5 Tips to Make Your Portraits STAND OUT by Capturing the Personality of Your Subjects

Lesia Sementsova | Dreamstime.com

(Editor's Note: The follow portrait photography how-to was provided by Dreamstime.)

The days of the studio portrait using a solid color background are mostly behind us – thankfully. To get your images noticed these days, photo portraits need to be active, inventive and most importantly personal.

Whether you’re doing a favor by taking the engagement pictures for your second cousin twice removed – or you’re looking to expand your business into portrait photography – here are 5 tips for capturing the personality of your subject in photos.


Lesia Sementsova | Dreamstime.com

#1 Know Your Subject
In may sound obvious, but it helps to get to know who you are photographing. Spend some time with them before the scheduled shoot date. What are their favorite hobbies? Do they play any sports? Do they have a favorite animal, flower, food or book subject? You can also create a small questionnaire to have people fill in to help you glean more insight into who they are before you point the camera on them.


#2 Choose Meaningful Locations
Take at least part of the shoot to a place that has some attachment to the person. It could be at their own house, the school they attended or a favorite spot in their neighborhood or town.

Keep a list of venues you’ve found by “personality types”; a sports field for the athletic and outgoing, a quiet spot in the forest for the nature loving introvert, etc. You can then try to mix and match to amplify characteristics. Take that urbanite dressed in their best “Sex in the City” attire into a field of sunflowers. Or plop that country girl in cowboy boots and gingham onto a city street. The contradiction will help highlight the traits you think are most important.


Dmytro Zinkevych | Dreamstime.com

#3 Break Out the Props
Have some props handy ready to let the portrait subject interact with. It can be as simple as a cup of coffee or flowers. How they connect with the object can further reveal personality traits. Try to connect the props with the individual to bring out more of their character. This will speak volumes in the final shot.


Lesia Sementsova | Dreamstime.com

#4 Keep Things Loose
Nobody likes to appear “scripted”. The more formal you make the session the less likely you are to get a truly natural feel to the portrait. Have your list of poses and places ready to get the session started, but let your subject suggest poses, props and expressions along the way. The more comfortable someone is working in the session the more likely you are to elicit the kind of behaviors that will translate into a truly personal image.


Maxim Lupascu | Dreamstime.com

#5 Look for Unscripted Moments
It’s amazing what someone will reveal about themselves when they think no one is looking. Keep an eye on your subject between shots, or when interacting with friends and family who may have come to watch the fun. Look for the small looks or gestures they portray when the camera isn’t focused on them – those will be the expressions others will most associate with them. Then try to incorporate those into the next shot.

Above all, make the session fun. Nobody can be themselves when they aren’t having a good time. Make your subject feel comfortable, and the rest will come easily.