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Good Portraits, From The Subject’s Perspective

For now, I will be migrating some earlier articles from our previous blog. Please bear with us as we get back up to speed! Grayson

The single most important element to taking a good portrait is the ability of the subject to be comfortable in front of the camera.

Contrary to public belief, when it comes to studio portrait photography, the primary difference between a professional model and a regular person is NOT a difference in perceived physical beauty. It is simply the ability of the professional model to look comfortable and relaxed in front of the camera. Like professional actors, models spend considerable amounts of time observing themselves in front of a mirror, experimenting with postures and facial expressions to learn what they look like when they pose a certain way. Over time, a professional model has the benefit of experience and therefore comfort in posing in front of a camera.

Have you ever noticed that, for many people who are not professional models and especially those who are either shy or somewhat self-conscious (myself included), candid photographs tend to look best? This is no coincidence, as most people are generally at ease during these situations when they are unaware that they are being photographed. Under these circumstances, their expressions, posture and body language clearly reflect this comfort level, as opposed to having forced expressions/smiles or stiff postures on demand.

How many times have you heard someone say, “the camera loves her.” Well, what the person is actually observing is the subject’s ability to appear comfortable in front of the camera at the precise moment when the image is captured. This takes both experience and practice and can be learned. Prior to a portrait shoot, try posing in front of a mirror and look for natural expressions and postures that best reflect your mood and personality. Also, be aware of overcompensating, particularly when smiling, as this can be just as detrimental to the quality of a portrait as being uncomfortable. You just need to pose in a natural manner, nothing more, nothing less.


Candid shot taken while the subject is intently listening to a conversation.

From the photographer’s point of view, you could have the best lighting conditions and proper exposure, but without a comfortable subject, the image will simply be flat, lifeless, and less than flattering to the subject. It is part of a good studio portrait photographer’s craft to assist their client in becoming at ease at the point of image capture and to encourage and guide their subject into the most favourable expression and posture.

How much should you smile? A good rule of thumb is to smile enough that you show some teeth while breathing out. This provides a good foundation for a natural smile and a natural expression.

So keep these points in mind before your next portrait session, as, in my experience, the best quality and most satisfying portraits come from capturing a comfortable subject with a natural expression.

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    • Grayson LeeSeptember 16, 2016 - 8:43 am

      Thanks for the kind words. Please continue to follow my blog as I will be posting similarly-styled topics in the future!

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    • Grayson LeeSeptember 30, 2016 - 8:20 am

      Hi Will: Thanks for the encouragement. Keep checking in for new content weekly. Best, GraysonReplyCancel