5 Cheap Ways to Improve Your Portrait Photography

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In this tutorial, we’ll break down a few different ways you can add production value and quality to your photography portfolio.

One aspect of photography I’ve always struggled with is finding original inspiration. What I mean by original inspiration is taking your own creative tendencies and funneling them through your artistic medium in a way that’s true to your voice. Sometimes it’s hard. It’s difficult to scroll through Instagram every day and see endless photos that are living proof that you’re not the best photographer in the world. Not only that, you start to doubt if you have a style, which then leads you to ask “What is my style?” or “Do I need to have a style?”

For this tutorial, I decided to try to recreate some of my favorite photographs from the past year or so. Obviously, I don’t recommend ripping off someone else’s work, but I dove into each photographer’s approach and learned a little bit about editing, lighting, and the importance of styling for portraits. Let’s take a look!

There were a few takeaways from all this that I’d like to share with you — from budgetary decisions for lights and wardrobe to finding things around your house that you can use to help improve your portraits. First, let’s talk about using gels.

1. Use Gels in Front of the Lens

5 Cheap Ways to Improve Your Portrait Photography — Gels

If you’re going to be using studio lights (or any type of lighting setup), chances are you probably have gels laying around. If you don’t, you can get a whole pack filled with several colors on Amazon for super cheap. Now, obviously these gels can help you get interesting looks with your lights while you create a certain aesthetic or mood. However, with this shoot I was trying to get a filmic, dreamy glow and figured out that one of the gels I had on the ground helped me get the shot. I went into the shoot planning on using the Black Pro Mist Filter 1/4 to amp up the highlights. The halation that’s supposed to be there wasn’t doing the job.

If you happen to find yourself on a shoot and don’t have gels on hand, use any translucent object. It can be a plastic bag, a glass, a window — anything that you can look through that provides an extra filter for the light. This should create some interesting and unique results.

2. Buy a Light Wand (For Cheap)

5 Cheap Ways to Improve Your Portrait Photography — Light Wand

The third photo I recreate in the video takes place outdoors. It’s a pretty popular style right now that I see a lot in magazines and on Instagram, and it consists of your model standing or posing outside right around dusk. The key light is usually pretty warm, almost serving as a faux-sunset type of light. For this shoot, I used the YONGNUO YN360 LED Light. It uses Sony NP-f batteries. This light is an absolute beast, and we use it on pretty much every shoot for the Shutterstock Tutorials channel.

This light is particularly effective because you can change the color temperature as you see fit. Plus, it only weighs about 1.74 lbs (0.78kg), so it’s not too bulky.

3. Focus on the Face

5 Cheap Ways to Improve Your Portrait Photography — Focus

For the second photo I recreated, the focus of the entire image was on the subject’s face. The reason I chose this photo is because it’s an excellent example of how powerful the photo can be if you style, light, and compose the shot. In this example, the photographer uses color to accentuate the face, keeping everything bleak and minimal. So the next time you’re shooting a portrait, frame the model’s face as the most interesting element of the photo. Make sure their clothes match their environment — or make the environment dull so nobody even pays attention to it. It’s all about intention and planning. Especially if you’re shooting photos on someone else’s time.

4. Using Wardrobe to Improve Lighting

5 Cheap Ways to Improve Your Portrait Photography — Wardrobe

In all three of the photos from the video, the photographers have the models dressed in a manner that amplifies the photo’s tone. I realized that one article of clothing in particular was one of the main reasons why the photo worked so well — simply based on how it reacted to the lighting setup.

If you’re shooting in a dark studio or at night, consider clothing that is brightly colored or reflective, like the boa in the video. For one, it looks cool, but it also adds production value to your shot. In the Billie Eilish photo, her all-white outfit creates a stark contrast between herself and the background. It just makes the image more interesting and dynamic.

5. Look for Inspiration

5 Cheap Ways to Improve Your Portrait Photography — Inspiration

So I started this article by talking about how dangerous Instagram can be, but I also think looking at what other photographers are doing can benefit your own creative endeavors. For instance, with each photographer I find and with each photo I take, I come just a bit closer to finding out what I like to photograph. Now, you obviously shouldn’t rip off other photographers, but understanding how and why artists did what they did can help you in the long run.

Interested in the tracks we used to make this video?

Deep Tech” by High Street Music
Grieg — In the Hall of the King” by Wilfred Symphony Orchestra
Oceania” by Olive Musique
Flaming Lo Fi” by Trending Music
Highway Hunters” by Denis

Looking for more photography tutorials? Check these out.

How to Create Dramatic Portraits with Shadow Photography
Video Tutorial: How to Use the Duotone Effect in Your Portraits
4 Landscape Photography Mistakes You Can Easily Avoid
Focus Stacking 101: Time to Open Your Aperture All The Way
6 Cheap Ways to Light Your Next Portrait Photography Shoot

The post 5 Cheap Ways to Improve Your Portrait Photography appeared first on The Shutterstock Blog.

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