My list of 10 Top things you need to know in order to create the Perfect Fine Art Portraits

Have you ever created a portrait you loved so much that you decided to share with people on every online platform possible, but it didn’t receive the positive feedback you expected?

You put all your heart in a creative process, but no one understands the message you want to convey?

Are you unsure of what exactly fine art portrait photography is and feel overwhelmed about the whole process of creating it?

Trust me. I have been there. Disappointment, self-doubt, anger, confusion – I know all of those feelings.

Back in the 2014, when I started my photography journey, there was not much online information available to help me understand how to create Fine Art Portrait Photography.
I had to learn everything myself through many trials and errors. And that wasn’t easy.

People didn’t understand what ‘Fine Art’ was. As a result, my work faced a lot of negative criticism, most of the time not being constructive at all.

Despite all of that, I didn’t stop.

I knew that photography was my ultimate passion, and if I put all my energy into it, I would master it eventually.

I spent next 2 years learning the lighting techniques, getting to know the correct camera settings and mastering posing.
I trusted that one day, I would finally be able to explain the message behind my portraits.

Eventually, with hard work, determination, and perseverance, I have managed to find all the puzzles I needed to build a final piece – portrait with impact.

Today, I can finally share with you, my personal list of the top 10 things that you need to know in order  to create perfect fine art portraits.

But what exactly is Fine Art Photography?

Firstly, I need to explain what Fine Art Photography is.

‘Fine Art’ style is when the author’s primary goal is to use photography to express the personal vision, form an idea, deliver a message, or evoke emotions.

You can find more about the elements of Fine Art and the message behind my portraits in my other blog ‘What exactly is Fine Art Photography ?’.

Butterfly lighting technique used to photograph young girl in black feathers

My Top 10 Elements

1. The Idea

As a beginner, we think that a good photographer is the one who can photograph everything.

As a result of that thinking, we invest in various training courses and try to gain as much knowledge as possible about all the photography genres we can find, e.g., weddings, events, lifestyle, fashion, newborns, maternity, family, headshots, etc.

We listen to other photographer’s advice to always deliver everything what our clients request, without analysing if those are the right clients for us.

We focus to much on doing, not enough on creating.

Finally, we are scared that if we say ‘no’ – we will lose the potential business and clients.

It is important to understand that it is nearly impossible to master all photography genres and be able to deliver the high-quality results in all of them.

The best way is to determine what kind of photography is the closest to our heart. What we exactly want to produce and represent. 

We need THE IDEA of what we want to showcase in our work.
Only by realizing that – we can start focusing on the rest.

My personal advice :

  •  it is OK to be better in one photography genre then the other. Try to focus your energy on the chosen one and you will notice how fast your photography will improve.

  • You do not have to be the best in everything.

  • You ARE allowed to love one type of photography more then the other. You don’t have to love everything in order to be considered a good photographer.

2. Styling

 

After finding your IDEA, the next step is to find your signature STYLING.

You need to decide about the colour palette for your images. Do you prefer pastel tones or more earthy and organic feel. Are you a fan of rich, vibrant colours or maybe desaturated ones ?

The choice of  clothing and fabric you want to include in your sessions is very important, as well as the furniture, accessories and backdrops. 

They all have a significant impact on the mood of the images you create and the viewers you attract to them.

The style you choose for your photography should be CONSISTENT throughout your whole portfolio.

Consistency sends a clear message to your potential clients and viewers. It helps to target your perfect audience.

3. Accessories

The choice of accessories can make or break the image.

Accessories should complement, not overpower the main subject.

Always make sure that you use the elements that are right size, can highlight the textures on the image, have complementary colours, and most of all,  they emphasise or add to the message you want to convey.

My personal advice :

Talk to your clients about the accessories you plan to use during the session. Consult the ideas. Make sure they are happy about your plan and structure for their session.

By doing that you gain their trust and you eliminate any possible misunderstanding.

 

4. Lighting

Photography does not exist without the light.

It is an essential element when it comes to creating the perfect portrait photography.

There are two types of light we can use for portrait photography – natural, ambient light and artificial, studio light.

Whichever one you choose, you need to know how to create images showing the correct lighting techniques.

In a classic portrait photography, we have 4 main, lighting techniques :

  • Butterfly lighting – Visible shadows under the chin, nose, and cheekbones.
  • Split lighting –  Half of the subject’s face is lit, while the other half is left in shadow

  • Loop lighting –  created under the nose shadow to one side. 
  • Rembrandt lighting –  the shadow from under the nose connects with the shadow under the cheek, creating the highlighted triangle (Rembrandt’s triangle )
 
Learn more about those Lighting Techniques and how I use them by following the link to my other post blog.

 

5. Posing 

 

It is photographer’s job and responsibility to always pose the clients so they can look at their best.  Many photographers though are scared of posing and are not sure of what looks right and what doesn’t.

 

I found these steps to be the best to follow when learning the posing techniques: 

  • Observe. Visit the museums, go to exhibitions, read magazines, explore Pinterest. You can find posing ideas everywhere around you. Create your mood board and start pinning all the poses that you find the most relevant to your style
  • Memorize. Learn the poses : the face and body angles, hand positioning, cropping ideas.
  • Analyse. Read your client’s body language, determine their best sides and find the best body angles. Never force posing on any client. What can be good to one person is not necessarily good for the other. Gently shape and adjust the pose using calm voice and clear to understand instructions
  • Practice. The only way to master anything is to practise it as much as possible 

     

 

LBGTQ family with two moms celebrating the bond with their kids, lesbian moms being proud of their family, black and white family photography

6. Camera settings

 

Knowing your camera will help you to create you portraits with confidence.

By having a technical knowledge, you don’t have to focus on settings adjustments. As a result, you allow  your creativity to play the leading role.

These are the main technical elements you should know and be able to adjust: 

  • aperture
  • iso
  • shutter speed
  • white balance
  • focal point.

7. Composition

Correct composition, visual balance and direction of flow helps to grab the viewers attention.

The most important elements of composition you should focus on are :

  • Rule of thirds – you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines that your photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally.
  • The Fibonacci spiral (the golden spiral)- It helps to lead the viewer through the entire photo.
  • Leading lines
  • Framing
  • Cropping
  • Reducing  the elements that can destruct the viewer


8. Colours.

There is a special power that all  photographers have when they create their portraits. The power to choose if the image will have a bigger impact if delivered in colour or in black & white format.

Firstly, it is essential to know what kind of audience the image will be directed to. Most of the people respond better to colour photography, as this is how they see the world everyday. But we need to remember that colour is a distraction that can pull away the viewer’s attention from the message.

If the photographer’s goal is to focus on the timeless meaning, deep emotions like pain or love, it is better to strip the image from the colour and leave it in black & white version. 
By taking away the colours we leave the viewers only with the essence.

9. Editing

Firstly, it is fundamental to understand that photographer’s main goal should be always to create the perfect raw image.

That can only happen if we firstly master all the technical elements and lighting techniques that I mentioned above.

Finally, we can use this perfect raw image as our canvas and apply our unique editing style on top of it. A Style that should be like a stamp for everyone to know who is the author.

10. Mood and atmosphere

One of the most powerful, yet difficult elements to master in photography overall is to capture emotions and deliver the message to your viewers.

The best portraits are those that are able to connect and pull the viewers into the image.


We can help to direct the viewers by using most of the elements above like correct lighting techniques, accessories or composition.

The Conclusion

If you follow your photography IDEA and signature STILING, choose the right ACCESSORIES to complement the subject, use the correct LIGHTING TECHNIQUE and CAMERA SETTINGS, direct your clients for the best POSING, use perfect COMPOSITION that will show the viewers  main point of interest, decide on best COLOURS, apply your unique EDITING style, and manage to create MOOD AND ATMOSPHERE while delivering the message as well as evoking emotions….

…you will create the perfect portrait with IMPACT.

The most powerful force that will stop your viewers from scrolling and grab your client’s attention.

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