to highlight?

A person has multiple aspects and facets to them.so does a story .you need to figure out which aspect is going to play the protagonist of your story.

6)what is the story?

Even at its most basic level, a portrait tells a story,be it the hope of the child who sell vases at the signal or the determination in a soldiers eyes. Are you telling a romance,a tragedy or a comedy?

7)how can you tell the story?

Learn to listen ,all you need is a honest interest in the people you are photographing.you will find the means to depict their story in your portrait if you know what is they want told.

8)where do you find your story?

The crux of the story,or the mood of the story can be found in the eyes of a person.they can be found in the eyes of a person.they betray emotions that are otherwise hidden-anger,dismay,sympathy,empathy,strength,anxiety and more.

9)what do you want to show?

How many creases line a forehead?how many dreams are written on a face? Are people really as shy or intimating as they seem?ask yourself what the viewer will see when his gaze meets the gaze of your subject.


You might be out shooting something completely different ,such as abstracts ,however ,when someone request youmto make a photo,do not refuse.

11)what defines an individual?

List the words that come to your mind when you think of your subject .what is their most defining characteristic? It could be an expression,facial feature,the manner in which they dress,or even a striking piece of jewellery.


Understand the choices that you need to make before you shoot,especially regarding backgrounds and colour.

There are plenty of considerations that you need to make even after you have settled on the basic idea behind the portrait. You need to decide what your subject is going to wear,where are you going to do the shoot and so on.


12)Decide on a backdrop

Choose a background depending on the mood you want to create in the photo. Consider whether you want to convey a casual or a formal feel.Do you want to shoot in someone’s room? Do you want to recreate a fun day at a park or a beach? You could also consider shooting the person at their favourite coffeeshop or bookstore.

13)Keep Them Close

If you do not want the background to overpower the subject,then ensure that your subject is the most prominent element in the frame.Using a wide angle lens will ensure that both are sharp.

14) inform the subject beforehand

Advise them about how different clothing will affect the portrait and explain using illustrative photos. If they do not take your advice, then make the most of the situation and try to get them to look their best.

15) the right sort of clothing

Too many colours can be jarring. Subtle colours usually work well. If you are shooting groups, pick a colour scheme and ask everyone to stick to it. Dark colours for tops and iighter shades for lowers usually work well .Colours that complement each other as well as the background will help you draw attention to the faces of the group memebers.

16)Deal with Odd Outfits

Take a piece of fabric along with you  so that it can be draped around someone if the they are wearing somethibg jarring,such as heavily patterned or extremely bright clothes. However ,this trick might only work with head-and shoulders portraits .

17)colour schemes for skin tones

Avoid choosing colours that contrast with skin tones. Lighter skin tones look better with lighter colours and vice versa. Opt for cooler colours such as green and blue as they emphasise skin tones.

18) create your own background

Carry a background with you. A simple foldout screen or a piece of fabric will do.

A translucent screen held against the sun will make it seem as if there is no background in the frame, only light.

19) employ bright colours

While brilliantly coloured backgrounds can be distracting, they can also convey a strong, graphical quality. Use colour, but be aware of its effect.

20)Make environmental portraits

You do not  always need to shoot close-up portraits. You can capture the surrounding area of the person to show their habitat or their living space.

21)Monochrome or Colour?

Using the right colours can make wonderfully expressive portraits.However, sometimes colours can take the viewer’s attention away from important details in the image. You might find yourself desiring and simplicity and the elegance of the black and white medium.

22)Location..nut no model?

Often, you will come across great locations and quirky backdrops. Keep them in mind and weave a portrait around them.You can always go back to them later.

23)Think with All Your Senses

Sometimes, the spirit of a location, a fleeting sight, a distant sound such as the cawing of crows or breaking of waves can help you compse an evocative photo. Use all your senses to create your portrait.

24) Before the Shoot

Ask the person you  are shooting to get enough sleep the day before.so that they look rested. Speak to them about their look and let them know that anything they do is supposed to emphasise certain features,not make them look like a caricature of themselves.


Learn how to control and experiment with the one element that breathes life into every photograph-light.

Regardless of whether you are shooting indoors or outdoors, light can make or break your portrait. There are  a few things that you need to keep in mind to make sure that your subject is lit in a manner that emphasis their features.

25)Good lighting is Simple

The lighting of a portrait should be so good that it should make you feel as if you can step into it. Good lighting should actually be very simple to achieve. The more you struggle with the setup , the more contrived the light might look in the image.

26)From up Above

Good portrait  lighting comes from slightly above the eye level of the subject. Make a note of this when arranging a pose.

27) Towards the light

Watch the light on your subjects. Ensure that their faces are turned towards the light, unless you are trying backlit or sidelit portraits.

28)Position Your Subject

The smaller the light source is in relation to the subject , the sharper the shadows. So , for softer lighting, you need to move to a location with larger or multiple light sources.

29)Where the shadows fall

Pay attention to the shadows falling around a person’s nose. Make the nose appear straighter. Position the person or the light so that the shadow is against the straighter sidr of the nose. If there is no shadow, the lighting may be too flat. If the shadow is too long,it may look unpleasant.

30) The Other Side of Detail

You will pick up more texture and detail when a person is sidelit. So , if  your subject is facing the light , then try to angle the body diagonally to the light source.

31) At Home

You can create a home studio with simple lamps,thermocol sheets,butter paper and a black piece of cloth as the backdrop.

32) By the Window

A window that gets lot of light for the better part of the day can be a wonderful source for simple , yet great portrait lighting.

33) If the light source cannot move

Then move yourself. A few minutes of walking around and observing the area will help you identify your best options. You can also direct your subject to move till you see the desired effect.

34) Doorway Light

Light from a doorway is just like light from a large window. If you do not have access to a sun-facing window, then make use of a door.

35)How many lights?

Select the lighting system on the basis of ease of use and portability rather yhan power. Sometimes , all you may need is a small flashgun.

36) Good Outdoor Light

When you see light right next to shadow, at a covered porch or even in an open garage, you can be assured that you can find great portrait lighting there.

37) The Time of the Shoot

Shoot just before sunset or during sunrise to get soft, golden light. However ,if you have to shoot at noon , then use a  diffuser. A simple frame covered with thin white cloth will do the job nicely.

38)Ideal Directional light

Finding good directional light is always useful because it makes for nice, contrasty images. So , try to look for places where light is not coming straight down above.

39)Harsh midday sun

Strong midday light can cause sharp, unwanted shadows. While reflectors might not always work, you can lessen these shadows by firing the flash to fill-in the  shadows.

40) Backlit situations

If there are extremely strong backlighting, then expose for the background and use the onboard flash or an external flashgun to illuminate the subject.

41) No Catchlight

Sometimes, there might be no catchlight visible in the eyes of your subject. Fire the flash at a low intensity to get that lifelike spark.

42) The need for a reflector

If you are just looking to open up the shadows slightly so that the subject will have good detail throughout the face, then you can use a reflector. Whitewashed walls often form natural reflections.

43) Employing Different Reflectors

A simple sheet of white thermocol can help you cast a very soft , clean light on the subject. For a greater intensity, a crumpled sheet of silver foil would be more effective. On the other hand, crumpled gold foil casts a warmer light on to the subject.

44)Using a Reflector Effectively

Make sure that the reflector is facing the light source, angled towards the shadowed side of the subject. You will be able to visibly confirm the effect.

45)shooting in the shade

Open shade provides softher light coming from one basic direction. Patches of sunlight can be blocked using a cutter, or a piece of cardboard.

46) Meter Off the Face

In situations where the light source is directly behind the subject, exposing for the person’s face may cause the background to get blown out,but can also lend an interesting effect.

47)The Flavour of Ambient light

In certain low light situations, you might want to retainambient light,while ensuring that your subject is properly exposed. Here, you can use slow sync flash combined with a slow shutterspeed to balance flash light with ambient tones.

48) white balance

Your camera already has certain white balance presets such as shade, cloudy, tungsten and so on, depending on the conditions you are shooting in. you can use these to render colours as you see them or even enhance the ambient tones of an image.

49)Control your Flash Output

You might find that the light from a flash gun is too harsh and too flat.you can always soften it by using a diffuser or reduce the intensity with flash exposure compensation. However, remember that the larger a diffuser, the more light it scatters.

50)When in Doubt,Shoot RAW

Plenty of times , younwill find yourself confronted with tricky lighting situations. At such times , shoot in RAW so that you can make adjustments later.  


The final photograph eventually depends on important narrative devices like aesthetic framing , graceful poses and props.

The crucial part of any good portrait is the pose and the composition. Do not think of these as additional rules that you have to follow. Instead, think of them as a storytelling devices, just as you would with dialogues for a movie.

51)Do a facial analysis

Develop the habit of notiving remarkable features, gstures and mannerisms while speaking to your subject.

52)The truth about posing

A good pose often goes unnoticed.it is the bad pose that draws attention to the subjects’s discomfort and awkwardness.

53) Try to Visualise Poses

Imagine your subject in various kind of poses. A trained portraitist can plot the visual course of a portrait within minutes of meeting a subject.

54) Limit Yourself to a few options

Stick to previsualized frames instead of asking your subject to try different poses and confusing them.

55)shoot the full-face View

When you are looking at your subject straight on, you are looking at a full-face view. This type of portrait works for people who have sharp, angular features.

56)Use the Two-thirds View

This occurs when the head is slightly turned, leaving both eyes visible. This particular pose has a slimming  effect.

57) Camera Angles

Raising the camera’s height lengthens the nose,slims  the chin and jawline and broadens the forehead. Lowering the camera shortens the nose, widens the jaw and accentuates the chin. The focal length and the distance between you the subject also pay a role in how the feature appear.

58)Explore the Profile

When you see exactly half of the face , you are seeing the profile of a person. A classicaln pose , it works unfailingly well.

59) Advise them on How to Stand

Tell your subject exactly how to sit or stand , and try to keep the body at a 45 angle to the camera.

60)Refine a Pose Carefully

Use simple hand gestures or verbal directions to refine a pose. People might get uncomfortable if you touch them too much.

61)Posing hands

Try not to let hands hang loose. Give them something to do, even if it holding a prop . when posing groups ,hide hands in pockets or behind other people.

62)croax them into relaxing

Often, people get extremely tense when posing, make sure that their shoulders are naturally relaxed and not lifted up militariliy.

63)Establish Direct Eye contact

The strongest insight into a person’s character is through direct eye contact. The viewer is drawn in and just cannot look away.

64)Direct Their Gaze

Centre your subject’s eyes in their sockets, so that they do not seem unnatural or appear to be squinting

65)Give them something to look at

Do not use your hands as a point of reference when asking people to look somewhere. When your hands move away they have nothing to focus on.

66)And when they look away..

Photos where the subjects is looking into or out of the frame make the viewer follow their gaze, thereby lending more subdued feel.

67)Observe their expressions

Great expressions are the ones that come naturally . but you  might have to look for them and catch your subject unawares, when they are at their candid best.

68)watch out for

The big smile .just before you release the shutter or even just after ,you might see a brilliant expression. So , be ready to capture the moment.

69)do away with the fake smile

Ask people to show their teeth or ask them to ‘smile with their eyes’. This makes them forget about their mouth.

70)avoid common mistakes

Try not to ‘amputate’ the subject. Avoid cropping the hands , wrists, fingers, knees, ankles and feet.

71)Use lines and Curves

Ensure that all the lines in the frame , ivluding those formed by the posture of the subject lead into the frame or complement the composition.

72)posing feet

In most situations, feet look stumpy when photographed head-on , so position them at an angle to the camera.

73) try to balance the frame

Either fill the frame with just the face or include enough of the subject’s torso to support the face.

74)how to apply the rule of thirds?

For a head-and-shoulders portrait, the eyes should be about one-third of the way down, from the top of the frame.


What do you do when the obvious become boring and you want to differentiate your style? Start by breaking a few rules.

Unconventional portraits are often spontaneous. But then, moving away from conventions can also be a studied and deliberate practice. In the quest for being unconventional , remember that your pictures should not be gimmicky.

75)Break the rules

Know the rules, understand what they can do and then break them. You do not always need to shoot properly exposed photos. What if you drastically underexpose or overexpose?


The best camera is the camera that you have with you all the time-your cellphone.Besides, most platforms have dedicated photo apps that allow you to recreate certain effects.

77)Try to Improvise

Don’t always go with the initial plan. Spontaneous ideas that might seem harebrained at first, can actually help you make portraits that have the ability to surprise and amaze.

78)Try Faceles Portraits

Concentrate only on hands, arms,  feet , the back of the head or even gestures to convey someone’s personality. For instance , you could photograph the feet of a dancer in motion, the hands of a wrestler gripping dumbbells or even a grandmother winnowing rice grains.

79)make portraits without people

You can shoot the objects that define a person or are descriptive of their personality. For instance, you can capture their shadow , an instrument they play or even the tools of their trade.

80)Explore Different Aspect Ratios

Go beyond satandard aspect ratios and explore square portraits. You can try spanning someone’s entire bedroom , office or even workshop in one panoramic photograph.

81)The spirit

Each place has its own history . it has witnessed its own share the memories and relationships. And so, one can also make a portrait of a particular space , be it an empty area or someone’s home.

82)shoot your portraits in the dark

All you need is a completely darkened room,a torch , a tripod and a long exposure. From angelic halos and wings to showing people interacting with skeletonsyou can light paint a whole new world!

83)See Two of the Same Person

Imagine having one individual talking , laughing, running and jumping, all the same frame! You can  achieve this effect by making multiple exposures. You can also shoot reflections or signboards and merge the exposure with a regular portrait.

84)See a portrait within a portrait

Shoot a picture, print it, make the same subject hold their own portrait or even interact with it. You can simply shoot a picture, transfer it to a laprop and display it as a wallpaper.

85) Try different costumes

Imagine dressing up a child in his father’s shirt and trousers or having someones dress up as their favourite movie  star or even their ancestors.

86)shoot infrared portraits

The usual choice you have is between B&W and colour. What about shooting infrared? You will be able to capture porcelain-like skin tones and surreal background effects , if shooting outdoors.

87)flash pumping

Repeatedly firing the flash during  a long exposure can freeze a moving subject at different stages of motion, for instance the spirinting motion of an athlete

88)surprise the viewer

Frame the image in a way that the viewer does not expect to see.for instance, you can deliberately crop the face ,but do not force a crop just for the sake of it.

89)Break eye contact

Give your subjects something to hold infront of their eyes or make them wear something  that breaks the eye contact between the subject and the viewer.

90)Make props work for you

Right from flowers ,CDs, masks , lanterns,glasses, clothes,toys-evey possible object can be a prop.All you need to know what story they are telling.

91)Use Bright Makeup

Extremely vivid makeup or facepaint can make for dramatic , striking and sometimes even humorous photos.

92)More than just a Day

Make a series of photos that have a definite stylish connect. You can photograph a friend or even your own self, every day of the year, to create a 365-day project.

93)Shake the Camera

Shoot blurs by panning the camera or using slow shutterspeeds. Also ,try experimenting with slow-sync flash and be amazed with the results!

94) Create collages, Dyptichs

Combine two, three or even twnty photographs to make diptychs, triptychs and collages. You can even make  fun photographs!

95)Bring in a Disconnect

Can you imagine dolphins in a gesert? Similarly , what happens if you pull your subject out of his native environment and put him into a completely strange place?

96)Use exaggeration

You can add a dose of humour by using the distortion offered by ultrawide and fisheye lenses to exaggerate features.

97)Create illusions

You can shoot reflections, use mirrors or play with perspective to create mindboggling illusions.


From crossprocessing, pop art, cutouts, high contrast B&W images to creating kaleidoscopic photographs, you can do all this in the digital darkroom. All that you need to do is decide the theme and make your subject pose accordingly.

99)Make a photo Monatge

Dating as far back as 1857, this technique involves cutting and pasting two or more photographs in a manner that creates an new , surreal composite photograph.

100)Ultimately, Remember..

Regardless of whether you make a classic portrait or an unconventional one, you are limited only by your own imagination. We never cease to redefine ourselves and like narcissus , we never seem to tire of seeing ourselvesreflected thousands of times.

20 Movies Photographer must watch

20 Movies Photographer must watch

1. One Hour Photo (2002)
A dark thriller featuring an inspired Robin Williams playing a Walmart one-hour photo clerk who ended up stalking a family whose pictures he regularly takes and develops.

2. High Art (1998)
An independent art house film that is brooding, melancholy and beautifully shot. The film’s heroine, Radha Mitchell is a young intern at a small magazine that falls in love with a drug-addicted lesbian photographer, Ally Sheedy. The two exploit each other to advance their careers.

3. Rear Window (1954)
The main character, James Stewart, stars alongside Grace Kelly in this classic Hitchcock thriller about a wheelchair-bound photographer who spies on his neighbors through the lens of his camera. In one of his voyeuristic episodes he is convinced he sees one of them commit a murder.

4. Closer (2004)
Julia Roberts portrays a portrait photographer who gets entangled in a love triangle with the characters played by Jude Law and Clive Owen. Although the film only shows a little bit of the photography side, the film itself was wonderfully shot and gives an accurate depiction of the photography process.

5. Pecker (1998)
A great movie with an indie feel that is heightened by the artistic genius of John Waters behind the camera. Weirdness galore aside, Edward Furlong delivers a great performance as the small town sandwich shop employee turned over night fine art photography sensation when he is discovered by a big city art dealer who leads him through the tongue-in-cheek world of fine art photography scene.

6. Blow-Up (1966)
a 60’s film with a cult following status, this film follows Thomas a fashion photographer played by David Hemmings, who discovers he accidentally captured a murder on film in the background of one of the images while he’s developing it in the darkroom.

7. Proof (1991)
A lesser known film from the pre-Gladiator career of Russell Crowe, whose character describes to a blind photographer (Hugo Weaving in his pre-Matrix role) the photos he had taken. Sounds like cliche, but the movie was wonderfully filmed and acted.

8. Under Fire (1983)
Three journalists in a romantic triangle are involved in political intrigue during the last days of the corrupt Somozoa regime in Nicaragua before it falls to a popular revolution in 1979. Under Fire is a technically sound cinematic characterization of a wartime photojournalist played by Nick Nolte.

9. City of God (2002)
This chilling portrayal of life growing up in the favelas and streets of Brazil shows two boys coming of age, one of them growing up to become a photographer. Not only considered as the best film about photography, it is also one of the best films to come out in recent years.

10. Gentleman’s Relish (2001)
In this hysterically high-spirited comedy set in early 20th-century London, frustrated artist Kingdom Swann, played by Billy Connolly, accepts a life-changing gift of a camera. Starting a new career in photography, he expresses his artistic aptitude in more unrestrained portraits of nudes in classical settings and thus subjects himself in the limelight of scornful notoriety!

11. Everlasting Moments (2008)
A Swedish film about a woman who wins a camera in a wartime raffle. The lead character, played by Maria Heiskanen, develops a fascination with photography with which she struggles. However, her love of photography and decision to keep the camera ultimately changes her life.

12. Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006)
Nicole Kidman stars in this biopic about the legendary American photographer Diane “Fur” Arbus. The film shows how a lonely and shy housewife in New York set out a journey into the world of photography shooting images of people that stand outside the confines of society.

13. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Ben Stiller plays Walter Mitty, a negative assets manager at Life Magazine, who ended up with an adventure of a lifetime when he sets out to find Sean O’ Connell, played by Sean Penn. after negative #25, which O’Conell describes as the “quintessence of Life”, intended to be Life Magazine’s final issue cover goes missing.

14. Harrison’s Flowers (2000)
Andie MacDowell stars as the wife of a missing photojournalist reported lost in the Yugoslavian civil war of 1991. She teams up with two other photographers, played by Brendan Gleeson and Adrien Brody, to help her find her missing husband.

15. Born into Brothels (2004)
Two filmmakers travels to the brothels in Calcutta and gives child prostitutes cameras to shoot their everyday lives. The result is one inspiring and heartbreaking peek into their world which also resulted into having their pictures exhibited in a NYC gallery.

16. War Photographer (2001)
An intimate look at the career of photojournalist James Nachtwey as he shoots his way into the horrors of world conflicts. Aside from the photography aspect of his job, viewers are taken inside the mind of Nachtwey as he searches in vain for the logic behind the brutality and cruelty of war.

17. The Mexican Suitcase (2011)
In 2007, long lost and unseen photographs of Robert Capa and two other civil war photographers, David Seymour and Gerda Taro showed up mysteriously in Mexico City, filmmaker Trisha Ziff takes viewers to uncover its origin.

18. Annie Leibovitz “Life Through A Lens” (2008)
Celebrated photographer Annie Leibovitz through the eyes of some of her well known subjects such as: Whoopi Goldberg, Kirsten Dunst, Kiera Knightly, Mick Jagger and more.movies-about-photography, photography, video, film, movies, entertainment, arts

19. Guest of Cindy Sherman (2008)
In this documentary the shy Cindy Sherman talks about being the master of disguise as brought about by her chameleon-like style of photography role playing and deliver an intimate look at her artistic methods.

20. Frames from the Edge: Helmut Newton (2009)
Blurring the lines between pornography and photography, this film follows Helmut Newton and his provocative images to his favorite shooting locations of Paris, Monte Carlo, Los Angeles and Berlin.