Secrets of Portrait Pros

This guest blog post is from my sister, Tanish.  She has been in the photography a lot longer than I have and is incredibly talented.  You can see some of Tani's work by visiting @peelgranphotography on Instagram. 

There are definitely some basics when it comes to portraiture (framing, softer lighting, angle of shot) that are key to getting a decent photo, but how do you go from taking a good picture of a face to creating a photo that makes the viewer feel connected with the subject's soul? 


As a young and naive teenager, I had the opportunity to "intern" with the talented and skilled Katy Tartakoff (hyperlink: I was pretty useless to her, but over the course of a summer gleaned some incredible tips about portrait photography that have served me well ever since. 

It was the early 90s, so Katy worked with film and always used medium and large format. That meant she couldn't afford to be frivolous with her shots. The format created beautiful resolution, but there was a lot more to her photos that made them special. 



First, she mostly shot in her studio and almost always in black and white. Minimizing the variables in the shooting environment helped create a setting for honing her skills every time she shot. This is a great learning tool for growing photographers. When we constantly shoot in different conditions and styles, it's easy to just stay sort of good at a lot of things for a long time instead of becoming masterful in one area before moving on. That mastery can then make it quicker to improve in new conditions because we've more thoroughly learned the art. 

Second, Katy created lots of space for spontaneity. It adds dimension and authenticity to her shots. Sadly, many photographers still take portraits that look like the picture that comes inside of a frame—forced, cheesy and unnatural. The photos my subjects and clients have always liked best are the ones that capture them actually being themselves—it's a lot easier to get that feeling of seeing a person's essence that way. 

Finally, the golden nugget advice: focus on the eyes. After all, they are the windows to the soul and all that. A good portrait often means a fairly small depth of field, so point of focus is critical. There are certainly artistic options to be had with the mouth or other areas, but you can really never go wrong with the eyes. 

People are great subjects, but these rules work for animals too. Happy snapping!


People are great subjects, but these rules work for animals too. Happy snapping!

If you're interested in follow-on reading there are some great books out there on portrait photography.  Portrait Photography by Erik Valind is a great read and will give you more than enough information to get started.  



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