Portrait Photography Composition Tips

Last Updated on April 8, 2021

If you are looking for tips on improving your portrait photography skills this is the article for you.

I have been shooting portrait photography for a couple decades now and I’ve written this article to help you get your portrait photography quality improved as quick and painlessly as possible. Just read these tips, and memorize them, before your next photo session and you will be amazed at how great your images turn out.

Use The Rule Of Thirds

young girl in straw hat

The most important aspect of composition for portrait photography is the rule of thirds. When shooting head focused portraits you will set up your scene so that the eyes of your subject are located in the top third of the frame. If you are taking photos of a subjects full body you can place your subject so they are on the left or right third of the frame or so they are positioned in the lower third of the image. Read more on how to use the rule of thirds.

Include Texture For Interesting Portraits

baby with blanket on

One of the easiest and quickest ways to make your portraits more interesting is by adding texture to the scene. One of my favorite ways to do this is by placing my subject in front of a backdrop that offers contrasting texture. One classic example of this is when shooting senior pictures you place your subject in front of a tree. The rough surface of the trunk will make the smooth skin of your subject really standout. There are so many ways to add texture to your portraits so experiment and see what you can come up with.

Use Your Entire Frame

closeup of woman's eye

When shooting a head shot, or close up of your subject, compose your subject into the frame so that their face fills the entire shot. Closeups are a great way to create powerful images especially when you can bring out the unique character of your subject’s face. Be certain your subject is not opposed to this style first as some people are not comfortable with closeup portraits.

Use A Shallow Depth Of Field

blonde woman looking through window shades

Undesirable backgrounds will distract from your subject so it is important to control them so as to enhance your images instead of detracting from your portraits. Keep the focus on your subject by using a shallow depth of field. This can be achieved by using a wide open aperture. These are the fstop numbers on your lens, and a lower number means a wider open aperture. You should also pose your subject so that they are not too close to any background objects as this will help you focus on your subject..

Pay Attention To The Details

toddler holding fall leaf

You will spend a good deal of time guiding your subject into flattering poses and it is imperative that you pay attention to their body and eye position. Always provide a point of reference for your subject to look at while shooting while ensuring their body is not pointing away from the lens. An angle is fine but not harsh directional positions.

Always Use Leading Lines

mother and son closeup

Leading lines are an important part of interesting portrait composition. Using them will draw the viewers eyes to the focal point of your choosing. Often times this is the subjects eyes or face but it can also be something more unusual such as their hands or even feet.

Incorporate Compositional Framing

girl in front of Christmas tree

Always set up your scene in a way that will be compelling to the viewer. Compositional framing is an accumulation of the other elements of composition being used in an interesting way. So use the other tips within this guide together or in different ways to ensure interesting portrait photographs.

Use Multiple Perspective Angles

girl holding wind pinwheel

If you always use the same perspective when taking portrait shots your images will feel stale and lifeless. Avoid this by using different angles and perspectives when framing your portrait subjects. This will help you keep your images feeling exciting and fresh.

Utilize Color In Your Portrait Photography

family sitting on park bench

When setting your image composition do not forget the power of color. Using high contrasting colors is a sure fire way to inject interest into your images. This can be achieved by contrasting your subject’s clothing with the images backdrop. You can also incorporate contrast in post session editing or through use of black and white portrait photography. Be creative and you will make your images really pop.

Always Be Creative

man holding volleyball

Sometimes breaking the rules is a good thing. When shooting portrait it can be easy to get stuck in a rut and your skill and eye will not improve unless you think creatively. Not every idea will be a winner but it will keep you thinking about your composition in new ways and you will be amazed at how many “Aha!” moments you will have by letting your creative side loose.

Take Notes

man leaning against wall

Because you will be experimenting along the way it is important that you take notes about what has worked and what has not. This will ensure that you not only remember what to use and what to avoid, it will also allow you to dig deeper and make new compositional discoveries.

Use The Bokeh Effect

hipster wearing hat

Portrait photography images are all about your subject. You want to keep the viewer admiring your subject and not a distracting background. You can do this by utilizing the bokeh effect which is keeping your subject in focus while the background has a pleasant blur. Read more on how to use the bokeh effect.

For more portrait photography tips and guides check out these articles