What Makes a Good Portrait Photo?

Folk sometimes send me photos that aren’t suitable for portraits. Some of the common problems are:

the photo is a passport photo
it’s a large size photo but the people in it are too small
the composition is poor
the person has a toothy ‘say cheese’ grin

So what makes a good portrait photo?

Although it’s best to use a photo taken by a professional photographer, it’s not always necessary if you take the following advice into consideration. The photo needs to show the subjects face correctly exposed with good lighting, too much lighting or sunlight and the subject is washed out, too little and the subject is too dark. Try not to photo someone in bright sunlight as they are likely to squint and the subject will be washed out. The photo should be in clear focus not blurry or fuzzy. The subject should fill the photo and be in the pose that you want in the portrait. For a head and shoulders portrait the standard pose is for the person to be slightly off centre with their body at a slight angle and their head turned towards the camera (see examples).

Think about the clothes as you don’t want bright plaids or stripes in your portrait. Choose clothes with simple, flattering shapes. Pay attention to the background. Generally I advise people to choose a studio background as it’s simple, doesn’t compete with the subject and therefore focuses the eye on the subject (it’s cheaper too!). Although I’ve done them, busy backgrounds tend to be distracting, see example.

Generally, the better photo I get, the better the final portrait will be. If you can’t decide, then send me a few photos and I’ll advise you.


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