The composition of your subject is really important, give it some thought. Don’t be afraid to be fussy here, move an arm, a leg, the position of their shoulders and think about body language, what is it saying? Does it match with what you are trying to capture in your portrait?
Change your angle
Often by looking at different angles and moving around your subject you can capture a variety of different images, creating a different feel: artistic, dramatic, fresh, unusual for instance. Shooting down from an angle can be very flattering, where as looking up can be quirky. I often find myself standing on things to shoot down and lying on my tummy to capture unusual angles.
This one is so important and often why really good photographers fail to be successful and family photos taken by the family don’t always work out well! This is especially true of people who hate having their photos taken, it usually is because they don’t know how to be natural in front of the camera and the images they get back do not reflect how they see themselves.
Keep a few good lines up your sleeve, one line comments that bring a smile to people’s faces. Find words that people can say that naturally make them smile. For children this is especially important as many kids have photographic smiles which are well rehearsed and the opposite to natural. Remember, don’t ask them to smile - make them smile!
Get the lighting right
My rule of thumb here is that if it doesn’t look right with the natural eye it won’t look good in a photograph. Give it some thought before you start, where is the light source? The sun can be tricky to work with as it can cause people to squint, it can cast dark unflattering shadows, or uneven lighting. Be prepared to move your subjects until the sun falls gently on them, or even wait for the clouds that are in the sky to block the sun and cast a more even light. I often use shade from a tree or put the sun behind them and add some fill in flash to brighten the subject.
When inside, a photo can be greatly improved by using natural light from a window rather than your house lighting. I often sit my subjects in a window and have the daylight lighting one side of their face and use fill in flash to soften the shadows.
Connect with your subject
Take time to connect with you subject before you start, this is really important in order to capture natural photographs and especially true if you don’t know your subject well. What kind of a day are they having?
Why do they want the photos taken? Perhaps they are nervous and you can settle their nerves. Ask them to give you a few words on how they want to be seen in the photos, they often say words like: Kind, happy, approachable, professional, friendly, intelligent. When I have time I often sit down and have a cup of tea with my subject and find a common interest, people love talking about what they enjoy and this helps to settle them and connect you in rapport. I often talk about what books they read.
Now you have the basics, go out and practice. Find someone who likes being a model and get shooting. And if you need a little hand holding I offer one to one tuition for those wishing to improve on their skills.