Marianna Digioia | 10 Tips for Amazing Portrait Photography

Marianna Digioia understands that great portrait photography depends less on the subject and more on the photographer’s expertise, willingness to experiment, and eye for capturing the subject’s humanness. Many photographers are familiar with the basic rules of portrait photography, but for a photographer who wants to step up the game and make his or her portraits really stand out, these tips can take portrait photography from satisfactory to striking.
1. Change the perspective.
Many portraits show the subject at or near eye level. For a change of pace, try changing the angle. For example, get above the subject and shoot down, or lie on the floor and shoot upward toward the subject. The unusual angle creates interest.
2. Play with lighting.
Possibilities for using light in portrait photography are virtually endless. Try side lighting, backlighting, or silhouetting to create mood or even randomness.
3. Experiment with eye contact.
The direction of the subject’s eyes impact an image powerfully. Besides having the subject look down on or directly at the lens, there are many ways to add depth to the image by changing the focus of the subject’s eyes.
For example, try having the subject looking off camera at something unseen by the viewer of the image. This works extremely well when the subject is showing a particular emotion. What is the subject laughing at? What has surprised them? Alternately, the subject can also look at something within the frame, such as another person or just about any object.
4. Take candid shots.
Posed portraiture has its place, but for portraits that really shine, try shooting candidly. A candid environment can portray the subject caught up in some aspect of daily life, such as work, spending time with family, or sports. A subject may be more at ease doing something they enjoy than in a posed setting, and this will result in better shots.
5. Use Props.
Adding a prop into the shot creates an additional point of interest that can enhance the image. A prop adds a sense of story to an image. Just try not to take the focus away from the main subject.
6. Try taking a series of shots.
In continuous shooting mode, fire off a rapid succession of shots. With this technique, a series of images is created that can be displayed together as a group. This works great with children or any subject that is active and changing his or her pose continually.
7. Frame the subject.
Framing allows a photographer to draw attention to one part of an image. Another part of the image can be used as the “frame.” This trick lends depth to an image and draws the viewer’s eye to the intended point of interest. Try placing the subject in a doorway or having them position their hands around their faces; or get creative and come up with other ways to frame the subject.
8. Experiment with the background.
The mood of an image can be dramatically altered by using different backgrounds. Experiment with minimalistic backgrounds or with backgrounds that are colorful and dynamic. The key is to try different things and be creative. Photographers are often surprised at the great outcome of a technique they weren’t sure about to begin with.
9. Try taking unfocused shots.
Although sharp focus is what photographers normally strive for, lack of focus can create emotion, mood, or interest in portrait photography. One good way to do this is my focusing on one element of the picture while leaving the main subject blurry. Or, leave the entire image unfocused. Choose a wide aperture and, using manual focus, focus in front of or behind anything in the image. This is a great way to achieve dreamy or mysterious images.
10. Switch up the format framing.
Often, a photographer can get into the habit of using mainly landscape or mainly portrait mode. Look through image previously shot to determine which one of these is used predominantly – then experiment with shots using the other one.

Marianna Digioia Offers Additional Tips for Portrait Photography
Portrait photography is a vast field with limitless possibilities for creating striking, unique images. There are numerous ways to make a shot interesting, unexpected, or compelling. Try adding motion into the mix, suggests Marianna Digioia, by having the subject move, having a scene element move, or by moving the camera. Also experiment with the expression of the subject. A subject’s facial expression makes a big difference in the interest factor of the image. Experiment with everything from extreme emotions to somber or serious expressions.
Another trick is to fill the frame completely with the subject. Used occasionally, this technique can produce a visually remarkable image. Also make sure the subject him- or herself is interesting. Many photographers spend a lot of time shooting their friends and family, which is a great way to practice, but looking for interesting strangers to photograph can help a photographer grow their collection of great portraits.

Marianna Digioia is a freelance photographer who lives in California and travels the world for work. She enjoys shooting wedding and portrait photography among other types of photography. She also enjoys teaching and encouraging new photographers.