What’s the difference between a quick snapshot and a portrait? For starters, a quick snapshot may document everyday life, but a portrait accentuates a person in ways that only a photograph can. It’s easy to take a picture, it’s not so easy to take a great portrait. We rounded up a handful of excellent portraits to inspire your next project.
This portrait has great lighting—and it didn’t require expensive studio lights either. Andreas Overland took the shot using a sky light as the main light source. The light in the photograph is soft and even, and doesn’t create any funky chin or nose shadows. That soft window light also makes for some great catchlights, drawing the viewers eyes right to the eyes.
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Most new portrait photographers tend to hang back, taking full body shots or poses from the waist up. But this shot is a great example of how effective filling the frame can be. By getting in close for this photo, Michel Desbiens captured more detail in the eye and curve of the lips. The photo was shot with the Nikon D7000 at f/8, 1/40 sec. and ISO 100.
Great portrait’s don’t necessary require a smile, but they do need sharp eyes that are full of expression. Yoan Carle got the eyes just right in this shot. Yes, her mouth is covered, but that lends a shy feel to the shot. The light works well with no awkward shadows, and there’s nothing within the frame to distract from the subject.
Every time a portrait is taken, the photographer has to decide what to include and what to leave out. Peter McConnochie wanted to include the tattoos of this stranger he met, so he posed him in a way that displays the colorful ink on his arm. The chosen location is great for the image as well, providing just enough background without being too distracting.
The eyes have it in this portrait. The soft expression certainly makes an impact. The detail on the face is also great—and another example of great portrait editing. Photographing someone wearing a ball cap is tricky because of the shade under the brim, but photographer Robert Couse-Baker tackled that issue beautifully. The hat adds just enough of a shadow to add depth, but not enough to take away from that great detail.
Candid portraits are great for capturing an expression that really reflects the subject. This steady gaze is nicely caught. The viewer’s eye goes right to the subjects eyes, placed using the rules of third. A wide aperture created a nice background blur, so the street behind isn’t distracting.
Of course, having the subject look directly at the camera can be very effective. That’s certainly the case with this portrait. The viewer is drawn right into those eyes. The lighting is soft and accentuates her cheekbones. The background is rendered into a blur with a wide aperture, to keep all of the focus on those eyes.
A portrait should have great eyes—but there’s certainly more than one way to go about capturing them. From filling the frame to standing back a bit, a direct look or a candid shot, a great portrait will have great eyes. Good lighting is a necessity too, as well as a flattering pose.
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