Hiding or Highlighting Features

The photographer has an opportunity to highlight and emphasize; or perhaps hide certain features in a subject, according to the situation. If the photograph is of a pretty woman, it may be appropriate to hide any imperfections so as to emphasize beauty.  The use of makeup and front lighting to eliminate shadows will help you achieve this.  In the case of a wrinkled old face, lighting may be used to create shadows and emphasize the wrinkles, hence creating increased character and drama in the image. 


A photographer can add light to soften a face, to add a glow or to emphasise hair bringing attention to one part of the face and softening or reducing attention on another part.


Informal or Formal


Create either a formal or informal image for maximum effect.  Finding a midpoint between these two may mean losing impact.  Portraits can be formal or informal, even candid.

For a formal portrait session, it is essential that as much preparation as possible is carried out.  It can be unnerving for the subjects to be kept waiting while the photographer is preoccupied with setting up equipment.  Talk to your subject first, explain exactly what you are going to do and build up some rapport with them before you start and you will get a much more relaxed photo of them.  As soon as they are in front of the camera, start shooting.  Sometimes the best shot is the first one and sometimes it’s the last one.  Try to sense how your client is feeling.  If they seem tense in front of the camera try to get them talking.  It’s surprising how many different facial expressions will come out during a conversation the subject is really interested in.

Informal portraits can work well if the subject is encouraged to move into different poses throughout the session, allowing the photographer to capture a diversity of poses and moods.  Some people have a naturally serious nature, finding it hard to smile naturally.  If that is their nature, you should probably photograph them in a serious expression.  Warmth and humor can been seen in the eyes as well as the smile.


Enhance Character with Surroundings


A person’s character can be enhanced by their surroundings in a photograph.

If a person is always gardening, photograph them in a garden; if they are always cooking, photograph them in the kitchen; or if they are a habitual smoker, photograph them puffing on a cigarette.  Remember to think about the lighting of your setting before you start.  Plan for the right time of the day, look at light coming through windows and even meter the light in advance so you know if it can be done without flash or if you have to think about how you can use flash, reflectors etc to enhance your portraits.   


Composition and lighting are the keys to an interesting photograph.


Photography is essentially an art form, and its most important elements are lighting and composition.  To improve your skills, find photos you like and study them, asking yourself: 'Why do I like this picture?' Look at the composition and the use of lighting.

Light on an image from above brings the viewer’s attention to it. The surroundings of an image may enhance the affect if they relate to an image (eg. The photo of a book on plants set amongst plants; or food set amongst cooking utensils.





When you take a photograph, identify what the subject is.  Answering 'a person' is not good enough.  You need to go deeper and specify, for example ‘a wise old man with many stories to tell’ or ‘the innocence and innate joy of a young child’, something that activates your senses that you can touch, feel, smell, or taste.  This process is the most overlooked step in photography.  Although it may be tempting to simply snap your photos and rush on, I urge you to take time to visually explore the subject and see what appeals to you.  Ask yourself: 'what is the purpose of this photograph?' and 'what is the reaction I want a viewer to have?'




Next find a 'context'.  It could be a simple backdrop, which adds relevance, contrast, and/or location to the 'subject.'   You can add depth by finding a 'context' in a different spatial plane than the 'subject.' For example, if the subject is a building in the background, make the context a flower or person in the foreground.

Combine the two in a simple way. A good photograph is a subject, a context, and nothing else. Remove any clutter that detracts from your message. Get closer, zoom in and crop as tightly as possible.

Subject Placement


The placement of your subject in the frame denotes its relevance to the context. The center of the frame is the weakest place, it's static, dull, and gives no value to the context. The more you move the subject away from the center, the more relevance you give to the context; so juggle until you get the right balance. When a person moves across your cameras field of view the final image is usually has much more impact when the subject is off centre.  Leave open space in the direction the subject is headed, or if the subject is looking to the side it is best to leave more space in that direction.


Lines and Paths


Create impact by using real or inferred lines that lead the viewer's eye into and around the picture. Railway tracks, rivers, and fences are obvious choices, but there are also inferred lines from the subject to the context. Lines have subtle effects. Horizontal lines are peaceful; diagonals are dynamic or tense; and curves are active and sensuous. You can also connect lines in a path or shape, such as a triangle.