Taking portrait photos

Taking photos for portraits
When taking photos for painting portraits it is good to be mindful of these key points to make sure you capture a workable image.
·Take lots of photos so you are sure to get one you can paint from
·Pay attention to the persons expression and pose
·Be aware of the light source
·Think of the total photo composition

Expression / Pose
You will want to capture in your photo the essence of the person. Most people are self- conscious when having their photo taken so asking them to smile is usually counterproductive. What seems to work best is to adapt a well know photographer's method of asking them to look away from the camera and on the count of 1-2-3 – turn and look at the camera with the desired expression e.g. smile. This helps create a more spontaneous image, lightens up the atmosphere for the shoot, relaxes the subject and makes the whole session more fun.

You may need to practice a bit to get the timing right between you and the subject, however if you persevere you will get the right expression and it won't seem forced or false.

For the majority of my portraits I also like to capture some form of movement – and this is often captured in the subject's hair. You can create through the process outlined above where you ask the subject to turn on the count of 3 or you can use a fan or hair dryer. In the photo session I had with Katie that created the painting below I used a hair dryer to get movement in the hair. This was important and in turn helped give the painting movement too.


Finally – if you want to include a collar or the tops of shoulders in your portraits pay attention to the angle of the shoulder. It's amazing how having one shoulder pointed more towards the camera and the other away with the subject's head turned towards you can make a difference to the overall 'feel' of the image and help to make it a more dramatic.

Light Source

Photography is all about light and when taking portraits getting the light right is crucial. I ask myself a few questions to get me thinking about this such as:
1) Do I want one side of the face to have less light or do I want a uniform level of lighting on both sides of the face?

2) If I want a difference in lighting on the face, which side is brighter? It is helpful to remember here that for some people they do actually have a 'good' side – and you can find this out usually by just asking them.

3) What light temperature works for this subject. It's good to have some basic light equipment here such as a lamp or reflector. I usually prefer natural light.

Lighting enables the portrait to look hard or soft – so the temperature of the light is important too. Depending on the of portrait you are after, softer lighting is generally more flattering to the subject. As it evens out skins tones and helps to minimize skin imperfections.

Backlighting is also a point to consider. Some portraits look great with at least one light source being behind the subject. It's also another way to give tonal relief to hair as it is lighter when more light passes through it.

The composition of the image is important as it helps to tell you a bit about the subject. For example, a closely cropped shot can accentuate a person's intensity and facial details e.g. moles, length of eyebrows and eyelashes. Whereas if you have space on either side of the image the portrait can have a very different look and feel.

In some of my portraits I have only part of the subject's face showing – this can add interest as shown in the painting of Daniel Craig below.


Taking good photos is important in order to paint good portraits. You often only get one chance to get the right image to use for the painting so don't hold back. Take lots of images so you have a wide batch to choose from. It also helps to take a friend with a camera, two cameras are better than one! That and practice.


This product has been added to your cart