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My top 10 tips for portrait photography

#1 Always use natural light and never use your flash.

Photography is all about light

All my portrait photography is done using natural light. In my opinion it is the only way to go. It is so flattering and creates beautiful images that simply cannot be achieved when the flash is used. Turn all the lights out, place your subject as close to your light source as possible (a window or door) and shoot with the light behind you facing your subject. Notice the bright catch lights in this little girl’s eyes in the photo below. These catch lights are so important in bringing a portrait alive.

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#2 Focus on the eyes!!

When you first meet someone, the first thing you look at is their eyes. I believe it’s the first thing you look at when viewing a portrait as well. The starting point to any good portrait, as well as the all important lighting, is to achieve sharp, focussed eyes. It is extremely important that you focus on your subjects eyes, more specifically their iris, when taking your photo.

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#3 Be creative with your angles

The angle at which a photo is taken can either make or break a photo.  For example, most photos of children generally involve the shot taken from adult head height looking down at the child. If you squat down so you are at the same level of the child you will be able to better focus on the eyes resulting in a much more intimate and interesting photograph.  If you want your photos to stand out always look for a different or unusual angle from which to shoot, this is the easiest and most effective way of making your photos more intriguing.

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and sometimes the back of your subject makes for a far more interesting photo than the front!

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#4 Avoid distracting backgrounds

Make sure the background of a picture does not detract from the subject. You do not want your subject “lost” in the photograph or over-shadowed by a bright colour behind them. Simple backgrounds with pale colours are best.

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Sometimes you won’t be able to control what the background looks like. You will, however, be able to control elements of the picture and still get a great result. If your background is distracting there are a few things you can do to fix it…

– Zoom in closer to your subject so that they fill the picture. The best portrait photographs are achieved by zooming in on the subject.

– Make sure the subject is placed correctly. You don’t want a tree growing out of someone’s head for example!

– Change your angle. Doing so will change how your background and even the image will look.

#5 Rule of thirds

This is probably the most important composition rule in photography. It is an easy trick that can instantly make your photos better. The rule of thirds basically teaches you NOT to put your subject in the centre of the photograph.

Imagine looking through your viewfinder (or on your screen) to see a grid like the one shown below. This rule says that the subject of the photograph should be placed either on the lines, or at the dots where the lines intersect. By placing your subject at these points, the photograph becomes more balanced and looks much better.

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#6 How to shoot in the sun

A bright sunny day is one of the most challenging light situations for a photographer. Harsh shadows and squinty eyes are just some of the problems bright sunlight can create. Use the following tips to help you get over these challenges

Avoid the midday sun. Take your photos in the morning or late afternoon for the best ‘softer’ light conditions

Keep the sun in front of you, behind the subject. I find a lot of people automatically place their subjects with the sun on their face. Whilst you can get away with this if the sunlight is diffused, in bright sunlight it will cause harsh shadows and squinted eyes. My favourite use of the sun is to make sure it is behind your subject as this creates a beautiful halo of light behind their head

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and great shadows

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If the sunlight is really playing havoc with your photos move your subject into the shade, a simple but effective solution!

If your camera came with a lens hood now is the time to use it to block the sunlight from creating unwanted glare and lens flare

And finally….break all the rules. Sometimes shooting directly into the sun can create great silhouette shots and sun flare can sometimes result in very cool, arty shots.

#7 Avoid boring group shots

When taking pictures of more than one child, make sure they are not just standing or sitting in a row. Positioning them in different ways results in happy children and fun pictures!

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#8 Never, ever tell a child to smile

Asking a child to smile almost always results in a grimace or very unnatural expression. Instead tell a joke, act the fool or get someone to make funny faces behind you to achieve natural, relaxed, REAL smiles!

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#9 Always have your camera near you

This tip is a very simple one. People often ask me how I get my boys to stay so still when I’m photographing them. The answer is I don’t, I just always have my camera within arm’s reach so when the moment is right I won’t kick myself for missing it! This photo of my little boy was, believe it or not, completely unposed!

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# 10 Most importantly….have fun with your camera. Play around with settings, be as creative as you can with your subject, experiment using all the pointers above and use props in the great outdoors (trees, benches, walls, gates) to give you fun, interesting shots

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The more pictures you take the more you will learn and the more memories you will record to look back on with a smile in years to come.

NB To take charge of your camera and have 100% control over your images you must take the plunge and get out of automatic mode!! You need to take some time to learn to use your camera’s creative modes if you are to have any control over the pictures you take. Your camera’s user manual is an obvious place to start and if you’re really keen book yourself on a ‘starters’ photography course and discover all the amazing things your camera can do. I almost always use aperture-priority mode when taking my portraits, this way I can control focus, light and depth of field to name but a few things. If you have any questions about using this or any of your camera’s modes then please contact me, I’d love to hear from you!