How to Shoot Better Portraits: 5 Photo Composition Tips for Beginners

Screen shot for beginner portrait tips

We all want to shoot better portrait photos whether we’re photographing a model for a portfolio or a friend for their Facebook page. If you’re a beginner photographer or even if you know a few things about taking portraits, there are some basic things you should always remember to shoot better photos.

Portrait professional Julia Trotti explains five of them in the below tutorial. Best of all: these are photo composition tips, so it doesn’t matter if you’re planning to shoot portraits with an expensive full frame camera or the smartphone in your pocket, they all apply.

“Today I’m going to be giving you guys some tips on composing your photos so this will involve both how to compose with a subject and also what to look out for in the background to help elevate your photos and make your subject stand out,” Trotti says. “I’m not reading from some kind of rule book and these are definitely not rules that you absolutely have to follow. These are all things that I personally love to do with my photography and I just want to walk you guys through my thought process when it comes to composing my portraits.”

Here are the five portrait composition tips that Trotti demonstrates in the below video while photographing models in several outdoor settings.

#1 Don’t Crop Out Feet in Full Body Portraits

  • Unflattering cropping at ankles; image looks unfinished
  • Include negative space at top of frame

#2 Don’t Crop People’s Limbs at the Joints

  • Cropping just above the knees is flattering for mid-length portraits
  • Frame tighter for mid-length portraits; less negative space at top

#3 When Subject Is Seated, Shoot Vertically (Portrait Orientation)

  • It’s ok to crop out some of the feet in sitting portraits

#4 Avoid Backgrounds with Lines that Go Through Subject’s Face

  • Find clean backgrounds that help frame the face

#5 Use Leading Lines to Draw Attention to Subject

  • When leading lines are too prominent, they can cause image to look unbalanced
  • When leading lines are only hinted at, subject stands out more

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