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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

10 Keys To Unique Portraits

How to use location, lighting and creative thinking to improve your portraits

This Article Features Photo Zoom




No matter what type of photography you like, at one point or another, you’ll find yourself shooting a portrait. I know landscape photographers who swore they would never shoot a portrait in their career, and one week later they were shooting a portrait. Weddings, graduations, holidays or a day at the zoo all present great opportunities to photograph people.

Even professional portrait photographers sometimes struggle to create interesting portraits. We’ve all seen the cliché snapshots and boring group shots suffering from static, stiff poses. Creating compelling portraits takes a combination of relevant location, interesting light and good rapport with your subject.

I like to think outside the box for my portraits. What pose or unique location can I put my subject in to spice things up? What lighting will be interesting? No more 45º big softboxes on my subject—how about using hard-edged lights at sharp, flaring angles?

In the end, you need to accomplish your creative goals. This might be photographing a business executive at his desk, clean and simple. But shooting other portraits, you’ll have more flexibility to experiment. The next time you’re planning a shoot, try one of these ideas to add some new life to your portraits.


1. Find A Dark Alley
Almost every town has an alley. If you live in a big city, your choices will be numerous. In my town, we have three or four dramatic alleys for photography. What makes a good alley? Narrow walls, interesting brick work, street lamps and gritty textures all make alleys a great place for a portrait.

Working in a narrow space provides a lot of surfaces for flash to rake across, adding depth and drama to your shot. Try putting a flash right behind your subject aimed at his head. This flash will spill onto the alley walls beside him, creating a dramatic look.

2. Get In The Water
This is bound to make your subject think you’ve gone off the deep end (no pun intended). For subjects like kayakers, swimmers and surfers, water is an obvious location for a portrait. But try convincing a CEO or wedding couple that this is a good idea. Putting people in water, whether it’s a small pool or the ocean, often strips away all pretense and brings out a very primal reaction in your subject.

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