Portrait Composition Assistance

Approach the subject!
In general beginning photographers tend to include too much stuff in their images, too much space around the subject. The same is true for portraits. In my classroom when I teach this topic I often see people with a 50mm lens standing too far away from their model, leaving the person small in the frame. Fear of encroaching on someone’s personal space can come into play.
So if that sounds like you, then you may want to invest in a longer lens, which are better for portraits anyway as they are more flattering to the subject. Look at the two examples below. The first was shot with a 50mm lens (on a full frame camera) and the second closer one was with a zoom lens set at 120mm.
A portrait is about the person, so don’t be afraid to zoom in close! Remember that zooming in does not mean capturing only face shots. You can also capture “tight”, close up shots of your subject sitting on a stool or leaning into a tree.
A portrait is about the person, so don’t be afraid to zoom in close! Remember that zooming in does not mean capturing only face shots. You can also capture “tight”, close up shots of your subject sitting on a stool or leaning into a tree.
A portrait is about the person, so don’t be afraid to zoom in close! Remember that zooming in does not mean capturing only face shots. You can also capture “tight”, close up shots of your subject sitting on a stool or leaning into a tree.

When to use Exposure Compensation
Your camera's metering system plays a vital role in picture-taking. It works out how much light should enter the camera to make a correct exposure. It's very clever, but it's not completely foolproof. The problem with metering is that it takes an average reading – either of the entire frame or part of it, depending on which metering mode you're in – and this reading is assumed to be a midtone, or in other words, halfway between white and black.
More often than not this assumption comes out right, but a metering system can struggle when a frame is dominated by areas of extreme brightness or darkness.
When shooting portraits, light skin tones can easily trick the camera into underexposing the shot. You'll notice this more when shooting full-face photos or when there's lots of white in the scene - brides at weddings are a prime example.

When shooting portraits, it's best to set a wide aperture (around f/2.8-f/5.6) to capture a shallow depth of field, so the background behind your subject is nicely blurred, making them stand out better.
Shoot in Aperture Priority mode to control depth of field; in this mode your DSLR will helpfully set the shutter speed for a correct exposure.

Shutter speed
When setting shutter speed, factor in your lens's focal length otherwise camera-shake (and blurred results) will become an issue.
As a general rule, make sure your shutter speed is higher than your effective focal length. For example, at 200mm use a 1/250 sec shutter speed or faster.
This also means you can get away with slower shutter speeds when using a wide-angle lens - such as 1/20sec with an 18mm focal length.
While it won't help if your subject is moving around quickly, don't forget to use your camera's anti-shake system. While some camera systems have this built-in around the sensor, of camera systems prefer to have the system in the lens - the benefit being that you can see the effect in the viewfinder.

Increase your ISO
People move around a lot as they're photographed, not to mention blink and constantly change their facial expressions - and there's nothing worse than a photo of somebody half-blinking or gurning instead of smiling!
To avoid these problems, and to prevent motion blur appearing, you'll need to use a fast shutter speed.
This will also help to ensure sharp shots and avoid camera-shake because more often than not you'll be shooting portraits handheld.

The rule of thirds
Portraits with the person smack in the middle of the frame feel a bit average, boring even. Using the rule of thirds, as you would for any of your photography, place the subject off-center to add interest. Let’s compare the following two versions of the same portrait. Portrait composition 03 In this version the model is dead center and the image feel static.
Just by cropping in a little bit and putting her off-center it puts more of the focus on her, and feels more dynamic than the first one. Here are a couple more examples using this tip.
As you may have noticed, I love horizontal portraits of head shots. But what if you want to shoot it vertically? In that case use the eyes for the rule of thirds placement. This is not set in stone, as we’ll see later about breaking rules, but a good starting point.
The camera is tilted slightly for a little interest, and they model’s eyes are roughly on the third line placement. So even though she is mostly centered side to side, think about where the eyes and face are in relation to the frame. If you are going to leave a lot of space around the subject, know WHY you are doing it. Have a purpose for the space and compose with intent. Here are some reasons why you want to leave some space and a look at how much space is enough.

Leave enough space above the subject’s head
This type of to counter the tendency to go from one extreme (too much space) to the other (not enough space). Yes really tight head shots can be really stunning, dynamic and powerful – but a head needs something to sit on or it looks bit odd, like a floating head. Think about sculptures you may have seen in museums. When you see a bust sculpture, what is on the bottom supporting the head? Right, part of the shoulders. Same applies in photography, the head needs a base.
Now she has no head space and no base and is literally just a head. Please tell me it’s not just me, and this feels really weird to you too?

Leave space in front of the subject
Back to space again. As I said earlier it may seem contradictory to both get closer and leave more space but it’s about finding the right balance, how much space, and where it’s placed. When you have a portrait with the person looking in one direction ideally you want to leave more space in front of them – allowing them space to look – as opposed to behind. Not to say you can’t do the opposite, as you’ll see later, but it feels more comfortable with space for them to look or move forward.
Compare the feelings between the portrait above where she has forward space, to the one below. What’s the difference? Does the one below feel more uncomfortable to you? Perhaps even wrong?

Watch your cropping of body parts
Try to avoid cropping off your subject’s hands or feet – either leave them in or crop in tighter to the knees and elbows. When you crop off a small part of an appendage it tends to look amputated, like something is missing or it’s a mistake. But when you come in closer it’s obvious you’ve done it on purpose.
Cropped a bit too tight, the model is missing a few fingers and it looks odd. It’s also a bit close on the top of her head and overall the portrait feels crowded.
Much better framing for this portrait has space above her head and all of her fingers included. Notice how the legs are cut off at the knee but that doesn’t feel as awkward as the missing fingers.

Breaking the rules
Okay once you have learned and practiced the rules it’s time to start pushing the boundaries and breaking them. But, as I said above, do it for a reason. Know why you’re composing a portrait the way you are, and what affect it will have on the mood of the final image.
As in the profile portrait you saw above, sometimes cropping into the head can create a dynamic, interesting look for a portrait. Just be careful you don’t go too far, or don’t crop in far enough.
To me the cropping above feels just about right so this was my final version of this image. Look at this compared to the ones below now.
This one doesn’t go far enough. Just taking the top off her head is like amputated fingers.

Put more space behind the subject
Remember I talked about putting space in front of your subject and we looked at the one that was opposite of that? The one thing to keep in mind if you are breaking this rule is that by doing so you create tension in your image. Once again, if that’s the look and feel you want – then by all means go for it. But knowing this you can make educated decisions on subject placement within the frame.
In the portrait above the model is turned slightly to the left but the space is on the right. This gives the image some tension and makes you wonder what she’s up to, as it adds an air of mystery as well.

Tilt the camera
When you’re photographing things like landscapes or architecture you usually want to make sure the horizon and any verticals are straight. With portraits I throw that rule out the window as one of my favourite ways to add movement is to tilt the camera. Diagonal lines are infinity more interesting and have more flow than straight ones. In fact the one above was shot at a tilt also. But keep this in mind:
A 5-10 degree tilt will seem crooked, while a 30-45 degree one will appear intentional.
Here’s an example of a portrait shot both straight up, and with a tilt. Which feels like it has more movement and flow?
This gentleman was happy to pose for me in Turkey and I added a tilt here as well so the lines behind him were not so straight up and down. Notice when you add a tilt in camera to a portrait it also shifts the position of the shoulders. This can be a good thing. Having one shoulder higher than the other looks less stiff and if your model cannot do that pose naturally, just create it with a camera tilt.

Get creative with composition
Last but not least is to get outside the box. Dare to be different. Push the boundaries and just try things to see what it looks like. Try things like: compositions with the subject in the lower third and lots of head space, horizontal head shots like I enjoy doing, different aspect ratios like square or even a long thin panoramic shot. The point is – there really are not rules. Nothing in photography is cut and dried or hard fast good or bad – they just product different results and moods. So experiment, but if you’re doing portraits for clients do it on your own time, or get their permission to do 10% of the session with “something different” just for you. You might be surprised at which images they end up liking the best – often it’s the experimental stuff you did, not the safe ones they asked for in the first place.
So how will you improve your portrait composition? Do you have any additional tips or things I haven’t mentioned? Please share in the comments below.

Headroom is the amount of space between the top of your subject's head and the top of the frame. It might seem like a trivial matter, but it's important to get this distance just right. Fail to do so and you'll end up with a photo that has lots of space above the subject, or one where they appear "squashed" up to the top of the image - both of which can be highly distracting.
Adjust the amount of space above your subject's head until it appears natural and doesn't draw the eye. Image by Trey Ratcliff.
The amount of headroom required depends on how closely you're photographing your subject - the more you zoom in, the less space you should leave. This might sound a bit vague, and that's because there really are no set rules for getting the "correct" headroom. Just be aware of it before you press the shutter, and recompose your shot until the headroom no longer draws your attention - that's when you know you've got it right.
If in doubt, set your lens to a slightly wider angle and capture more of the surroundings than you need. This gives you a bit of space to play with later on, allowing you to crop or recompose the photo once you've had a chance to examine it on your computer.

Following on from the concept of headroom, you also need to be aware of where your subject's eyes are positioned. The eyes are likely to be the focal point of your portrait photo, and they're where most people will look first, so you need to position them properly within the composition.
Position the subject's eyes about one third of the way from the top of the frame for a natural, balanced composition. Image by Abdus Samad.
Most experts agree that you should follow the rule of thirds and compose your portrait so that the subject's eyes are positioned roughly one third of the way down from the top edge of the frame. This gives your portrait's composition an inherent balance and a natural, pleasing feel.
Of course, there are situations where you might want to adjust the subject's eye position to show more or less of their body or the surroundings. This is absolutely fine, and you shouldn't be afraid to experiment with different portrait compositions - rules are there to be broken after all. However, the rule of thirds eye position works well in most cases and makes a great starting point to adjust and build on.

There's nothing worse than a portrait photo which lacks impact, and the most common cause of this is choosing a composition where the subject doesn't take up enough of the frame. It can be tempting to include as much of your subject as possible - their face, their hair, their body, their surroundings, and so on - but all this does is introduce distractions into the scene, reducing the effectiveness of the photo as a whole.
Don't be afraid to zoom in close, cropping out all unnecessary detail. Image by Corrie Howell.
Rather than try to include as much detail as possible, do the complete opposite. Choose the most interesting thing about your subject and concentrate solely on that, cropping out everything else. Usually this means zooming in on the subject's face to capture their features and expression.
Don't be afraid to chop off parts of your subject such as the top or sides of their head; it all helps to reduce distractions and focus the viewer's attention even more intently on the important parts of the photo. It's usually not a good idea to crop out the subject's chin, as this can appear unnatural, but even this can work in certain circumstances so don't be afraid to give it a go.
These portrait composition tips may seem simple, and they are, but it's amazing how often they are overlooked, resulting in underwhelming photos which could have been avoided. Add them to your mental checklist and be sure to apply them next time you're photographing friends or family, and see how much difference they can make to your shots.

1.  Never shoot kids or babies from your normal standing height.  This is the view we always have of kids–the tops of their heads.  Get down on the ground and take images from their level.
2.  Consider giving the subject space to look into.  Place the subject on one side of the image and have them look into space (not the camera) towards the other side of the frame.
3.  Window light.  Don't have an expensive studio or want to get more natural portraits? Normal lighting in a house or during the heat of the day is not flattering on skin; however, once light passes through a window, it is very soft and diffused.  Consider placing your subject next to a window so the light hits the model at an angle (not looking straight out the window).  Without much effort, you've created beautiful light which studios strain to copy.
4.  NEVER use the on-camera flash.  On-camera flash gives a deer-in-the-headlights look to even the most beautiful subject.  Because the light is perfectly in line with the lens, the light hits the subject squarely and creates a flat light that is far from flattering.  If you choose to use a flash, it's truly necessary to get an external flash that can be mounted to the side of the photographer.
5.  I know you want pictures of the face, but you might also consider going smaller.  What about photographing a child's sandy feet while he plays on the beach or your grandmother's hands, or your friend's eye.  Sometimes the tiniest details speak volumes.
6.  Over expose.  I know I just spent two pages telling you not to do this, but over exposing (making the image too bright) is a common and beautiful technique for giving a portrait a clean and simple look.
7.  Do something totally off-the-wall.  Want cool pictures of your friend in her prom dress?  Throw her in the pool with the prom dress on.  Want cute pics of a baby?  Put them in a huge basket like Anne Geddes or dress them in clothes that are 5 sizes too big.
8.  Stop the waving and smiling.  When shooting family pictures, nothing can ruin the moment more than saying, “Hey Dan, look at the camera!”  Your picture will be destroyed.  I'm not saying you have to shoot candid photography all the time, but when you are going to have the subject know you're taking the picture, at least pose the subject properly rather than having them just stand off squarely at the camera.
9.  Shoot up to give power; Shoot down to take power away.  In tip #2, I mentioned that it generally isn't good to shoot down on babies and kids.  The reason is that kids are already small, so shooting down on them is so common that the photo does not look as it should.  Similarly, you can make a subject seem more powerful by shooting from a lower angle up to the subject.  For example, it would be ridiculous to shoot Michael Jordan from above.  Since you want to make a sports star look powerful, it would make much more sense to shoot that subject from a lower angle.
10.  Use the right tool for the job.  Softboxes, beauty dishes, shoot-through umbrellas, and reflective umbrellas all produce different qualities of light.  Many photographers simply buy one and think soft light is soft light, but using the right tool for softening your flash actually makes a huge difference in the portrait.  Check out this article to learn more.
11.  Photograph the subject in their native environment.  Some people just don't belong in a studio.  They feel awkward and it shows in camera.  So instead of forcing Grandpa into the Walmart Photo Studio, let him go to work in his workshop and photograph him doing what he loves.  Instead of tears and tantrums when you try to dress up your child all pretty for studio punishment, let him play with the toys and snap pictures of every moment.
12.  If one person is a bit stale, two people are perfect.  Whenever I'm shooting a subject that gets a bit camera-shy and won't give me much of an expression, I always try to let the person interact with someone different.  For example, trying to get kids to have fun and smile will be tough without a parent being in the studio too.  This technique works the same with adults.  If your subject looks a bit stale, wait until they talk with someone else to capture the best expressions.
13.  Whiten teeth properly in Photoshop.  For quite a long time, I brushed exposure onto the teeth to make them look whiter.  I never got the results I wanted until another photography told me that it was better to brush brightness onto the teeth rather than exposure.  Overnight, my digital teeth whitening improved drastically.  Try it!
14.  Contrast clothing and location.  I recently shot engagement photos for a couple who chose to wear bright colors.  The bride wore bright pink and the groom wore a light blue shirt.  Those colors undoubtedly catch the viewer's attention, so I chose to place them in front of muted backgrounds.  For this shot, I chose old grey brick walls, blurred out dark backgrounds, etc.  The results were perfect!  You can also apply this tip when shooting a model who is wearing muted colors.  In this situation, shoot the model against a brightly colored background to make the model stand out.
15.  You're missing out on half of your model.  No, I don't mean that you could be shooting twice as many people.  I mean that there is a whole other side of your clients that you aren't shooting at all.  What's that side?  The back side.  Shots of the subject walking away from the camera, or of the subject's body turned away from the camera and head facing the camera can be quite compelling.
16.  Think application before taking the portrait.  What is your photo going to be used for?  While many of our photos are just used generally for looking at, some photos would be better either vertical or horizontal if it is going to be used for a specific purpose.  For example, if you're taking a portrait for someone's Facebook profile, you can get a much larger picture by shooting it in vertical orientation (up-and-down).  If you're shooting for a wedding announcement, it's probably better to shoot horizontal so there is enough room for text on the side of the couple.
17. When shooting in poor mid-day lighting, have the subject face away from the sun.  I see this done wrong more often than not.  Most of the time, photographers have the subject face the sun so their face doesn't look dim and shadowy in mid-day lighting.  This is unfortunate, because the hard light will create unflattering shadows on the face.  The best way to shoot mid-day portraits is to have the subject face away from the sun so their face is in the shade, and then have the photographer over-expose the picture so the face looks properly exposed.
18.  Spot metering is your friend.  If you don't feel comfortable setting the exposure manually to do the technique taught in tip #16, then learn to use spot metering.  With spot metering, you can simply have the camera meter on the subject's face to expose it properly, and then let the background be slightly overexposed.  For some people, spot metering may be a better option than manually setting the exposure for the face.
19.  Whip out the CTO.  When shooting in lower light (or if you have a really powerful strobe), you can put an orange gel on your flash so that the light that hits the subject is, well… orange.  Then, you adjust your white balance (I always just do it later in Lightroom) so the subject looks neutral, which makes the background turn blue.  Here is a great collection of examples of using this color shifting technique.  (Side note: I couldn't remember the term color shifting this morning, and several helpful readers reminded me on the ImprovePhotography Facebook fan page).  If you've never heard of gelling a flash, you will be surprised to know that a gel is not “jelly-like” in consistency.  It's just a plastic colored transparency.  You can buy a set of gels for around $10 on Amazon that fit most flashes.
20.  Compose and then focus rather than focusing and re-composing.  Could I have made this tip any more confusing?  Probably not.  What I mean is that it is generally preferable to compose the shot and then move your focus point on to the eye of the subject rather than focusing on the eye and then recomposing.  For more on this, check out this previous post on focus.
21.  Models relax immediately when a prop is introduced.  Being a model is scary stuff.  It's just you vs. the guy with the giant lens.  When I see a subject feeling uncomfortable, I immediately search for a prop.  Pick a flower and give it to the bride to play with, give the couple bubblegum and take a photo of them blowing bubbles together, give a kid a toy, etc.  You don't necessarily have to include the prop in the frame (although it usually looks cool), but it is a guaranteed way to get the subject to relax a bit.
22.  Book a “real” photo shoot.  Contrary to popular belief, models are a dime a dozen no matter where you live.  Head on over to ModelMayhem.com and find a local model.  Many of them will not even charge you if you give them copies of the pictures you take.  It's called TFP–time for prints.  Oh, a warning on ModelMayhem… 90% of the models think their best pictures are when they are “disrobed.”  I always have my wife go on the site and choose a model for me so I don't have to see the nastiness.  Not cool.
23.  Buy a few scarves.  My wife, Emily, made me include this tip for the ladies.  She said it's a great tip for dressing women for a portrait photography shoot, but I think it's because she has an obsession with Confessions of a Shopaholic (the girl the green scarf).  Anyway, it has worked wonders for me in the past.  For $15 you can buy probably 10 scarves at any many stores.  Then, you can have your female subjects wear plain colors (such as a white T-shirt and jeans) and then wear different colors of scarves.  I found that this works GREAT for senior portraits, because teenage girls like “accessorizing” and changing clothes every five minutes.  Big time saver and you'll get many more looks out of one subject.
24.  Raise that light for stunning catch lights.  Catch lights are a type of specular highlight (the tiny bright spot on any shiny and round object).  If you have no idea why catch-lights are cool, check out this article where I explain it.   If you're really picky, the best place to put a flash to get perfect catch-lights is high and a few feet to the side of the subject.  This will create catch-lights at 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock, which is optimal because then the catch-light doesn't cover the pupil.
25.  The worst way to get a “candid” expression from your subject.  Whenever I go on a shoot, I always try and get an assistant that can help pose the subject and make them laugh and play so that I can focus on the photography.  My pet peeve is when the assistant says something like, “You look so stiff!  Loosen up!”  Ugh!  Telling the subject that they don't look good only makes the situation ten times worse.  Never tell the subject they look stiff or they need to loosen up.  It backfires 100% of the time.
26.  Use framing in a creative way.  Have your model look through a window or have them lean up against a door frame and your portrait composition can look much stronger and more interesting.  I like using this technique to take pictures of babies and toddlers by placing the child in a crib and having them peer through the bars of the crib at the camera.  Always makes for a great shot.  I've tried doing the same thing with people looking through prison bars, but it's never been quite as flattering.
27.  Try high-key or low-key lighting.  Some photos look great overexposed for a clean and bright look, but the same model in the same pose can look scary and moody in low-key lighting.  Learning to control the amount of light can make a huge difference in the feel of your photo.
28.  Quit being a pansy.  Many portrait photographers would love to get out and shoot more, but don't have the opportunity to find models to shoot.  Fortunately, any human can be a portrait model (although you probably want to find someone better looking than Scottie Pippen.  Yikes).  I was teaching a sunset portraiture class in Naples, Florida a few months back and no models were available for the shoot.  Did I crawl into a fetal position and cry in the corner all afternoon?  Yes, but that was for a different reason.  Actually, we just asked random people on the beach if they wanted their pictures taken.  By offering to email them the picture, we had tons of different people to practice on and got some fantastic shots.
29.  Use ultra-wide lenses for a cool perspective.  Shooting portraits with an ultra-wide lens can cause some serious problems if you don't know how to do it correctly.  Wide lenses generally distort facial features, which the subject will hate you for; however, check out this article on wide-angle portraits, and this article on using fisheye lenses creatively and you'll be on the right track to capture awesome and unique portraits.
30.  Warm that flash for sunset portraits.  Sunset portraits are a favorite among portrait photographers, but few people do it right.  A sunset is not daylight balanced.  The light from a sunset is quite warm: red, yellow, and purple.  Buy some gels and warm up that flash to make the picture look more natural.
31.  Crank that aperture for full-body portraits.  I am shocked on almost a daily basis how many photographers fail to understand that aperture is not the only camera setting that impacts the depth-of-field.  To learn the four (or five, depending on how you count) factors that impact depth of field, check out this article.  When shooting a full-body portrait, the photographer is obviously further away from the subject.  This means that the depth-of-field is much deeper.  For full body portraits, remember that your aperture must be significantly lower (or your focal length significantly longer) to get a blurry background.  To get shallow depth-of-field for full-body portraits, you might check out the 85mm f1.8 for Nikon, or the 85mm f/1.8 for Canon.
32.  Throw horizons to the wind for fun portraits.  Landscape photographers, who are typically quite picky about horizons being perfectly level, would want to cry if they heard this tip.  But, giving the composition a good tilt can create a fun and unique portrait.  I took ONE TILTED FRAME onthree different senior picture shoots and all three seniors chose the tilted picture.  It's a fave of clients, even if some photographers think it's cliche.  To learn more, check out this article on tilting.
33. When taking a portrait of a group, always focus on the closest person to the camera.  You'll regret it if you don't, because the front person will be out of focus–even if you have a slightly higher aperture.  Trust me on this one.
34.  Get that model release!  I have a library of dozens and dozens of great portraits that I can't use commercially because I never got a release.  I did a black-and-white of a homeless man that became quite a popular photo, but it will spend its life collecting dust on my hard drive because I can't sell it.  Ugh!
35.  Try out electronic model releases for simplicity.  My life changed when I downloaded an app for my smart phone that includes a model release that the client can sign by writing with her finger on my phone.  It makes things much simpler for me and I am now much more likely to get the release.  Just search “model release” on the Android or iPhone App Stores to find an app for you.  I also keep a few paper releases in my photo bag since iStock and other microstock agencies still don't accept digital model releases.
36.  Learn the famous S pose.  Every human being who could ever be considered a portrait photographer must know the s-curve.  It's essential posing education, and I'm definitely going to be teaching it greater detail in my 30-day portrait photography class.  Basically, the model does this pose by making the (camera right) side of a model make the shape of an S with the shoulders and hip creating the right edges of the S.
37.  De-focus the subject.  Sometimes the subject is only part of a portrait.  To apply this technique, you might focus on the subject's hat and have the person standing a few feet away, reaching for his hat.  Or, you could do the same thing with a kid's toy or a woman's high-heel shoe.  It's a fun and creative shot.
38.  Fill the frame.  Zoom way in on the subject's face, eye, or hands.  Filling the frame shows great detail and will set your photo apart from the millions of snapshots that we see every day on our friends' Facebook pages.
39.  Check for sharpness on the eyelashes.  It can be very tough to tell if your shot is in focus by looking on the back of the LCD screen.  The way that I check for sharpness is to zoom in on the picture on the LCD to look at the eyelashes.  If you can see individual eyelashes, then you know you have a tack sharp photo.  Eyelashes look like a blur of black?  Not so sharp.
40.  Get a vertical battery grip.  Battery grips are large attachments that clip onto the bottom of the DSLR and include an extra battery.  While the battery is handy, the real advantage of a battery grip is that they give you another shutter button.  This extra shutter button can be pressed when the camera is in portrait (up-and-down) orientation so you can hold the camera more steady without sticking your elbows up and contorting your body to get a vertical shot.  This will make you more likely to change your camera orientation and your shots will be much sharper.  Battery grips are typically pretty expensive ($200+) but head over to Amazon and search “battery grip” and the name of your camera model.  For most popular models of DSLRs, you can pick up a third-party battery grip that is every bit as good as the name brand battery grip for around $50.  Click here to see the cheap battery grips on Amazon.
41.  Get out of the model's face.  I did something incredibly stupid while shooting a black-tie event for a company last year.  I totally forgot my 70-200mm f/2.8, so I had to shoot with a short 50mm lens for the candids while the guests had dinner.  To get a decently tight shot with a 50mm lens in this situation, I needed to be about 5 feet from the subject.  It was a failure.  Everyone froze up and looked terribly uncomfortable when I got that close with my camera.  I couldn't get any decent candids that way and it ruined the shoot.  Personally, I shoot most of my portraits at 100mm or more unless it's a full-body shot, in which case I shoot at about 70mm.
42.  Use the correct side of the reflector.  5-in-1 reflectors are both cheap and incredibly useful for portrait photography.  Still, most photographers buy one and have no idea when to use the different sides.  You can read more about what side of the reflector to use, but the basic idea is that the translucent side goes between the sun and the model, the white side is for use in studio or bright light, the silver side is for low-light or when you need a lot of light, the black side is to subtract light and cause a shadow, and the gold side is useful for warm shots like sunsets.
43.  Don't cheat yourself into thinking that you can make a great portrait without great lighting.  Your photo will be no better than the quality of the light… if the light is mediocre, do not expect anything more than a mediocre photo.  Tip by Deon Odendaal on the Improve Photography Facebook fan page.   
44.  Be yourself and shoot what you love.  I think it is unfortunate when photographers do downright strange things to try and make a creative portrait.  Do things that you like.  If you're more of a serious type, then shooting traditional portraits in a studio is probably what you'll do best.  If you're more fun and flirty, then shooting models in an ice cream shop or jumping on a trampoline will probably produce your best work.  Let your photos reflect who you are and what type of photography you are passionate about.  Tip by Christine Whelan on the Improve Photography Facebook fan page.   


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