There's something about a great portrait that really captures the viewer's imagination. This is handy because people are a plentiful subject and provide lots of possibilities. Whether you're a novice portrait-shooter or a seasoned hand, here are some ideas for trying something new with your people photos that might help you get the images you're looking for:
1.) Take lots of shots
This is a good rule for all digital photography. The more shots you take, the greater the chance that you will get one or two exceptional images in the bunch. When it comes to portraits, this is especially important because the smallest shift in facial expression or eye contact can make a very dramatic difference in the final photo.
2.) Change up the angles
Don't always shoot someone straight on. This is what most snapshots are, and the resulting photos are usually not very interesting or notable. Try shooting your subject from above, underneath, or from the side. We're not as accustomed to viewing others from these angles, so the results are more visually interesting.
3.) To make eye contact or not?
Consider variations in the eye contact of your subject. Sometimes it is very powerful to have the subject looking directly at the camera. The viewer of the image can connect with the subject easily that way. However, many subjects feel uncomfortable when looking directly at the camera and, as a result, their facial expressions look uncomfortable. Try having them look at the side of the camera, at something behind you/the camera, at the ceiling or floor. Often this allows people to relax enough to get a natural expression that can be more compelling to look at.
4.) Get uncomfortable with strangers
Often we photograph our families or ourselves because they are the subjects that are always around and easily accessible. It's easy to fall into the comfort of the familiar, but you may end up with a lot of portraits that look similar or rely on your interaction with the subject. Ask to photograph acquaintances or strangers (be certain to ask permission first, it is only polite!). It may feel uncomfortable, but it's this discomfort that will force you to rethink how to shoot the photo and could result in some stunningly different images.
5.) Compose a masterpiece
Composition is important in all photos, but don't get hung up on 'the rules' when it comes to portraits. Sometimes giving your subject 'room to breathe' in the photo may look best. Other times, cropping in tightly on their face or a part of their face may make a better shot.
You may also want to consider using a camera with portrait-enhancing features built in. Some of Sony's latest cameras feature Auto Portrait Framing which uses a face-detection software to identify the face in your portrait and suggests well-balanced crops that may help your portraits look like the professionals'.