How to Take Better Portraits

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You have reached the archive of articles posted on my personal blog. This blog is no longer updated, but you can read my latest articles at my new website The Creative Photographer and find my photography ebooks at my new store.

Thanks for reading! Andrew.

Creative Portrait Photography by Natalie Dybisz

The portrait gives us an insight into the human condition, a look at the lives of others. Most photographers know that the presence of a person in the composition, no matter how small the figure, always draws the eye. The pull of a strong portrait is even greater.

Portraiture is challenging because it relies on the vagaries of human interaction as well as your camera skills. Even the best portraitists are always learning.

So, how can you learn to take better portraits? In this post I’m going to look at two books and two ebooks that I’ve found very useful. I’ll also list some of my favourite websites that I go to for tutorials or inspiration.

Creative Portrait Photography

This is a book written by Natalie Dybisz, better known as Miss Aniela. After our interview earlier in the year she asked if I’d like to review her book. I said yes, and a copy arrived.

Those of you familiar with Natalie’s work will know that it falls into two broad categories. On one side there’s her self-portraiture (including nudes) and on the other is her fashion and creative portrait work, using other people as models.

Another strand to Natalie’s work is post-processing. It often plays an important part in the creation of her images. She goes way beyond Raw processing and uses techniques such as compositing and changing backgrounds.

Natalie is a deep thinker as well as an artist, and this depth of thought is apparent in much of her work. All this is reflected in the content of Creative Portrait Photography. Illustrated throughout with Natalie’s sumptuous portraits, it gives an insight into the way her mind works and her approach to photography.

Who is this book for?

This book will interest you if you want to take portraits similar in style or concept to the ones in the book. There are chapters on taking outside (portraits in nature, urban portraits) and inside. Most of the book is presented as a series of case studies where Natalie explains the inspiration and technique behind some of her portraits.

As you read through the book you will gain an insight into the thought and hard work that has gone into creating the images. You will also be inspired. Natalie has a creative imagination and her photos will spark many creative portrait ideas of your own.

The book finishes with a look at the work of five other creative portrait photographers, most with a very different style to the author. I like this idea as it increases the scope of the book. It is interesting and inspiring to read the stories of some very successful photographers.

Amazon UK | Amazon US

People Pictures by Chris Orwig

People Pictures

People Pictures: 30 Exercises to Create Authentic Photographs is written by Chris Orwig. Chris is an accomplished portrait photographer and a teacher at the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California. Like Natalie he is a deep thinker, but his style of photography is very different.

Chris is a character photographer. He is interested in capturing the personality of people. His portraits give us the insight into the human condition, and the way people other than ourselves live, that I spoke of earlier. This is different than the creative style of Natalie’s portraiture, which has more in common with fashion or movie making than it does with Chris’s work.

Who is this book for?

This book is for photographers interested in capturing the character of their subjects. It is also for people who have the patience and self-awareness to work through the exercises (or at least some of them) in the book. This is not a book for beginners, although beginners may find it interesting. It is for photographers that want to push beyond the immediate task of recording someone’s likeness and creating portraits that have depth and character. If you are interested in developing as an artist as well as a craftsman, then this book is for you.

Amazon UK | Amazon US

Portraiture by Bruce Percy


Portraiture: A Street Photographer’s Approach is an ebook written by Bruce Percy. Bruce is an amazingly talented photographer, a true artist. There are two strands to his work – the landscape and the portrait. He also travels a lot, and most of the photos in this ebook were taken in Asia, Africa or Latin America.

Who is this ebook for?

The title tells you what you should expect from this ebook. If you’re interested in travelling to other countries, and interacting with the people you meet with the aim of creating portraits that capture their character and environment, then this is the ebook for you.

Bruce is a photographer who is also an artist, and the depth of thought behind his portrait creation process is evident on every page. The quality of the photos in this ebook are breathtaking, and each one is accompanied by the story behind the portrait or an insight into the creative process.

Buy Portraiture

Forget Mugshots by David duChemin

Forget Mugshots

Forget Mugshots: 10 Steps to Better Portraits is an ebook by David duChemin, released under the Craft & Vision label. One of David’s strengths is his portrait photography and in this ebook he relates ten ideas that will help you take better portraits.

Who is this ebook for?

The thing I like about this ebook is that while most of the photos are ‘travel’ portraits, the advice is universal. Whether you’re photographing a friend or loved one, or a stranger in a distant country, the advice is universal.

The concept of presenting the information in ten steps works well, as it gives you ten ideas that you can put into practice as you get better at your craft. Like Chris Orwig and Bruce Percy, David is primarily a character photographer and together the books by these three photographers create a hugely valuable resource if you are looking to develop your skills in this area (as opposed to the creative style of Miss Aniela).

Buy Forget Mugshots

Recommended blogs

Learning has never been easier than it is now in our online world. It’s very helpful that some accomplished portrait photographers publish detailed blogs giving invaluable insights into the processes behind their work. In no particular order, here is a list of blogs you may find useful. Some for technique, and some simply for inspiration:

Micmojo scrapbook The photo blog of portrait and fashion photographer Jan Scholz. He has some of the most beautiful black and white portraits I’ve seen. Inspirational.

Jake Garn blog The quirky portrait and fashion photography of Jake Garn.

Smoking Strobes This one’s mainly about glamour and beauty photography but there is a lot of good advice about using portable flash.

Sue Bryce blog The blog of Australian portrait photographer Sue Bryce

El Sombrero de Pensar The blog of Spanish portrait and fashion photographer Alba Soler. It’s in Spanish (the title translates as ‘The Thinking Hat’) but still worth a look for non-Spanish speakers as the quality of the photography is so beautiful.

On Taking Pictures The blog of New York City portrait photographer Bill Wadman

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