How to take better portrait photographs

5th December 2009


Have you noticed that some people’s faces are so full of character that they beg to be photographed? 

The secret to good informal portraits is to understand that the people you are photographing are likely to be nervous and self-conscious. Always get the person to relax first, maybe with a little chit-chat, a compliment or two, or even by telling a little joke. Humour is a great ice breaker.

Once this is achieved, rather that standing too close to the person, stand a little further away and zoom in with your lens for a close-up portrait, or use a wide angle lens to show the person within their environment. By giving the person some space, they will feel more comfortable.

Get the light right

Start by placing the person you are photographing in good light- for example, next to a window that is not in direct sunlight. This creates a light source that is not too harsh and creates a slight shadow that will define the features of the persons face.

Give them something to do

The person you are photographing will be more relaxed if they have something to do with their hands, such as holding something they feel comfortable with, rather than trying to ‘strike a pose’ Keep chatting and taking photographs the whole time.

Share the results

Show them some of your shots, so they can tell you what they like and can see what you are trying to achieve. This can be very helpful to obtain great looking photographs, and works well with kids also.

Keep shooting

Take lots of pictures to help the person grow more confident in front of the camera, and to capture that elusive expression that best describes their character. Try not to shoot and look at your LCD, but rather shoot now, and view later. It is easy to miss a great shot, because you took your eyes off the subject to view the photograph on your LCD.

Focus on the eyes

Make sure that the persons eyes are always in focus. I like to achieve this by setting my camera to single beam Auto Focus, and then to use the camera’s focus lock to ensure the focus is always on the eye that is the closest to me. Even if the rest of the image is slightly out of focus, it will still be acceptable.

People and Portrait Photography Tour

“If you want to take more interesting photographs, get your camera in more interesting places”- the township of Langa and Khayelitsha is such a place. It’s an awesome experience to interact with the township dwellers as they go about their daily routine. The shacks and spaza shops, the market place and the butchery, the Sangoma (traditional healer) or a gap-toothed smile of a six-year-old, all makes for very interesting and different photographs.

Wednesday 16 December 2009
              Sunday 20 December 2009


   R850.00 per person,

Including: Your own Personal Photocoach, a local tour guide, all transport in and around the townships.

A 10% donation will be made on your behalf to the PHAMBILI VISUALLY IMPAIRED PRIORITY, which teaches crafts to the visually impaired people of Khayelitsha, so that they can earn a living for themselves and often their families.

The way I see it...

"Sometimes you will be in front, leading the way; sometimes you will be behind, following. Sometimes you will have a lot to say; and sometimes you need to shut-up and listen. Sometimes you will have a lot of things to do; and sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you can change you circumstances; and sometimes you can’t."

It doesn’t really matter, as long as you are always thankful for everything you receive, and not just sometimes.  

Keep those cameras snapping, till next time.

Peter Haarhoff