How to Make Your Friends Look Good: An Introduction to Portrait Photography

For the best portrait photography, experts agree that you need to get in closer. Consider a photograph an argument: in order to form your opinion, you need to hear every side of the story (or you should, at least). Why take a photo and not capture every angle? 

You want your viewer to believe your photo. So argue well. 

All of this to say that in order to make your friends look good, you need to play with angles. Saved By an Angle. Touched By an Angle. Every time a bell rings, an angle gets its wings. You get the point.

To accomplish this:

  • In lieu of the above article, get closer. This means to physically move closer. Doing so will eliminate distractions and give your model more real estate -- room in the photo -- so the focus won't be divided.

Headshot is too far away.

Ahhhh...Much better.

Picture is in portrait orientation makes her the focus of the photo.

  • While I advocate breaking the rules, it's a safe bet to take photos in portrait orientation. In layman's terms: tilting the camera body vertically. Landscape orientation (horizontal) is a great way of experimenting with composition, but learn the basics first.
     
  • Work with your model. Rule of thumb: no model -- that you would want to work with -- will ever want to look bad in a photo. So if that means asking them to move their body in a more flattering way, do it. You have the camera. You're in charge. Don't be scared. 
    • Important: glare can happen if your model is wearing glasses in bright sun. And in some cases, your model will not want to take their glasses off. Ask if they are comfortable removing them. If they prefer to keep them on, recompose the shot to avoid glare. 
  • Framing is key. Create visual interest. Set a lower aperture (f4) to separate the foreground from the background. Have your model stand two to three body lengths from the background. This creates a greater separation of foreground and background. 
    • If your model is wearing a dark outfit, pair it with a bright background. They'll stand out, and it'll force the viewer to look at them. Choose interesting backgrounds. 

Model is front of simple white background so her red hair and colorful shirt stand out.

  • In point, the message I'm trying to relay here is to experiment. Play with your settings. Move around. Get comfortable with the camera and your model. 

If you wanna know how to make your friends look good, pay attention.

Photos by Jared Jones