The Non-Professional Photographer's Guide to Professional Looking Portraits
Disclaimer (if the title of this post weren't one enough): I am NOT a professional photographer and I don't presume to be one.
Photographing my friends is one of my favorite things to do. While I find it so easy to lose myself - often for hours in a time - in the post-processing, there's nothing more fun than watching a person unfold in front of the camera. Capturing a friend's goofiness or beauty or Esquire-cover-guy qualities (looking at you, Dan) is so fun - especially when they express surprise at the finished product. I'm absolutely tickled when I see the photos show up on LinkedIn profiles and Instagram icons and Facebook profile pictures.
Here are some tips that I've accumulated in my very brief time as a sort-of portrait photographer and I hope they help you in your photographic ventures!
1. Get a brief understanding of what exactly your camera is doing when you take a photo. For beginning photographers, that can mean figuring out what aperture and shutter speed are. For those more advanced photographers, that means figuring out how to modify aperture and shutter speed to get your photos to do what you want them to do. Your photos are going to be better if you move off of the automatic settings - trust me.
2. Knowing the basics of photography can help so much - especially when it comes to hardware. For portrait photography, low aperture + flash = beautiful focus. Landscapes? Higher aperture for a greater depth of field is the way to go.
3. Your photos are going to be so much better if your subject trusts you - and trusts being in front of the camera. If they don't, then it's your job to put them at ease. I find that the pictures at the end of the session ALWAYS tend to be better because the trust built over the span of time (or even better - over the span of a relationship or friendship) is completely visible on the other side of the camera. All of this, of course, is coming from someone who is completely awkward in front of the camera... which is why I prefer to be the one taking the photos. Get your subject to relax before you try something more daring - like the seemingly-daunting "straight into camera" look.
4. Once you learn the rules, learn how to test them AND break them. For instance, I always thought that if it were daylight, that meant never using flash... and man was I wrong.
5. Post-processing can be a way to enhance your photos, but it should never be used to change vital components of the photograph... proper exposure and contrast should be done as you're taking the photo, not on the back-end. Make sure you're taking a photo that you would like to have (without editing) in order to guarantee an extra-special one after you're done applying slight changes in tone, focus, etc. If you're going to focus on one thing, I'd recommend concentrating on proper lighting. By the way, I use Adobe Lightroom for all of my post-processing, and Adobe Photoshop to put photos together in diptychs and triptychs.
6. I think it's so important for people to know that the kind of camera you have doesn't exactly determine the quality of your photographs. To some degree, yes. To a bigger degree though, it's what you do with your camera that is most important.
Happy shooting! Some of my favorite portraits are below.
Ps - thanks to Chesley, Dan, Marisa, Audra, Jill (and the rest of the Knies family!) for letting me use their photos. :)