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The Top 5 Mistakes in Portrait Photography

January 18, 2015

Words by Danielle Lancaster. Images by Danielle Lancaster and tutors during training at Bluedog Photography

Mistake No. 1: Focus not on the eye
The eye closest to the camera has to be in focus. A general rule in portrait photography is the eyes need to be sharp as they are considered the most important element.

Many wish to use a shallow depth of field to isolate the subject and direct the viewers’ attention straight to the subject. If the camera selects the focus point it can all go wrong!
We need to get our focus point correct: it needs to be on the eye closest to the camera.



Click on the images to enlarge

An example of when the eye closest to the camera (left image) is not in focus and vice- versa.





Mistake No. 2: Something ‘growing’ out of the subject
What’s that branch growing out of the ear, that horizon growing from the shoulders? This mistake is made by not looking at your background. Your background is as important as your subject and it should complement not compete.

Take the time to look around your image area and criss-cross over it (the more you do this the quicker you will get) and it allows you to see those ugly obtrusions before you click that shutter. Look in your background for lines that intersect with your subject. These could be the horizon, a post, branch etc. What we don’t want is things ‘growing’ out of there heads.



Click on the images to enlarge

In the image on the left, the subject has a post growing out of his head. By the photographer moving only a few centimeters the subject is now framed by the posts.



Mistake No. 3: Shooting too wide
How close should you get and what lens should you use? If you use a wide angle lens you may be very close to your subject. The problem arises that parts of the body close to the lens or objects can look out of perspective to the rest of the subject.

This technique can work brilliantly in environmental portraiture – as long as there are no body parts too close and the subject looks in proportion.
Remember the wider the lens, the greater the DOF at any given aperture.



Mistake No. 4: Cutting a body part
This is another one that is so very important and often overlooked. For example: you should not have half a hand/foot. It is visually more pleasing and comfortable for the viewer to either see the whole hand/foot or no hand/foot at all.


Mistake No. 5 Lighting
Look at the direction and quality of your light. Your lighting can make or break a portrait.

Side lighting accentuates texture while front lighting does the opposite. Harsh overhead lighting such as the midday sun can cause ugly shadows. Shadows always are formed due to the direction of the main light source; diffuse that and you soften the shadows.

Picture9Using direct natural side lighting

Picture10Above and below: Using window lighting



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