Taking photos of people is one of the most popular and enjoyable aspects of photography. The iPhone is a powerful tool for portrait photography, but there’s a big difference between taking snapshots of people and creating beautiful artistic portraits. In this tutorial you’ll discover ten great techniques for taking stunning portrait photos with your iPhone.
Portrait photography is all about capturing the essence of the person you’re photographing. With a little bit of thought and planning, you’ll be able to take amazing portrait photos using just your iPhone.
By following the tips below on lighting, composition, props and poses, you’ll find yourself taking beautiful and creative images that capture the personality of your subject. So let’s take a look at ten important tips for incredible iPhone portrait photography.
1. Find An Interesting Subject
Obviously the first thing you need to do in portrait photography is to find someone to take photos of. You could photograph your children, family members, friends, and even strangers for candid street portraits. Pets also make great subjects for portraits.
When I first started getting interested in portrait photography, my daughter helped me by being my model so that I could practice different techniques. That first learning experience helped me feel more comfortable taking creative photos of my younger children.
Asking a friend to model for you is a great way of getting practice when starting out with portrait photography. It gives you a chance to try out different techniques, poses and lighting until you find what works best.
2. Shoot In The Best Light
Lighting has to be one of the most important factors in portrait photography. The best kind of light for indoor portraits is diffused window light. Using a window produces a beautiful rich directional light with diffused colors from whatever is reflected in it.
To enhance and reflect more of the light on the subject, you can also use a light board. It could be a piece of white poster board placed out of the frame to help boost the natural surrounding light.
Don’t use the camera’s flash because it creates harsh shadows. Having the right amount of natural light helps ensure that the photo is crisp and clean, rather than grainy and possibly blurry.
I have at times had my daughter move her clothing or her hair to have a somewhat blurred effect for artistic reasons. It’s a personal choice.
When shooting portraits outdoors, it’s best to work when the sun is low in the sky. The golden hours of early morning or late evening before sunset are perfect. Overcast skies are also really nice for portraits because you can shoot at any time of day.
In bright sunlight when there are no clouds in the sky you’ll need to watch for harsh shadows which are very unflattering, and the bright sunlight can cause your subject to squint – this isn’t usually a good time of day for portrait photography.
3. Find A Suitable Setting
Explore your area to find interesting places to take portraits. Keep your setting simple and uncluttered so that your subject remains the focal point. This is especially important if you’re taking a portrait of a group.
A muted background keeps the photo from becoming too cluttered and messy. Make sure your subject is wearing something that complements the color of the background so that they stand out.
If you’re shooting portraits indoors, the ideal place to position the person is next to a window or entrance so that you have plenty of natural light illuminating your subject.
4. Think About Composition
When framing or composing your shot, keep in mind that you don’t need to center your subject. Usually the portrait is more interesting if the subject is off to the side. Using the rule of thirds will help you position your subject off-centre.
You can frame your subject using a natural frame such as a doorway or window. If you’re photographing outdoors, look for trees or bushes that can naturally frame your subject.
Use leading lines to draw the viewer to your subject if possible. A ray of light, or an arm or hand under a chin can provide subtle leading lines in your image. In the photo below the lines of the blinds lead from the foreground of the image towards the main subject.
Train your eyes to find interesting places that add to the overall composition of the photo. Look out for natural frames and leading lines, and think about where you position your subject within the scene to draw the most attention to them.
5. Focus On The Eyes
When taking a portrait photo, it’s best to shoot just slightly above the eye line so that the eyes are wide and open. Make sure you focus on the eyes of your subject because this is the most expressive part of the face and it’s where the viewer will look first.
Usually a photographer will focus on the eye closest to the camera for the sharpest focal point. First, make sure you hold your iPhone very still, and then tap on the screen where the eyes of your subject are to set the focus.
After setting focus, you may need to use the exposure slider to ensure that the face is properly exposed. Swipe your finger up or down the screen to adjust the amount of exposure that you want.
Sometimes I like to try to capture a bit of light or gleam in my subject’s eyes from the light source – these are called catchlights. It makes the eyes have more dimension, depth and sparkle. Your subject will look more alive if you capture the catchlights in their eyes.
6. Experiment With Different Perspectives
As the photographer, you can experiment with different perspectives or angles to create unique and creative portraits that tell a story. Try standing, kneeling, stooping or laying on your belly to get the right perspective for your subject.
When photographing children, get down on their level so that you can engage them and keep them interested. Remember that when your camera is positioned lower than the subject, they will look stronger and larger than life.
Alternatively, shooting from above the subject will make them look smaller and more vulnerable. It all depends on the mood you’re trying to convey through your portrait as to which angle works best.
7. Use Props To Add Interest
Using props can help to draw out a more realistic expression of the person, rather than a stiff unnatural pose. Try to get your subject, especially children, interested in their surroundings so that their smiles and expressions are more natural.
Sometimes a prop can help the person feel more comfortable and at ease in front of the camera. My children play instruments so I like to have them holding or playing them.
8. Think About Your Subject’s Pose
Most of the portraits I take are usually posed, but a few are candid shots. Think about what you want your subject doing to best convey their particular personality.
When photographing your subject, have them sit, stand, kneel or lean on a tree. Explore all the options for the best and most engaging portrait.
A portrait can seem lifeless when the subject is just looking straight at the camera. Get creative!
9. Capture Your Subject’s Personality
A good portrait photographer knows how to pull out the personality of their subject. Keep your comments positive and affirming so that the person doesn’t feel intimidated in front of the camera. Talk to them about things they’re interested in to get them to feel more comfortable.
Another thing to remember is that your subject doesn’t always need to be smiling. Pure emotion pulls in the viewer and tugs at the heartstrings.
Notice the portrait of my son looking through the window below. I used the condensation on the window to engage his curiosity, which elicited a more natural expression.
Timing is important as well as taking a lot of shots. This will allow you to pick out the best photo where your subject has the perfect pose and expression.
10. Shoot And Edit For A Particular Style
Before you take your portrait photos, try to imagine what you want the final image to look like. Then ensure you use the appropriate lighting, exposure and editing techniques to achieve your desired result.
Most of the time portraits need only a light edit in order to keep the skin tones looking soft and natural. But you can use a variety of apps such as Snapseed, VSCO Cam, Faded and Mextures to add filters for a more dramatic feel.
There are many kinds of portrait edits, but I especially enjoy taking high key portraits. They are very easy to achieve and produce a very light and airy ambience. Use bright diffused window light and adjust the brightness/exposure by swiping up on the screen after setting the focus.
You can adjust the exposure even further in post-processing using an app such as Snapseed. Making other adjustments for saturation and contrast can also be done.
In low key portraiture the exposure is adjusted to darken the photo and creates a more moody tone where the lighter areas stand out. You can further enhance this using exposure settings in post-processing apps.
Other techniques for natural textures and simulated filters are achieved by shooting through things such as a dirty window, window screen, or a sheer curtain. You can further enhance textures using an app such as Mextures.
By taking a little time to envision and plan your shot, these techniques will help you to get the best portrait shots possible with your iPhone.