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Common mistakes to avoid when you shoot portraits ...and get the most from your portrait photography

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When it comes to portrait shooting, many inexperienced photographers make mistakes. If you are starting out in photography, it is very easy to make these errors, which is why they are common mistakes in portrait photography. However, it’s no cause for concern as beginner portrait photography mistakes are very easy to rectify, once you address them in your practice and know what they are. Therefore, to elevate your portrait shooting skills we will go over the common photography mistakes and how to avoid them by looking at 10 common mistakes in photography, for portraits. 

Portrait photography

 

1. Bad backgrounds

Choosing the wrong background is one of the most common portrait photography mistakes. Many photographers who are new to portrait photography tend to focus on the subject of the portrait and don’t consider how the background they have chosen is impacting the overall look and feel of the portrait. 

Busy backgrounds can distract from the subject, and some backgrounds have no connection to them, making the portrait confusing. For a cohesive portrait consider the relation between background and subject, and avoid busy public places which will require you to blur the background to isolate the subject (unless that is your intent).

 

2. Photographing your subject out of focus

This mistake tends to occur to photographers who are shooting in a public place with people or other distractions in the background. To try to emphasize the subject of the portrait they blur the background by opening their aperture to the widest setting. While it’s a good idea to blur the background, 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 the clarity of your subject.

3. Using autofocus

While autofocus is a handy tool for saving time and quickly setting the scene for a photographer, it is not the best for photographing portraits. This is because portrait photography requires a lot of detail which autofocus isn’t suited for, and can cause blurriness. 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.

4. Using the wrong lens

Photography is an art form, and very subjective so there technically are no wrong lenses to use. This being said, using certain lenses are very unconventional and can produce unusual results. 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 will often distort the features.

We would recommend using a long lens as it will not distort the face and will create a flattering portrait, and will nicely blur the background to emphasize the subject.

Common portrait mistakes

 

5. Poor lighting

There is ‘no one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to lighting in portraits, but consider whether the lighting style you are using is suitable for the kind of portrait you are shooting. For example, hard, bright lighting might create a vibrant, dramatic look for an editorial portrait of a model wearing a lot of makeup, by it wouldn’t work for a young person looking for a softer, natural portrait. Therefore, it’s a good idea to re-examine your notions about what lighting looks good in portraiture. 

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.

 

6. Overexposure

Many budding photographers fall into the overexposure trap as the in-camera results of overexposure look like a more appealing alternative to underexposure. In reality, the result of an overexposed imaged will appear washed-out with all the rich tones and colours of the portrait bleached, and details lost. Not to mention, it’s a nightmare to fix in post-processing. To avoid this pitfall, remember that it’s better to underexpose than overexpose because you can fix it more easily in post-processing.

7. Poor composition

This is one common mistake that photographers learn to change over time. Photographers who are getting to grips with portrait photography will either leave too much negative space around the subject of the portrait, or they will crop too tightly around the face. The composition of the image really depends on what kind of portrait you are trying to create, but avoid leaving too much negative space around the subject as this doesn’t enhance the portrait. Try to achieve a balance of white space while keeping the subject in the frame.

8. Not focusing on the eyes

As the expression goes, the eyes are the windows to the soul. Therefore they have a special significance in portrait photography, but some photographers neglect to focus the eyes. This can be jarring; particularly if they are out of focus when the subject is looking into the lens. To correct this, you can use a single AF focus point to manually select the eyes, to make them sharp.

Mistakes with portrait photography

 

9. Neglecting the finer details

Many photographers are so excited to get behind the camera and begin taking pictures that they forget to make sure that the subject of the portrait is picture-perfect. Taking a couple of minutes before the shoot to smooth hairs that have gone awry, make sure that wrinkled clothes are smoothed out and that clothes labels aren’t sticking out will make your portraits look immaculate. Of course, these things can be fixed in post-processing, but you can save yourself plenty of time editing by making sure your model is good to go before you shoot.

 

10. Not connecting with your subject

Many portrait photographers dive straight into the project and begin shooting right away, without first connecting with their model. While photography is an art form, there is a human element to it. To get the most out of the session and to make the experience more enjoyable for your subject, you should attempt to engage with them to make them feel comfortable posing for the portrait; this way, you are likely to elicit more emotion from them and make them look more real.


Now that you know the most common portrait photography mistakes to avoid you can create the most sophisticated photo portraits.

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.