Wednesday, 9 May 2012

3 Ideas For Taking a Better Portrait

Here a few very quick ideas of ways to make your portraits more dynamic and more captivating to the viewer.

Tell a story with the image.

Just who are you anyway? The best portraits show something of the person in the portrait other then just what their face looks like. Interesting backgrounds can be a big help...but remember that the face itself can be the best way to convey a feeling. So come on, pull an expression other then the distant, wistful gaze and see just how interesting your portraits can become! Eye contact can really give a massive impact with your viewer.

Find a point of focus. 

Is it the eyes, the hairstyle, the curve of the neck?
To make the picture more interesting, having something that captivates the eye will really help. Think of the image in stages. First you have the immediate impression, this is usually the strong main focus. Secondly the eye moves around the picture, taking in the other details and builds up the whole image. The atmosphere you give the picture will come into play here.
Thirdly, the eye gets used to looking at this image and can take in all the other small details, as its not trying to process the entire thing and can take note the smaller points of interest.
Depending on what impression you want your portrait to make, you can play around with these stages! Its always nice to discover something new within a picture that you didn't notice at first.

Add texture and colour.

Clothing, hair, jewellery, tattoos even make-up and skin can give create textures and give the portrait a burst of interest. Ways to get the most out of these is strong contrast ( i.e textured hair again very smooth skin)  or using negative space to your advantage. Negative space is the area surrounding the main image. Playing with this can emphasize different aspects of your portrait so fill it with colour, pattern or texture. Just remember to keep things balanced otherwise your image will begin to be chaotic and the eye won't know where the focus on first!

There are plenty of other things to bare in mind when taking a portrait, but these are the things that I always think of and I thought I'd share.

Let me know if you give any of these a try, I'd love to see any unique portraits you've taken that you're really chuffed with! 

Here are a few awesome self portraits to get the ideas flowing!

This is such a great portrait! It has  a lot of expression and right away you get an understanding of who this guy is and what he's like. The main focus for this one has to be the glasses with the flash of colour they give the picture. Plus the use of negative space and a simple pattern for the background means there's still interest throughout the image. Very nice!

 Emma Watson -  Photographer unknown (if you know them, let me know! )

This is a really simple portrait but the neutral colours and plain background means that all the focus is drawn to Emma and the quirky pose. Plus eye contact with the view...Makes a great portrait! Plus Emma's quite lovely and it lets her fun personality come through.

Cate Blanchett

Mmm Colours! I love mustard yellow and teal at the best of times but i think this portrait really makes them work wonderfully! Also the posing of Cate adds to the balance of the image and the warmth from the yellow stops the image becoming too cold. The texture from her hair and fabric of her clothes add smaller bits of interest that your eye finds once it's gotten its full of the colours. I realise that Cates got that wistful faraway gaze in this one, but sometimes you've just got to go with it.

The Afghan Mona Lisa - Photographer Steve McCurry.

You may recognise this one, another portrait of this girl was featured on the cover of the June 1985 issue of National Geographic Magazine. It's become very recognisable and has gained the title the Afghan Mona Lisa. I love the famous picture, but I also like this one. It's a much softer version, the gaze isn't nearly so powerful but I think the photo and her eyes are still captivating. The focus goes directly to them and you can see a lot of the girls emotion in them and in the way her hands have come up to partially hide her face. It's part of their culture that girls hide their faces, so part of me thinks this particular portrait is a truer version as this would be what the majority of people around her see. 


  1. This is so true. And of course you chose one of the most iconic portraits of all time!

  2. Great pics! :)


  3. Hi Laura, this is great info! I especially love #2 about finding a focus point. Will need to apply these to my own photos. Your illustrations are absolutely lovely! I spent my days at uni watercolouring my architecture designs... but soon gave up with the medium because they all looked washed out. Looking forward to future posts!


  4. Hy, your pics are great ! I love them ! Visit my sketch back ?

  5. Very useful tips, this will help me when I try out portrait work again 8)
    lovely photos in your other posts, gives off a magical feel.

    Furita x