Portrait photography tips for beginners!

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Video tutorial on skills you need to be a great portrait photographer

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Portrait Photography tips for Beginners!

How to take INCREDIBLE portrait photos – tips for beginners

Learn how to take great portrait photography with these helpful tips for beginners!

Alex Kilbee of the Photographic Eye explains in this video tutorial the basic photography skills for portraits that you need, based on lessons from the master portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz’s career.


For Beginners: How to take incredible portrait photos

Annie Leibovitz is one of the most famous portrait photographers in the world and has worked with many top companies and celebrities to create amazing portrait photos. She has taught many masterclasses and lessons on photography. These tips are summarised from her lessons on portrait photography by Alex Kilbee.

Portrait Photography for beginners Tip #1: Create a welcoming atmosphere for your subjects and they will photograph better

Don’t be the person who shows up to a shoot and doesn’t engage with your subjects at all. It will go a long way for your photos if you smile, make small talk, make them laugh, and get them relaxed and comfortable.

Your portraits will feel more authentic when the subjects are comfortable.

It will show that you have made the effort to be welcoming and friendly to your subjects in the way they will relate to the camera. This is felt in one of Anne Leibovitz’s famous portraits of Jon Lennon and Yoko Ono:

Jon Lennon and yoko ono portrait taken by Annie Leibovitz

Tip #2 to take great portraits: Start by photographing people you know

A common tip for portrait photographers when starting out is to not take photos of people you know. However, it’s actually a great place to start.

If you already know the subjects, they will be comfortable with you more than a stranger might and it will show in your photos.

As in the first tip, it will be easier to communicate with someone you are more comfortable with at the other end of the camera. So start with asking people you know, like your friends, family, neighbors, or coworkers. You will be able to practice your portrait photos with the first tip out of the way.

Amazing portraits Tip #3: Cut down on your gear so you aren’t overwhelmed!

These days there is so much pressure to have a ton of gear. Having too many lens, camera, lighting or backdrop options you can be overwhelmed with choice.

Take it down to the bare minimum gear you need for a shoot.

You might have to come up with creative ideas with limited gear. Your photography will improve and your portraits will be better for it. Try to minimize the amount of gear you bring to a shoot as much as you can.

Another timeless portrait by Annie Leibovitz:

Portrait photography Tips by Annie leibovitz

Tip #4 portrait photography for beginners: Go with the flow, letting your subject guide the session

Annie Leibovitz believed that portraits should be driven by the subject, not the concept of portraiture.

If you go into a portrait session with a narrow idea of how the session will go, it might end up not going well if the subject isn’t comfortable with the vision. It may be that the idea you had isn’t working for the subject.

It will be better if you’re able to have a broad idea of the session and let the subject guide the photos.

And you might be pleasantly surprised by the direction your subject takes the shoot!

Great portrait photography Tip #5: Look at good portraits and ask what works and why?

Do you often see great photos and wonder how the photographer did it?

A helpful skill is to study great portrait photos and think about things like the angle used over a different one, or why the lighting was chosen. What camera settings were and maybe why that is.

Looking at others’ work is a great way to learn and take on ideas for making your portrait photography better.

You can take away ideas for lighting, poses, props, locations, or angles used to take the photo. Here’s a great portrait from Annie Leibovitz’s collection:

Celebrity portrait photography by Annie leibovitz

Portrait photography Tip 6 for beginners: Learn to love light and learning about light

Lighting is important for portraits to look natural and have a good contrast – the differences between light and dark elements.

Being able to create a lighting for your portraits that feels natural even while using flash an other lighting gear is a learned skill.

Learning how to use natural light well will improve your photography and set up your portraits to feel natural and well-lit. Then figuring out what other lighting gear will work for you to add on to create more depth and contrast. More tips on lighting for portraits here!

Annie Leibovitz’s portrait of the Queen below is a great example of her incredible use of lighting:

Annie Leibovitz portrait of the queen has amazing lighting

Tip 7 for taking amazing portraits: Go back to look at old pictures of yours

If you never go back and evaluate your old work, you might not be able to see areas of improvement or just how much you have grown. Look at the first pictures you took, or any older photos, and see how you have changed.

Pick up on mistakes and elements you would like to be better. You can measure your improvement and identify patterns and habits in your photography that are good and bad.

Portrait photography for beginners Tip 8: Seek inspiration from many sources

The way you approach your photos and how you feel about what you are doing will come through in the photos that you take. Fall in love with what you do. Learn and love your subject.

Get your own pool of inspiration outside what everyone else is going. And definitely don’t limit yourself to just a portrait photographer!

What an incredible portrait of Annie’s below:

Annie Leibovitz portrait of Star Wars cast using amazing lighting

Portrait photography skills can easily be learned, and following these portrait photography tips for beginners will help.

Hopefully after reading these tips you are feeling inspired to take incredible portrait photos and work on improving your portrait photography skills.

Improve your photography with this comprehensive guide!

Which tip will you start using to improve your portrait photography TODAY?

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