OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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Portraits

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When photographing people, it’s important to portray them in a way that’s appropriate for the subject matter. That means your subjects don’t always have to be smiling (it's fine to capture a moment when they're laughing or smiling, but it shouldn't be prompted by the art director or photographer). For group photos, try unexpected vantage points and more relaxed poses to prevent them from looking static. Avoid photographing subjects in a mug shot or grip-and-grin pose.

Relaxed poses, relevant settings and appropriate props help tell your subjects’ stories. Showing them in their natural environments is more authentic. It also helps relax your subjects so they feel (and look) more confident and dynamic in your portraits. 

Yes/No example

In the example below left, the subject is shown without context and appears stiff and uncomfortable. In the example below right, she’s in the classroom, and she appears much more relaxed and natural. It’s more dynamic because she’s interacting with her students, but because the students are blurred, the reader can readily see that she’s the focus of the photo and the story that goes with it. 

portrait good example

Portrait settings

Part of the secret to dynamic portraits is getting to know the subjects ahead of time. Find out what excites them about their work and include them in planning the photo shoot. Because they’re most familiar with the topic, they can provide suggestions for settings where they’re doing the work that’s being featured.

Support and detail photos

As part of your photo shoot, be sure to capture close-up and detail images of your subject and their work. A group or sequence of images can supplement the main portrait and better tell your story. Examples include close ups of someone’s face, their hands or an object from their photo or story as shown in the examples below:

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