Portrait photography tips––steps you can take to make your portrait turn out better. Regardless of who shoots it. Whether I do it, another photographer does it, or you have an acquaintance do it. Some people have a favorite photo of themselves that happens to be very good purely by accident. Those are great when they occur, but can be maddeningly difficult to recreate on demand. In any case, these tips can help.

1. Get your hair done beforehand. Allow a few days between a hair change and the portrait. A new hair style or cut can take time to settle in. After the portrait session may be late to realize you don’t like your hair.

2. Where will it appear? How are you using it? Who’s your audience? You need a portrait that appeals to them as well as you.

3. Wear a favorite outfit. Bring extras. If you think you look really good in it, then you will.

4. Know your likes and dislikes from previous portraits. Tell the photographer ahead of time or when you arrive at the studio. It avoids them inadvertently repeating something you dislike (they’re not psychic).

5. Think about what kind of style appeals to you–classic, assertive, casual, reserved, contemporary, enigmatic, classy, aloof, avant-garde, photojournalistic, rock ‘n’ roll album cover, demure, retro, attentive, pensive, mellow, inscrutable, distinguished, vibrant, sanguine, artsy, upbeat, forceful, sassy, and so forth. Phew!

Barbie doll in red dress and hat

6. Look at the photographer’s previous work. See if they’re comfortable working with people. People can be quirky, whether photographer or client, and it pays to work well with all types of people without losing your cool.

7. If you find another portrait you really like from whatever source, save it on your phone, and use it for inspiration or guidance, not copying or imitation.

8. Shoot plenty. Shoot a range of smiles & expressions. Sort it out when viewing on the back of the camera. Be scrupulous in editing out and deleting the not-so-good ones. It’s not like you’re wasting film or anything. In most cases, only a single image is needed––the best one of you. Don’t use second best or runners-up shots. They only serve to weaken the strongest shot. If shooting a portfolio of multiple looks and outfits, still only use one best shot from each arrangement or set-up.

9. Be sure to get Photoshop work done on the one you pick. Soften lines, take out stray hair, remove temporary blemishes, etc. Everybody needs it.

10. Hire a good make up and hair person to come to the shoot, they know what looks good for the camera and how to achieve it.

Bonus portrait photography tips – situations to avoid:

1. A photographer uncomfortable around people. A good portrait shooter must empathize, give helpful direction, listen to likes & dislikes, and show enthusiasm for photographing people. Some are better at shooting landscapes, still lifes, pets, flowers, and more, but their poor people skills makes them not so good photographing people.

2. A photographer who selects which photo you can have. In other words, you don’t get to pick. I’ve heard people’s stories about this. Makes absolutely no sense at all. It’s your photo, and you’re the one who’s going to use it, so you get to select the one you like best.

3. Being told to cock your head in some unnatural anatomical position and your upper body the opposite way. A photographer should never touch you in an attempt to forcibly arrange your body, arms, or head. Or turning your shoulders one way and your head 180º the other direction. It looks bizarre and dopey.