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5 Easy Ways to Shoot Better Portraits

Basic composition techniques are the key to more striking portraits
Photo of a dancer

Everyone wants to shoot better portraits, but beginners tend to get bogged down in the technical aspects of photography. Yes, having a decent camera and lens and knowing about things like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO is important but what’s even more critical is understanding the basics of good composition.

In the below video, from Adorama TV, photographer Pye Jirsa shows you five key ways to create stronger compositions for portraits.

“Whether you’re going for a simple or complex photo, having composition techniques in your creative toolbox is key for consistently capturing stellar images,” Adorama says. “In this video, Pye shows how you can ‘stack’ multiple techniques to arrive at a strong portrait composition.”

So, what exactly is composition stacking?

“What this means is before you take your shot you can get to a much better place, a more creative image, by simply stacking different compositional techniques,” Jirsa explains. In the video below, he shows you how it’s done while photographing model/dancer Sabrina Imamura in a park.

But first, Jirsa explains what not to do, which he describes as “the walk up shot.”

“This is the ‘before’ shot, what we call ‘the walk-up shot’ where we’re not really thinking too much about really anything other than just taking a shot of our subject,” Jirsa explains. To capture a portrait that’s more engaging, the first compositional technique to consider is backlighting in the scene.

#1 Backlighting

“We’re going to backlight our scene, which basically just means that Sabrina’s going to step onto this side, and I’m going to shoot going this way instead,” he says while demonstrating. “And if you just compare that one compositional technique to the ‘before’ photo, we have already gotten to a much better place.”

#2 Leading Lines        

“We now have a leading line that leads right into Sabrina and she’s also backlit. Now we get even a bit more improvement on the shot. The other thing too is if I get down low, I can exaggerate the leading line and I can also make Sabrina look like she’s taller in the frame.”

#3 Brightest Spot

“The third thing I’m going to do is actually push Sabrina into the brightest spot in the frame. Notice that if she walks backward, we have this spot where the sunlight is poking right through and adding a lot of light to that spot. Our eyes are naturally drawn to the brightest part of the frame so if I can place my subject in the brightest area and shoot into it, I get an even better shot.”

#4 Compress the Scene

“I’m backing myself up because I’m using a telephoto lens so I’m going to use the length of the lens to compress the background. What this does is exaggerate the depth effect.”

#5 Posing

“If you can, build some action in the shot and, at least, pose them. They could be sitting, they could be standing, whatever you’d like. For this, I’m going to add action to the scene.”

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