Travel Photography : Stunning Portrait Photographs in Seven Steps

People will always be the best subject when you are eyeing for a stunning destination photographs. In fact, the best photo collections for me are those environmental portraits taken from various tourist destinations. Environmental portraits doesn’t only show how people looks like in a certain place but it also tells a story to its viewers.

Young Ifugao in Batad
Young Ifugao in Batad

Portrait photography isn’t just about technical ability and using the right equipment. Capturing a person’s character in a photograph takes a very special approach. Massive improvements can be made to portrait photographs by making relatively simple changes.

Mangyan Woman from Mindoro
Mangyan Woman from Mindoro (photo courtesy of Journeying Pinay)

The following photography tips will give an instant lift to your photographs of people.

Kid in Mt Timbak in Kabayan Benguet
Kid in Mt Timbak in Kabayan Benguet (photo by Dongho of

1)    Photograph the subject in their own environment.

Many people don’t like being in a studio, and they don’t appear relaxed and comfortable in this environment. Photographing people in their own environment will lead to more natural looking pictures. You can illustrate someone’s personality with the things they keep around them. For example, photographing a musician with their instruments will create a far more effective portrait than a shot taken in a photographic studio.

Kid while playing on the sand in Moalboal
Kid while playing on the sand in Moalboal (photo courtesy of Ian de la Pena)

2)    Talk to and engage with your subject.

Asking someone to smile often leads to a dull and unnatural picture. If working with adults, chat with them and getting them to relax and tell you about themselves. If working with children, get them to laugh and be themselves. Photographs taken in this natural atmosphere will be far more effective as portraits.

3)    Do something off the wall.

If you want to produce a truly original portrait, you need to do something unusual. Don’t force your subject to do something that may be totally out of character for them, but look for a fresh way to photograph them that’s in line with their character. If working with a martial artist, get him to show you some punches and kicks. Of working with a little ballerina, ask her to dance for you as you chat and take some pictures, Look for fresh angles for every portrait.

Coastal Life, Laiya Beach, Batangas
Coastal Life, Laiya Beach, Batangas (photo by Adaphobic)

4)    Use natural light.

Portraits taken indoors are best shot near a window during the day. Window light is soft and diffused, and is perfect for natural portraits. Using studio lighting can be intimidating to some subjects, and the results often look artificial. Using a camera’s built-in flash produces harsh lighting which is often flat and lifeless.

Old Man in Baguio
Old Man in Baguio (photo by Nomadic Experiences)

5)    Fill the frame for impact.

Portrait photographs can be everything from a close-up of a person’s face to a full-length body shot. For maximum impact, get close to your subject and fill the frame with their face. Ask the person to look directly into the camera for a striking effect.

portrait kids
Kids at Quiapo Mosque (photo by Christian Sangoyo)

6)    Check the sharpness of the eyes.

Focussing on the eyes is critical in portrait photographs. Selective focussing works well for pictures of people, but their eyes should always be in sharp focus.

Kids at Manila Bay
Kids at Manila Bay (Photo by Elal Lasola)

7)    Use a 50mm lens.

Zoom lenses are great for shooting photographs of people, and they give you flexibility for framing shots in different ways. A 50mm lens is the choice of many expert portrait photographers, and if you experiment working with one you will understand why. A 50mm lens can produce stunning sharpness, and using a fixed lens forces you to consider framing and composition more.

Follow these seven tips and you will be amazed at the improvements in your portrait pictures.

  1. BUCHOK says

    Thanks. ’tis is a great post. Learning on how to shoot on portrait although I don’t like portraits, i am more on landscapes but sometimes when blogging and visiting places it is necessary to take one. Thanks sir.

    1. melo says

      @Buchok – I love lanscape photos too and I rarely take portraits before but when i started collection NatGeo magazines, I realized that environmental portraits are soooo expressive… now im a huge fan!

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