Portrait photography could probably be considered one of the most popular genres of photography as it is practiced amongst many photographers across the world. However, due to its popularity and influence in regards to photographers and even individuals that are not professional photographers, there are many mistakes commonly made. Some of these mistakes are pretty simple and often overlooked. In this article, I aim to list some of these common mistakes and share a few tips as well as to how you can correct them and ensure that they don’t happen often or happen again overall. With that said, let’s begin.
One of the first common mistakes made in portrait photography is simply having a bad composition of your subject. Composition pretty much speaks to how you frame your shot before the image and when the image is taken. Some of the things that constitute bad composition are the placement of your subject, talent or model. Often I see photographers make the mistake that I even made myself as a beginner of leaving too much negative space above the head of your model.
Unless you are planning to fill this space with graphics or some special effects in photoshop, it is completely pointless and can take away from the image itself. Another mistake made in the composition is having your subject at the end or close to the end of your frame. Having your subject too far to the right or too far to the left will also create negative space and throw off the balance of your image. When taking portraits, it important to always remember the rule of thirds.
With the eyes being the windows to the soul and probably one for the most important parts of your portrait, you want to make sure you capture them correctly. Blurred or out of focus eyes can easily take away from the quality and professionalism within your portrait. Try to ensure your focus points are at the eyes of your subject. Eyes captured perfectly in a portrait will help to make it that much more stunning and even demand the attention of your viewers.
While as photographers we all love a nicely isolated subject, that can sometimes take away from our shot. Having a nicely blurred background is always amazing but you don’t want to have too much blurred. Try to maintain enough focus within your shot so that you get a nice blurred background but also maintain sharpness in your subject as well. If you’re shooting with a 50mm f/1.4 or a 50mm f/1.8, I would recommend not always set it to the lowest value but rather stick to a value of about f/2.4 to be safe.
I still sometimes fall victim to this mistake as it becomes a bad habit. When you take a few shots of your subject and pause to look on your LCD screen with the idea that you’ve got the perfect shot you need but later realize you don’t have enough options. This can prove to be pretty frustrating when you’re editing as your options become limited and you’re stuck with only a small amount of shots to choose from. This can cause problems with your clients as well.
Your clients might be expecting a certain amount of edited variations in the shots you’ve taken but you’ve found yourself only being able to provide very similar shots. My advice would be to shoot continuously and have a wide range of options to choose from so you can spend time on picking the right batch.
Not taking enough photos brings me to my next point of not having much variation in your images as well. Don’t mistake taking a thousand photos of the same thing at the same angle as position as having variation. To have variation in your shots you would need to change your perspective of shooting and also take time out to change around the position or poses of your subject as well. It is very easy to misconstrued having a lot of shots as having a lot of variation which will cause an issue during post-production.
As photographers who are beginners or even professionals, we will not always end up capturing someone who’s an experienced model or know exactly how to pose or what they’re doing. These days you will find a lot of clients saying they just want some “Nice Pictures” which doesn’t give you much to work with in terms of styling the shoot but nonetheless you have to get creative. When you don’t give enough creative direction to your subject then you will end up not getting the shots you want or need. Remember, they can’t read your mind nor are they as experienced as you would like them to be so you must communicate what you would like for them to do. I went through this challenge myself when I was a beginner which slowly taught me more and more how to communicate and connect with my model or subject.
Sometimes it becomes too easy for us to doubt or compare ourselves to others. We already doubt whatever it is we are doing and reconsider if we are good enough to even be a photographer. This attitude will often reflect on how you capture your subject or even on your subject themselves. Pace yourself and understand that you are creative in your own lane and your space so you should also create at your own pace. It is safe to admire the work of other photographers, but try not to compare yourself to them as this will only reflect in your work as well.