The truth is, it takes a long time and a lot of practice to become a skilled portrait photographer. On top of learning about composition, exposure, lighting, and whatnot, portrait photographers also have to master the art of directing their subjects to get the best shots possible. It’s a lot to take on!
If you think your portraits are missing the mark, or, perhaps, you feel like you’ve hit a plateau and your photos just aren’t improving, maybe you’re guilty of committing one of these common rookie mistakes:
You Haven’t Mastered Depth Of Field
This is one of the most important things in portrait photography and is also one of the more common mistakes seen. To find that perfect balance between a creamy, bokeh background and a tack sharp subject can be a thing of great frustration.
It can be tempting to close down that aperture and shoot with a very shallow depth of field to make sure the background is dreamlike. But setting your aperture to its widest setting, such as f1.8, can make for a blurry subject too. Many rookie photographers make this mistake which almost inevitably results in a portrait where the tip of the subject’s nose is sharp, but the depth of field was so shallow, their eyes—the most important feature—are no longer in focus.
You’re Not Experimenting Enough
Portrait photography can be pretty by the book in terms of shooting. Especially studio portraiture, where the camera and lighting settings stay pretty consistent. Even though this does make our lives slightly easier, it also sets us up to fall into a comfort zone. When that happens, you can say goodbye to progressing your skills!
Experienced portrait photographers got that way from pushing themselves to try new things—even if they failed. Don’t allow yourself to get too comfortable, even if you’re doing really great work! Experiment, try things you’ve never done before, set your studio lights up differently, get your subjects to try poses other than the three or four go-to poses you always use.
You Haven’t Developed Your Style
The truth is, everyone is influenced by the work of other photographers. It’s easy, if not a little natural, for us to want to emulate what we see as good. While that means you’re beginning to develop your own tastes and preferences—a good thing, indeed–, it also means the line between being influenced and copying an idea can be really fine at times.
It’s important to stress the idea of developing a personal style of your own and sticking with it. It’s okay to appreciate and take inspiration from the work of others, but make sure you’re putting in the effort to come up with original ideas!
Don’t’ Be Discouraged!
All that being said, there’s no shame in being a rookie! We all have to start somewhere. So, if you find yourself guilty of one of these rookie mistakes, don’t sweat it—just keep practicing. Knowing how to recognize our weaknesses is the only way we will ever improve!