Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guest DT Genie Smith: How to Make your Photos Look "Professional"

Hi Flamingo Followers!  Genie here for my very first post of the month; you would all laugh if you could see how nervous I am...and how many times I've rewritten this!!  I've spent the better part of the last 15 years as a professional portrait and wedding photographer.  I've photographed under many conditions, and I'd like to share some tips on how to make your photos look "professional" without ever having come near a studio.

The obvious choice is to photograph outdoors, on location.  Look for an outdoor area that gets plenty of shade, or choose a mildly overcast day.  If you have to work with sun, try to work first thing in the morning or later in the evening when the sun is lower.  It rarely works well to have your subject facing into the sun; it creates harsh shadows around the eyes and causes most people to squint.  Put the subject's back to the sun; use your flash or a large piece of bright white cardboard to fill in the shadows.

Use your surroundings.  Here, there were two large, beautifully planted beds with lots of  color and texture.  I placed my niece between them and chose an angle that used the roses in the foreground and the large leaves in the background.

With a small animal (or a baby, for that matter), cuddling is the key!  Put the heads close together and crop tightly.

For a larger group, try to keep heads at different levels.  The ideal shape is a triangle, with the "tallest" person in the center.  You can achieve this by using people's heights or by having some of your subjects sit or kneel.  Try some poses with people grouped closely together, and a few with the group spread apart a bit more.

Try an interesting angle!  In the photograph of my daughter on the beach, I tipped the camera and it gave the portrait motion.  In the photograph with the tree, cropping out the top of her head draws your eyes into the photo and spotlights my favorite feature, her pretty blue eyes and that spattering of freckles!

You can achieve studio-like portraits in your home, too!  I made these images of my new baby on my living room floor, using my Boppy covered with a towel or blanket and a piece of white matboard for a background.  I chose to use the floor near my sliding glass window because it gets indirect light on sunny days; the building casts a shadow on our deck so the light that comes in isn't direct sunlight.  Try to set your subject at a 45 degree angle to the light coming in; traditional portrait lighting illuminates one side of the face fully, with a triangle on the opposite cheek.  If it seems that the shadows are too dark, use another piece of white matboard to fill in the shadows.  Make it the third leg of an imaginary triangle, and move it around until you can see the difference.

Finally, I want to take a moment on the Rule of Thirds.  This is a compositional rule of thumb used throughout the visual arts that states that an image should be divided into nine equal parts by a grid of two vertical lines and two horizontal lines.  Important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or at intersections.  Doing this will create more energy, or visual tension, in your images; you can see this in my portraits.  Try an experiment; take a photo of a landscape.  First, put the horizon at dead center.  Next, put the horizon at the bottom third.  Try the same with a portrait; put the subject's head dead center, and then move it up to the top third.

The best advice I can ever give is SHOOT!  Keep shooting; try different angles, crop close, crop loose, change the location of the point of interest.  But most of all, have fun!

More of Genie's work can be seen here on her blog!


  1. Ohhhhhhhhhhhh I am loving these tips!! TFS!! And your baby is precious!! I always struggle with photos of my DD as she has a skin condition and she has to always wear a hat when she is outside! Shadows are always a struggle for me! :):):):):):):):):):):):):):):)

  2. Thanks for all your tips Genie! They are great.
    Fabulous first post.

  3. Genie, you did a FABULOUS job!!!! GREAT post, FANTASTIC tips, and the most GORGEOUS pics!!!

  4. Great tips and beautiful photos!

  5. Nice tips, Genie! I should think about the Rule of Thirds more, at least when cropping, and really try harder to get subtle but effective lighting angles. Most of my self-portrait opportunities come in high mid-day, unfortunately, and I can't hold up a piece of white cardboard for pictures of myself! I should invest in that white card for when I'm taking pictures of others, I suppose.

  6. thank you, everyone :)

    sarah, when doing self portraits, consider that you can prop the white card against something. you can also use a bright wall. you can't move walls but sometimes the light falls right to naturally reflect :)


Related Posts with Thumbnails