Portrait photography mistakes are common. Heck, mistakes in photography are common no matter what kind of photos you take!
Thankfully, the solutions to most things that diminish the quality of your photos are pretty simple and straightforward.
That means that if your portraits are no good, with a little research, practice, and patience, you can overcome just about any obstacle.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most common portrait photography mistakes and a few portrait photography tips that will help you avoid them.
Portrait Photography Mistake #1: Too Much Negative Space
Negative space is essentially “empty” space around the primary subject.
In the image above, for example, the bright sky would be considered negative space.
And while sometimes negative space is called for, when you take portraits of friends, family, or other subjects, filling the frame is usually a better bet.
It can be a little intimidating to get just inches away from someone’s face to take a photo (intimidating for you and for them!), but as you can see in the image below, getting up close and personal can help you take a much better photo.
Notice how in this shot, the model’s eyes are more visible and thus more engaging.
Rather than having a ton of space dedicated to the background, we instead get a better view of the model’s facial features.
That, in turn, helps create a more intimate portrait.
It’s important to have a variety of poses when you shoot portraits – full body, half body, head and shoulders, and so forth – but don’t be afraid to get in close, either by getting physically close to your subject to take a portrait or by zooming with your lens.
As a bonus tip, pair the different kind of poses you have for your portraits with different sized prints. For close-ups, try a smaller print like an 8×10 and for prints that have a lot of negative space or background visible, try a larger print, like a 36×24.
By varying the sizes of the images you create, you can develop a gorgeous wall display that has tons of visual appeal.
Portrait Photography Mistake #2: Incorrect Focus
For most portraits, the number one priority should be to get the focus perfectly zeroed in on the model’s eyes.
Granted, the eyes aren’t always visible in portraits, but if the model is facing the camera, you best be certain that their eyes are tack-sharp.
That’s because no matter how perfect the rest of the photo is – the lighting, the wardrobe, the setting, the posing – if the eyes are blurry, the photo is ruined.
Typically, for beginner portrait photographers, blurry eyes are the result of the camera’s autofocus system not being used correctly.
Most autofocus systems automatically select the object nearest the camera as the focal point. If you’re shooting a portrait, that’s often the person’s nose.
To avoid this, you need to manually select the active autofocus point and ensure that autofocus point is over the model’s eyes. Doing so ensures that the eyes are in focus.
If you’re not certain how to select the autofocus point, check out the tutorial in the video above by Photo Genius.
Portrait Photography Mistake #3: Being Passive
There’s a wonderful saying in photography: “Don’t wait for the shot, make it.”
That’s a great mantra to live by as a portrait photographer, because if you become passive and just sit around and wait for the model to strike the ultimate pose, you’ll be waiting for a long time.
When you consider that professional models get tons of direction from photographers, it makes sense that normal, everyday people will need tons of direction, too.
That means that you can’t rest on your laurels and hang out behind the lens. Instead, you need to be an active participant in the shoot, directing the model regarding where to be and what to do, while also giving them feedback that helps boost their confidence.
Not everyone is a rockstar in front of a camera, so giving affirmations like “Yes, that’s it!” and “You look beautiful!” will go a long way in helping people feel more comfortable and confident in front of the lens.
If you’re not sure how to give direction or how to help your models do what you want them to do, come up with a shot list beforehand and take notes regarding the specifics of what you’d like to see the model do in the photo.
Also write down a few things that you can talk about with the model to help them relax – their favorite music, current movies, a memory from their childhood, and so forth. Just being friendly and conversational is often all it takes to get a model to relax.