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Today we want to write about taking Portraits that are a little out of the box. You see it’s all very well and good to have a portrait that follows all the rules – but it hit us as we were surfing on Flickr today that often the most striking portraits are those that break all the rules.
We want to look at some ways to break out of the mold and take striking portraits by breaking (or at least bending) the rules and adding a little randomness into your portrait photography. So here they are:
1. Play with Eye Contact
It is amazing how much the direction of your subject’s eyes can impact an image. Most portraits have the subject looking down the lens – something that can create a real sense of connection between a subject and those viewing the image. But there are a couple of other things to try:
Adebayo Deru is already following all these tips. Check out his website and photography portfolio.
a. Looking off camera – have your subject focus their attention on something unseen and outside the field of view of your camera. This can create a feeling of candidness and also create a little intrigue and interest as the viewer of the shot wonders what they are looking at. This intrigue is particularly drawn about when the subject is showing some kind of emotion (ie ‘what’s making them laugh?’ or ‘what is making them look surprised?’). Just be aware that when you have a subject looking out of frame that you can also draw the eye of the viewer of the shot to the edge of the image also – taking them away from the point of interest in your shot – the subject.
b. Looking within the frame – alternatively you could have your subject looking at something (or someone) within the frame. A child looking at a ball, a woman looking at her new baby, a man looking hungrily at a big plate of pasta…. When you give your subject something to look at that is inside the frame you create a second point of interest and a relationship between it and your primary subject. It also helps create ‘story’ within the image.
2. Break the Rules of Composition
There are a lot of ‘rules’ out there when it comes to composition and we’ve always had a love hate relationship with them. Our theory is that while they are useful to know and employ that they are also useful to know so you can purposely break them – as this can lead to eye catching results. The Rule of Thirds is one that can be effective to break – placing your subject either dead centre can sometimes create a powerful image – or even creative placement with your subject right on the edge of a shot can sometimes create interesting images.
3. Experiment with Lighting
Another element of randomness that you can introduce to your portraits is the way that you light them. There are almost unlimited possibilities when it comes to using light in portraits.
Side-lighting can create mood, backlighting and silhouetting your subject to hide their features can be powerful.
4. Move Your Subject Out of their Comfort Zone
We were chatting with a photographer recently who told us about a corporate portrait shoot that he had done with a business man at his home. They’d taken a lot of head and shoulder shots, shots at his desk, shots in front of framed degrees and other ‘corporate’ type images. They had all turned out fairly standard – but there was nothing that really stood out from the crowd.
The photographer and the subject agreed that there were plenty of useable shots but they wanted to create something ‘special’ and out of the box. The photographer suggested they try some ‘jumping’ shots. The subject was a little hesitant at first but stepped out into the uncomfortable zone and dressed in his suit and tie started jumping! The shots were amazing, surprising and quite funny. The shoot culminated with the subject jumping in his pool for one last image!
While this might all sound a little ‘silly’ the shots ended up being featured in a magazine spread about the subject. It was the series of out of the box images that convinced the magazine he was someone that they’d want to feature.
5. Shoot Candidly
Sometimes posed shots can look somewhat…. posed. Some people don’t look good in a posed environment and so switching to a candid type approach can work.
Photograph your subject at work, with family or doing something that they love. This will put them more at ease and you can end up getting some special shots with them reacting naturally to the situation that they are in. You might even want to grab a longer zoom lens to take you out of their immediate zone and get really paparazzi with them.
We find that this can particularly work when photographing children.
6. Go with a Wide Angle
Shooting with a wide angle lens attached to your camera can help create some memorable shots when you’re doing portrait photography.
At very wide focal lengths you can create some wonderful distortion. It might not be the type of shot you take of your wife or girlfriend (unless she’s in a playful mood) but using these focal lengths will enlarge parts of the face or body that are on the edge of the frame more than what is in the centre. It can also give a wide open and dramatic impact when your subject is in an impressive setting.
7. Take Unfocused Shots
As photographers you have ‘sharp focus’ drummed into you as an ultimate objective to achieve in our work – but sometimes lack of focus can create shots with real emotion, mood and interest.
There are two main strategies for taking unfocused images that work:
a. Focus upon one element of the image and leave your main subject blurred. To do this use a large aperture which will create a narrow depth of field and focus upon something in front of or behind your subject.
Check out amazing unfocused shots taken by Creative Piece.
b. Leave the full image out of focus. To do this again choose a wide aperture but focus well in front or behind anything that is in your image (you’ll need to switch to manual focussing to achieve this). These kinds of shots can be incredibly dreamy and mysterious.
What Did We Miss?
So there you have it. 7 ways to add variety to your portraits. But what have we missed that you’d add? We’re sure if we put our heads together we could come up with plenty of other techniques and ideas to add a little variety to you portrait photography. Looking forward to reading your suggestions in comments below.