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Picture Perfect Portraits

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    Picture Perfect Portraits

    Okay, smile and say “Cheese”!

    I won’t be surprised if you have heard this said so many times before in the past. But, do realise that most of the time just having “Cheese” won’t make a perfect portrait picture. All you would end up with is a picture of a person saying “cheese”, and it was really just the “cheese” that made the smile.

    Let’s look at what else you should be working on to get a more impressive portrait. Work on this more and soon enough you would be doing it by heart.

    The Expression

    Let’s look at the face first. Our face is the most memorable part of our body. The most important focus of a portrait picture is the face of a person. For a majority of your shots, you probably would ask your subject to smile when you take their picture. Because a smile is so complex, it is sometimes very easy to tell if your subject is not smiling for real. That’s what I meant when I said “cheese” don’t work most of the time.

    Now, you would need your subject to be relaxed. Tell them something funny. If you know your subject, it would even be easier to get them at ease. When it’s time to press that shutter button, crack a joke. That should get all the facial smile muscles working. Relaxing your subject also make them more inclined to have their pictures taken. People usually tend to get tensed when they are taking pictures.

    Take note that not all your shots need to be of your subject smiling. Other expressions may break that monotony of smiles and add a little extra interest to your collection of pictures. Catch your subject in all sorts of funny expressions and yes, even an angry expression can be funny and interesting to behold.

    The Pose

    After the face, the pose and body positioning is the next most important element of a portrait shot. It would be quite straightforward if you take a straight frontal picture of your subject standing with his or her arms down the sides. This is the type of pose most people would naturally take.

    Your subject may not be a model but it would make your picture more interesting if you could get your subject to pose in a relaxed manner. Try to use the elements around your subject to have the pose as natural as possible. Your subject could lean on the edge of a balcony or a high cupboard. Perhaps there is a nice chair that he or she can sit down on. Instead of putting their arms down the sides, have them hold onto a pillar or simply just laid across their chest.

    I could go on and on about the many different types of poses there is but the best is really for you to be creative. To get some ideas, you could even flip through many fashion magazines and see how professional models do it.

    The Scene

    The scene or the background really depends on what you are shooting your subject for. If the purpose is to focus just on your subject, take the picture against an uncluttered background such as against the sky, a plain wall or in a wide open space. This leaves out distracting elements in your picture, and you end up with a nice clean shot of your subject.

    If the purpose is to shoot your subject against a nice background, make sure that there is adequate lighting for your subject or the background to make a good picture. If your subject is standing in the shadow, use fill-in flash to light up the shadows. Set it manually if your camera doesn’t activate the flash automatically.

    If you are taking a shot of your subject in a occupational background, get them to pose in their natural state, at work. This type of shot tells you a little something about the person and what he or she does for a living. Alternatively, this could be applied to scenes in a playground, at home, or on a holiday.


    In my previous article, I talked about composition. With portraits, composition is even more important as you will be taking the picture of your subject close up. Even the “Rules of Thirds” can apply here. A general rule of thumb is to make sure the eyes of your subject is on the top two thirds of your photograph.

    A horizontal format is usually used when you are shooting a picture of your subject against an interesting background. Try using the “Rules of Thirds” here also to place your subject in the picture.

    A vertical (or Portrait format) is the most common type of composition used for a picture portrait. A very tight close-up of your subject’s face creates a very strong and impactful image. With this type of shot, make sure you focus your camera on the eyes.

    A head and shoulder portrait still keeps the focus on your subject’s eyes but allow for a little more body expression and poses. Try experimenting with different angles when taking this type of shot such as turning your body 45 degrees but keeping your head faced forward.

    A full length portrait reveals the entire facial and body expressions of a person. Try and get your subject relaxed so he or she may be free to pose in a manner they may be more comfortable with.

    When you take a picture of your subject against nice background, a general tip is to make sure your subject fill up at least a 1/3 portion of your picture frame so he or she don’t look too small in the picture. Leave 2/3 of the picture for the background. In this case, the background could be a building or scenery. Of course this is not a steadfast rule and there is room to be creative with your compositions.

    The Group Photo

    When taking a picture of a group, firstly make sure that they fill up your picture. To do this, consider different heights for your subjects such as having some of them sit on chairs or squatted on the ground. If they all need to be standing, be aware of each person’s height and rearrange them according to their height, the centre being the tallest, to have a well balanced picture composition.

    Wherever possible, try and create a links between your subjects such as putting arms on each other’s shoulders or hand on the back of the chair so that they look like they all belong in the picture together.

    There is also a higher possibility that someone in the group may not be ready for the shot or accidentally closed their eyes for the shot. Therefore, always take more than one shot of a group.

    Babies and Small Children

    Some people may say that it is not easy to take pictures of babies and especially of small children, but the opposite is true. Children exude innocence in everything that they do, and the pictures usually reveal their true self rather than being a posed picture.

    Babies who are too young to understand what you are doing with a camera are generally very easy to shoot. The best type of picture is of the babies smiling or laughing and you can do this by playing with him or her before you take the shot.

    Pictures of toddlers and young children are best taken in their natural environment ie, a children’s park, in playschool with other children or in their own bedroom among their toys. This type of picture tells a story about the child and depicts their true age.

    Don’t take pictures of a child for a long period of time as they their attention span is short and they tend to get bored easily. Make each photography session short and quick. After a while the child will get used to having their pictures taken and will naturally smile or pose for the camera.

    If you are using a digital camera, show them the picture. This would usually excite the child to want to take more photos.

    As the holiday seasong is coming soon, I know most of you will be taking a lot of portrait shots of loved ones. There's quite number appearing in our Critique Corner already!

    So, may you end up with a lot of cherished photos and of course wonderful memories.

    - Kenji -
    Last edited by sharpshooter; 12-10-2009, 02:16 PM.