Who is not fascinated by the portrait and who, with a camera in hand, has not made hundreds or thousands of them, am I wrong? And of those hundreds or thousands how many have convinced you, with how many you have thought, “Here’s a great portrait what a great picture this is my thing” Let’s be honest, if we remove those in which the model moves us (because it’s your daughter or your son, so objectively perfect), those that we find exotic because we went to Botswana on a trip, or a few daring attempts in Street-photography that at first seemed to you “the most” but in the end, ahem… How many would we save by being generous? 10%? 5% for the most demanding? 15% for the “least demanding” (or best portrait artists)?
There are many ingredients that can make your portrait fail: blurred, out-of-focus, overexposed or underexposed images are the most classic errors, but we have another variable that, without being an error, can make your image something magnificent or something anodyne. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? You want to know how to go from 10% to 20% (no miracles either, huh?) thanks to the composition? Read on then:
Rule of the Thirds
You may be tired of hearing about it, but in portraits it can be especially useful, not only because it will help you place your portrait within the general frame, but also because it can be very useful when placing what you want to highlight his face, for example the eyes, which are usually the main motive or the most prominent in a portrait.
Remember that the rule of thirds divides the frame into three parallel vertical lines and three horizontal lines. The points where these imaginary lines converge are known as strong points, and it is there where our eye stops most naturally, so that is where it is recommended to place our center of interest.
Vertical And Horizontal Framing
In horizontal I will not insist because I bet that 95% of your portraits and your photos in general are horizontal. The explanation is logical and simple, if we see horizontally and the viewer is horizontal the easiest thing for us is to frame horizontally. However, you would be surprised how many images you have that would work much better vertically. Do the test, the portrait format has many advantages, among them, it allows you to fill more easily the frame with your character, and remove the background if you do not find it interesting. This does not mean that you abandon horizontal, but it does mean that you give the portrait format a chance from time to time.
Dare with the portrait format
The Negative Space
A way of wrapping up your protagonist without him losing his protagonism is to place him in a frame with negative space. A wall, a door, a texture, can help you compose your image, give it more weight and interest, but at the same time, without detracting from the center of interest. Remember that it is important where you place your portrait and in what proportion, depending on what you want to convey.
The Law Of Gaze
Another classic of the composition in portrait that you should know. The law of gaze says that more space should be left in the place of the frame to which the protagonist’s gaze is directed. In this way, the image “breathes” more naturally and we perceive it more balanced.
Take Care Of The Fund
It is often the great forgotten of photography in general, but also the one that usually ruins us many photos that could have been great. A post, a tree or an unknown lord appearing out of nowhere can completely ruin your composition, so before you shoot, take a look at what surrounds you.
Help Yourself With Lines
Lines are a very common element in photography, helping us to compose and direct our gaze towards the point of interest. Lines you have in everything around us, they can be physical or those that create the elements that make up the image, but well used, they can help you point to your protagonist or make the viewer’s gaze walk through the image the way you want.
Related to the lines, leaks are the place where those same lines converge, literally or imaginatively. They act as a guide of the gaze focusing the visual interest where the lines cross; in the points of escape.
Help yourself with lines and fugue points to compose
Let Nothing Detract From Your Main Subject
We’ve talked about the background, but it’s not the only way to “keep an eye on” your center of interest. Remember that a large diaphragm opening will be useful to isolate your protagonist by blurring the background or what surrounds it whenever you need it.
Fill In The Frame
It is usual that at the beginning we tend to move away or stay away from the subject, either because of shame, lack of confidence or because it may be easier to frame. Be that as it may, forget your fears or embarrassments in a drawer and get as close as possible, fill the frame with his face or with the detail of his pupils, you already know that if a photo is not good enough it is because you are not close enough.
The Look Inside Or Outside The Frame?
The two options are equally valid, although they convey different sensations. A look inside the frame can be used as part of the narration of the scene (a mother looking at her baby) and a look outside the frame is more mysterious since we don’t see what the protagonist is looking at.
Colour As A Compositional Element
Unless you decide that yours is exclusively black and white, color is going to play a very important role in your portraits. You can use it to add contrast to the rest of the image, to complement it, to isolate the protagonist, and so on.
Don’t forget to take advantage of the environment to increase the interest and/or originality of your portraits. Door frames, bridges, caves, the branches of a tree or the frame of a window can be very useful to add weight to your portraits and make them different. In addition the natural frames will serve you for any type of photography.
Don’T Forget Your Eyes, They’Re Your Main Center Of Interest
Unless you’ve decided to focus on another point on your protagonist’s face to highlight it, portraits should focus on the eyes as carefully as possible. If you work with large diaphragm apertures (larger out-of-focus area in the image), try to focus on the eye closest to the target.
Don’t forget that beyond “short first”, group portraits can be much more exciting and with better results if you work the compositions in a more original way. Remember the importance of keeping everyone in the zone of focus (closing the diaphragm) and that everyone is in a zone of homogeneous light (or some will come out dark or burnt).
You already know a lot of tricks and rules, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own, the ones that work best for you or the ones you feel most comfortable with. Varying the perspective, the point of view, the motifs, the frames, the backgrounds, playing with the colours, the contrast and a long etcetera will help you to investigate and deepen in the different techniques that exist or invent your own. So grab your camera, remove the cover and get ready to create your new and better “portrait” version, your images will appreciate it.
I hope you found the article useful, if so, share it on your usual social network: Facebook, Google + or Twitter. And as always, thank you! I’ll see you around.