Last updated on December 7th, 2023
Portrait photography is a delicate art. It takes skill and practice to get the perfect shot every time. Yet, there are many pitfalls that new photographers may not be aware of; mistakes can ruin an otherwise great photoshoot. In this blog post, we will go over some common errors in portrait photography and how you can avoid them!
Too Much Flash
One mistake many photographers make is using too much flash. A good rule of thumb is to never use more than one-third the power you would generally use for outdoor photos. Too much can wash out your subject and create ugly shadows on the face.
It’s also worth noting that some people are susceptible to light. Flashes may not bother the person when they’re facing away from it in a studio setting. But don’t be surprised when they start having issues once the camera starts flashing their face!
The most important thing about portrait photography? Making sure you have plenty of natural light available. It will draw out the best features in your subjects. As long as your subject isn’t moving too much (and thus blurring), both indoors and outdoors shots come out beautifully.
Using the Wrong Camera Angle
It’s natural for people to take a photo of themselves from the angle they see themselves in the mirror.
And it can look perfect when you’re sitting down and looking up at your phone or tablet. But do you have any intention of taking photos with other people (or even just standing next to someone)? Then, this is one of those things that quickly becomes annoying!
The bottom line: don’t shoot too low. That is unless other elements in the picture frame will lead viewers’ eyes back up towards your subject’s face.
If all else fails, try shooting higher. Remember that since most phones and tablets are also taller than they are wider on their screens. What looks like an exciting perspective won’t translate to what you see in the photo.
When using a DSLR, you can usually get the best results by shooting at about eye level.
Also, always remember what should be portrait or landscape. Many photographers use one way when they should be shooting the other way.
Your Camera is Too Far Away From the Subject
The closer your camera is to the subject, the more prominent and flattering those pleasing facial features will be. You’ve seen them all over social media: portraits where someone has a very close-up look on their face that’s very intimate.
This happens because you’re so nearby and often at eye level with your subject, making for a great portrait!
Don’t shoot too low unless other elements in the picture frame will lead viewers’ eyes back up towards your subject’s face. That’s unless they happen to crouch or kneel down (or there are elements in the frame that lead viewers’ eyes up). When using a DSLR, you can usually get the best results by shooting at about eye level.
You’re Using the Wrong Lens for the Situation
A common no-no in photography does not have the appropriate lens for a portrait photography situation.
This often results in either a blurry background or too much of the surrounding environment being included.
Often, photographers will decide to use their telephoto lens and shoot from far away—but be sure you’re not at an awkward vantage point! This can lead to your subject appearing smaller than they really are.
Your best bet is using a 50mm-60mm prime lens for close-up portraits with clean backgrounds. They tend to draw viewers’ focus right onto your subject’s face instead of the things around them.
Lack of Detail in Background Objects and Surroundings
One common mistake is not preserving detail in background objects and surroundings. While photographing a portrait, you don’t want the viewer to be fixated on an object that may distract from your subject’s face. Instead, try framing with more of the environment, so there are details all around. But also capture close-ups of parts you want to highlight later in post-processing, like hair or jewelry.
TIP: One way to do this is by using Lensbaby effects for selective focus when shooting at f/0.95 aperture values. This will blur most everything except what’s directly in front of it. It will still capture enough depth information for editing purposes, though.
Framing That Doesn’t Show Off the Subject’s Best Features
Photographers often fall into two categories: Those who want to create a studio-like environment. And then some prefer shooting outdoors for an authentic look. The latter can be more challenging when it comes to framing your subject. Often the result is something that just doesn’t showcase their best features.
TIP: Try taking photos of people from above or below eye level—you’ll get some unexpected results!
Are you taking engagement portraits and want to showcase the bride’s engagement ring? Put it in their hand and then frame the photo, so one of their hands is close to the lens.
Are you shooting maternity portraits and want to emphasize the belly? Try shooting from an angle that shows off the curve and shadows.
Are you taking photos of a group? Consider capturing everyone in one shot. Or have people sit on benches where they’ll be lined up side by side—it’s easier to make sure all angles are covered this way!
Frequently Asked Questions: Mistakes in Portrait Photos
What is the most common mistake made by amateur photographers?
The most common mistakes in amateur portrait photography are:
- Not being close enough to the subject
- The composition is off
- Contrast with exposure, black and white levels are off
- Heavy-handed HDR
- Having no focal point
- Photos that are not consistent
What are common lighting mistakes in photography?
The first mistake we’ll be going over is that your leading light may be too low.
The second common mistake is that you have your central light high, which can cause shadows and glare.
Thirdly, the incorrect placement or power of fill light can make shadows worse.
Fourthly, if the separation light causes flare or nose lighting to become noticeable, it’s not ideal.
The fifth imperfection in portraiture photography is overexposed separation lighting.
Sixthly, an overexposed background can immensely improve any photograph with children as subjects.
Last but not least, making sure to properly balance exposure will allow a better depth of field. And you’ll avoid having different parts of the picture vary too greatly in brightness levels for viewers to take in all aspects of the photo.
What makes a good portrait photo?
There’s a common misconception that a portrait is supposed to be all about the subject in photography. A perfect picture should attract the viewer’s eyes to the subject without even realizing it. This can take many forms: composition, lighting, and color are just ways to draw attention to your subject.
Conclusion: How to Avoid These Frequent Mistakes in Portrait Photography
When it comes to portrait photography, there are many pitfalls that new photographers may not be aware of. These mistakes can ruin an otherwise great photoshoot, and we want you to avoid them! In this blog post, we covered some common errors in portrait photography and how to avoid them. We hope these tips will help you take better portraits for your business or personal needs.