10 common portrait photography mistakes every photographer makes The top portrait photography errors to watch out for


Portrait photography mistakes

Many photographers fall into the same pitfalls which make up the most common headshot mistakes and portrait photography mistakes. In order to help you prevent taking bad portrait photos, we’ve reviewed some of the most common mistakes from portrait lighting mistakes to using the wrong lens for portrait photography. Common mistakes shouldn’t be so common, so here are our tips for portrait photographers to put a stop to bad portrait photography.


1. Using autofocus

How to avoid portrait photography mistakes? Stop using autofocus! It’s a great feature on your camera and can help you to focus in difficult situations and save time. However, portrait photography is a genre of photography that requires a great deal of attention and detail. Autofocus isn’t suited to this level of detail, and can cause blurriness in your portrait. Using manual focus is much more beneficial for you as it will make your portraits far more detailed, and less blurry when using the right settings.

2. Distracting backgrounds

Choosing distracting backgrounds is a common occurrence with first-time portrait photographers. They are so focused on the subject that they can overlook the importance of the setting. This is a big mistake as the background has a huge impact on the composition. Busy backgrounds can be very distracting to the viewer, causing them to look at the background rather than the subject. Try to choose a background with little distraction for a better portrait. This way, you won’t have to extremely blur the background.

Portrait photography mistakes


3. Too much bokeh

Many portrait photographers are using too much bokeh, causing their subjects to be out of focus. Whether these portrait photographers are very fond of bokeh, or they have chosen a distracting background which they then have to blur out, they are opening their apertures too wide and accidentally photographing the subject out of focus. While it’s a good idea to blur the background a little, you don’t need to open your aperture completely as this will also blur the foreground– try to maintain a balance between blurring the background and clarity of your subject.

4. Shooting from the wrong angle

Inexperienced portrait photographers who haven’t developed their eye enough yet, tend to photograph subjects from the wrong angle. But just a few degrees off can cause a very unappealing image. Too low, and you give your subject a double chin, and too high, you can make them look shorter than they are. The most flattering angle for portraits is just above eye level.

5. Not focusing on your subject’s eyes

Your subject’s eyes have a special significance in portrait photography, as they are the most expressive part of the face. However, some photographers overlook this and focus elsewhere. This is subtle enough that you won’t be able to put your finger on why the image looks bad, but it can throw the whole portrait off-balance – especially if the eyes are out of focus when the subject is looking into the lens. To rectify this, use a single AF focus point to manually select the eyes, making the focus much sharper.

6. Picking inappropriate lenses

Because photography is subjective, and different photographers are trying to achieve different styles, there technically are no wrong lenses to use. However, using certain lenses is very unconventional and inappropriate for traditional portraits. For beginners, we would suggest avoiding wide-angle lenses as these will emphasise the environment rather than the subject, which can be distracting in a portrait. Wide-angle lenses can also distort the features.

We would recommend using a long lens as it doesn’t cause distortion and instead flatters your subject. It also nicely blurs the background to emphasize the subject in the foreground.

7. Bad lighting conditions

Again, different photographers prefer different lighting styles, but consider whether the lighting style you are using is suitable for the kind of portrait you are shooting. Many portraits look bad due to being shot in poor lighting conditions. When shooting in low light conditions you should use artificial lights such as external flashes to brighten the scene.

8. Harsh light

On the reverse side of the lighting coin, using harsh, bright lighting is equally as bad. Although a bright, sunny day might seem like perfect weather for a shoot, putting your subject in direct sunlight causes them to squint, highlights skin texture extremely, and creates deep shadows, and can lead to overexposure. Generally, you should avoid letting too much light in the image to avoid overexposure, and avoid shooting when the sun is directly overhead at noon. 

Portrait photography errors


9. Overexposure

So many photographers are victims of overexposure, and it’s easy for it to happen. The in-camera results of overexposure look like a more appealing alternative to underexposure. In reality, the result of an overexposed imaged will appear very washed-out and lacklustre. Overexposure is very difficult to fix in post-processing. Portrait photographers should remember that it’s better to underexpose than overexpose because you can at least usually save it in post-processing.

10. Not cleaning up small details

Many photographers are so focused on camera settings and getting the composition perfect that they forget to ensure that their subject is picture-perfect. You should always take a couple of minutes before starting to comb any errant hairs, clean glasses, and smooth out any wrinkles. Some details can be fixed with Photoshop wizardry, but why give yourself the extra work when you can make sure your model is ready for the camera beforehand?


Now that you know how to avoid these mistakes, you’ll be a much better portrait photographer.

If you require a portrait photographer, consider booking with Splento for an experienced, professional on-demand photographer, at an affordable cost. Contact us today to speak to a member of the team about your portrait photography needs.


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