Common portrait photography mistakes you might be making
Portrait Photography
September 19, 2018

Portrait photography revolves around the living subject or subjects in your frame. The process of instilling life into the subjects must be carried out by the photographer. Photography is not bound by rules, but it is spoilt by mistakes. There are several mistakes one makes while doing portraitures. Let us take a look at some of those mistakes related to the composition, camera height, lighting and other factors and learn how to avoid them while we are in the field.


1)   Eyes are not in focus:

Eyes are the life of your portraits. They must be in sharp focus. The first attention of the viewer is caught by the eyes. If they are not in sharp focus, the viewer might lose interest since such a scenario renders a portrait lifeless. Use the autofocus point of your camera and make sure they get locked onto the eyes. It is better to use a single point focus. Once the focus is locked on to the eye, you are ready to go ahead and shoot. Sharp eyes go a long way in determining whether a portrait looks professional or amateurish.

2)   Not having a complimentary background:

This is one of the most common mistakes an amateur photographer makes. When we are starting off with our photography, we are busy concentrating on the subject all the time. We fail to notice the background through the viewfinder. As a result, some of our images must be discarded later. The most common occurrence is the presence of unwanted and distracting objects behind the subject. Sometimes such objects appear to be coming out of the subject’s head. Pay attention to the background while you are shooting portraits since a complimentary background enhances the image significantly.

3)   Depth of field is not in control:

Depth of field is also popularly related to the term “background blur”. This depends on three factors, the aperture, the focal length and the distance between the subject and the camera. Wide open apertures result in shallow depth of fields. Longer focal lengths result in shallow depth of fields as well. The subject to camera distance is directly proportional to the depth of field. When you are shooting with the famous 85mm f/1.8 lens at 85 mm with the aperture set at the widest, you will find that the depth of field is too shallow to even have the entire face in sharp focus. The ears may appear much softer than the nose and it can be a pain. Similarly, too much depth of field can also bring in unwanted objects to focus. You need to learn the factors affecting the background blur and use them effectively.

4)   The wrong height:

To be honest, there isn’t anything called wrong height. This is dependent on the subject you are shooting. It is always advised to shoot at the eye level of the subject. You may also shoot from slightly above the subject if you want the subject to have appealing eyes. I like to shoot small children from the top as well. It demonstrates the littleness of the child. We are all advised not to shoot from an angle lower than the eye level. This may result in the appearance of a double chin. The nostrils also get shown. But low angle portraits are also shot from a distance to show the behavior of the subject against the backdrop of the sky etc. Although there is nothing called wrong height, you need to be aware of the facial features of your subject and the camera angle which can enhance them properly.

5)   The Red Eye effect:

When we are shooting indoor portraits, we tend to use the flash. Many of us tend to fire the flash straight at the subject’s face. Because of this, the flash light bounces back off the retina of the eye and produces a red spot on the subject’s eyes. This ghostly looking phenomenon is called the red eye effect. The solution to this problem is by moving the flash away from the lens and firing it an angle to the subject’s eyes.

6)   Harsh shadows:

This is an example of poor lighting. When we are shooting in bright sunlight, we tend to have very harsh shadows on the subject’s face. The harsh shadows can destroy your portrait. Improper lighting setup can also lead to harsh shadows. If the key light is too bright for the fill light, you will be able to see very strong shadows on the face. Balance the intensities of the key light and fill light in proper proportions to get rid of such unwanted shadows. While shooting outdoors, use reflectors and fill-in external flashes to fill all the shadows created by the strong sunlight.

7)   Facial distractions:

Not all your models will have clean faces. The presence of pimples and pores can degrade the quality of your portrait. Proper lighting can get rid of this problem to some extent. The rest can be done in post-production during the retouching process. Use bright light on the face to even out all the facial distractions. Improper placing of the hair light can also result in unwanted light spots on the face. Remember, the hair light is use to lighten up the hair to provide the three dimensional effect.

8)   Not filling the frame:

Sometimes, we tend to shoot the model from a distance. This is because of the presence of the zoom lens in our kitty. Zoom lenses can result in amazing background blur or bokeh effect. But this can come at a cost if not properly dealt with. Make sure you are filling the entire frame with the subject‘s face or else there will be many empty spaces around to distract.

Portrait photographers need to be careful about several things. We have discussed the common mistakes the beginners tend to make. These can result in what we call “trash portraits”. Once you have gone through this blog, you should be aware of all these and how to avoid each of them in the field.

Portrait Photography
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