Portrait Photography Tips for Beginners

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It’s been too long on the blog without a photography post, so to kick off May, guess what I’m posting??  A photography post!

As an extrovert, I’m obsessed with people. Love being around people, hanging out with people, stalking people…on Insta, watching people on YouTube, looking at pictures of people, but most importantly: I LOVE taking pictures of people.  Portrait photography is hands-down the greatest thing invented.  Maybe for some of you that’s a stretch, but I would spend all my free time doing it if I could.  I am FAR from being a professional photographer, and am kinda-sorta in the beginner realm, but nevertheless, I am here today to give you all some tips for your own portrait photography ventures!  Some of them I’ve learned through my Photography class at school, others from my fav photographers, and others from going out and shooting myself.

Before I get into my post, I want to give a shout out to one of my friends, Lilly, for being the model for the photos you see in this post!  My inspiration for the shoot were woodland fairies, and she captured the wonder perfectly.  Thanks to her for participating and being willing to crawl over creeks and continue even after her shoe filled up with muddy water 😂  Woohoo, Lil, you’re the real MVP!!  Okay, okay, now into the post!

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Spontaneous shoots can turn out great, but I’ve found that it’s always better to have gathered inspiration and accumulated ideas before heading out the door with your camera to take portraits.  Normally, my planning process starts out with me coming up with a general idea of what I want the shoot to be, then I’ll head to Pinterest and Instagram for some quick, yet super useful inspiration.  On Pinterest, I’ll normally start a board for each individual shoot and add makeup, hair, and outfit inspo.  On Instagram, I’ll save inspiring photos to a collection, and I usually look for posing, location, and outfit inspo on this app.

Between your own ideas and finding inspiration on social media, you can come up with a solid plan for your portrait photoshoot.  You can always bounce ideas off your subject, and feel free to send your subject some of your inspiration ahead of time so they know exactly what you’re going for!


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My first piece of advice has to do with the outfit, setting, and vibe you’re going for in a portrait photo shoot.  Whatever your inspiration or ideas for the shoot are, the location, posing, and outfit should match up.  My inspiration for the photos in this post were woodland fairies like the ones I used to read about in my books as a child, and the wonder associated with them.  To capture that, I went with a flowy top, small jewels on the face, minimal makeup, and loose, wavy hair.  The outfit and hair showcased the free-ness of the fairies, and the makeup and jewels created a mystical, yet natural vibe.  And of course, my location was in the woods with a small field beside of it.

Similarly, in your own portrait shoots, it is key to coordinate the look of your subject and the setting with what you want the overall mood and outcome of your photos to be.  This creates a together-ness and can really help viewers feel what you felt when looking at your photos.

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More often than not, if you aren’t shooting with a professional model, you’ll have to guide your subject when it comes to posing.  Don’t be scared to place them how you want and give them things to do with their hands, like playing with their hair or framing their face.  Giving them an emotion or action to portray is another way to direct your subject.  A lot of times a simple direction and communication as to how you want the shot to be can make all the difference in how your photos turn out.

Obviously, if you’re directing your subject, make sure they are comfortable with what you are telling them to do.  For instance, in some of these photos Lilly is sitting on top of a log over a creek.  I made sure to ask before sending her up there to pose, just in case that’s not something she was comfortable with doing.  You always want to put your subject first, because when they’re comfortable and having a good time, that’s when the best photos appear!

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Oooo, if you want to get my hype about a photo, one that shows an emotion (anger, sadness, pure joy, excitement, etc.) will do the trick so quick!  Just like any other art medium, photography is created to make the viewer feel something, and capturing raw emotion (or candids) is the best way to do this in portrait photography.  You can always tell your subject what feeling to portray, but I personally like to give my subjects a situation to respond to or continue snapping if we’re just talking or in between poses.

One of my friends was shooting me and a few of my friends and told us to “act like we had all just been asked by the same guy to prom and we all said yes,” and the photo she shot of our reactions displayed the emotion perfectly.

It’s easy to do the same for your own subject.  Also, you can easily continue to take photos when your subject is talking to you, not in a pose, or off-guard, to capture more real and sometimes more emotional photos.

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If you’ve ever taken any traditional photography class, one of the first things you learned was most likely the compositional elements and principles of design.  These are things that you may not necessarily think about when taking a photo, but are unconciously doing.  Either way, it’s important to include these in your photos whenever possible to up the quality of the photo. 

The compositional elements are: line, shape, color, value, texture, space, and form.

The principles of design are: balance, symmetry, pattern, unity, contrast, proportion, variety, and movement.

We would be here all day if I explained each and every element and principle to you, so here is a couple websites that explain them perfectly!

Compositional Elements

Principles of Deisgn

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Woohoo, 5 Tips for Portrait Tips are now ingrained in your brain!  I hope this post was helpful to you, and that it inspires you to go out and shoot some amazing photos 🙂  Leave a comment below letting me know some of your tips, and feel free to drop any questions or blog post ideas you may have while you’re down there.  Thanks so so much for reading, friendzz!!

💜Love, Olivia


27 thoughts on “Portrait Photography Tips for Beginners

  1. Thanks for these tips Olivia! I’m loving your blog!
    I’ve recently just gotten into photography, and I’m experimenting my landscapes. I’ve never really tried portrait photography, but I think I’ll give it a shot. Your photography is beautiful btw, keep it up!

    dialia | a scribbling fury

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just came across your blog, love the way its been written! I’ve been doing photography for about a year now but it’s still nice to read blogs like this when I get anxious about arranging portrait shoots. I’ve blogged about a few shoots on my WP so far but want to do lots more over the summer. Love your website! X

    Liked by 1 person

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