Today’s compact cameras are capable of producing professional looking photographs that often rival those taken with much more expensive equipment when used properly.
The success of a good portrait photo is ultimately judged by the subject who wants to be portrayed in the best possible light and in a way that they see themselves. Taking a professional approach to this will pay dividends and help you to achieve the best possible results.
Preparation is the key to a successful portrait shot. Take the time to organise the surroundings in a way that will complement the sitter. It may not be feasible to set up a studio scenario for the shot but it is fairly simple to ensure that the background does not spoil the shot or draw your attention away from the main subject.
Another mistake people make is to restrict themselves to a head and shoulders shot, with no explanation to what they are doing. This is fine if you want to apply for a photo ID card but rarely works outside of a studio, set up with effective lighting. You will achieve a more natural effect if you allow your subject to engage in some sort of activity which is included in the shot. This will also help to relax the sitter and the end result will look far better than a forced pose. Natural is best. Your subject does not have to look directly into the camera and say ‘Cheese.’ You will achieve a much better shot if the sitter is looking in another direction or over your shoulder. Try it and see for yourself which you prefer.
Once your subject is relaxed take a few shots from several angles to create different effects. You can create vastly different shots by shooting from above or below the subject. Focus on the subject and reduce the depth of field to concentrate on the subject and fade the background out. Select the portrait mode if you are uncomfortable changing settings on your camera.
One of the most important factors in portrait photography is lighting. Wherever possible, natural light sources will provide the best results but nature often needs a helping hand. If you do not have access to professional lighting equipment it is possible to experiment with ready to hand equipment which can be cheaply adapted to deflect the light just by using cardbord etc. The built-in flash on a compact camera can sometimes give harsh results and should be avoided if possible.
Before involving the sitter it is best to take a few shots of the background to see if anything looks out of place. You won’t want to make too many adjustments to the surroundings once your subject is ready, especially if it is a child you are photographing, who will become easily distracted or bored. With a good size memory card you will be able to take as many shots as you like and discard any that you are not happy with. The best part of a digital camera is being able to see your results immediately and make any adjustments there and then.