Of all the branches of photography, portrait photography offers you the most freedom of movement. The age-old custom involving studio lighting and empty smiles are frequently being set aside in favor of bright environments and unconventional characters. Portrait photography aims to capture an individual or small group of people in a unique way. It is a visual representation of a single moment in a lifetime.

One of the fortunate things about this style of photography is that, because there are so many different types of people in the world, there can be a great many different varieties of portraits. You have the ability to be truly creative and come up with something both original and beautiful. Here are some things to keep in mind for creative portrait photography.

Creative portrait photography - man inside cage

Perspective

There are no established rules about perspective, thank goodness. Imagine how boring photography would be if all images were composed exactly the same. When taking portraits, move around and have your subject move around too. A majority of portraits are taken at eye level when the subject is standing or sitting. Mix it up. Change where their eye level is. Or, better yet, don’t worry about being at eye level. Shoot up from below or down from above, any change from the norm will make the image more interesting.

Lighting

Creative portrait photography - close up of girl in glasses

Light is extremely fun to play with, because there are so many different things that can be done with it. Although soft light is generally the most flattering, harsh light, and in some cases, very little light, can be used to an advantage.

Set your subject up so that shadow falls on their face, or purposely overexpose so that their features are softer and there isn’t any shadow. Experiment with a number of things and see what you like best.

The more you change things up, the more you’ll discover what you do like and what you don’t. Watch how different sources of light impact the appearance of an image. You don’t want to create unflattering shadows that create a double chin when there wasn’t one to begin with. The more angles you see and work with, the more you’ll begin to understand the effect of light.

It’s also important to set up catchlights in the eyes of the subject. This adds a certain sharpness that professional photographers work hard to establish. It also adds depth to the portrait that wouldn’t be available otherwise, and it draws the viewer to the eyes of the subject, which should be one of the focal points of portraiture.

Use an environment

Creative portrait photography - young girl in playground

You’re not stuck in a studio, so don’t limit yourself to boring studio backgrounds. Given, sometimes it’s necessary to keep it minimalistic, but when it’s not, use that opportunity!

The environment has a large impact on the overall tone of the image. If you are capturing a session with a child, take them to a playground and let them run around. That fun setting will add color and life to the photos, and because the subjects are enjoying themselves, you’ll be able to capture more genuine expressions.

This is true for everyone. If you put them in an environment and get them to interact with it, you’ll have greater opportunity to capture some creative shots that you wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. If you’re feeling bold, put them slightly out of their comfort zone and see what happens. They’ll have authentic reactions, and you’ll have a more interesting photo.

Get close

Creative portrait photography - closeup of young woman

Unless you’re a pet or wildlife photographer, it’s doubtful that your subject is going to bite you. Don’t be afraid to get close!

If your subject is a faraway speck, it’s not going to evoke the emotion you’re trying to capture. The character of an individual is in their face, and while you shouldn’t always use this method, you should definitely use it once in a while. In the event that you are snapping a photo without the consent of your subject, heed the following warning.

Be candid, but unobtrusive

Whether it is socially acceptable or not, you have every right to take pictures of strangers in public places. You may be strolling through the city streets when inspiration strikes, you will want to get relatively close to the subject you’re capturing.

However, common courtesy makes this slightly difficult. Luckily, there are ways to get around this without being rude. You can either do the difficult thing and ask them if it’s OK or bring a zoom lens with you. The first option is risky, because if they say no, you will have to move on. With the second option, you will need to master the talent of fading into the background.

Typically, being the one with the camera draws unwanted attention, but if you keep far enough away and don’t lift your camera to your eye every five seconds, the environment may settle around you, and you’ll create the perfect opportunity for that special photograph. It requires a great deal of patience, but it’s worth it.

Composition

creative portrait photography - young woman leaning on a brick wall

Like with perspective, the only rule about composition is that there isn’t one, except that you should keep it in mind when you’re setting up a photograph. However, when you’re looking for something to fall back on, remember the painted portraits of centuries ago.

If you try, it’s easy to think of one or two examples, particularly one painted by Leonardo Da Vinci. As shown in old portraits, frame the subject so that the bottom of the image is just above the waistline and that there are a few inches of space above the head. Move to a position where the subject has to turn to face you and becomes slightly off-centered. This adds depth to the image and ultimately makes it more interesting.

Engage your subject

Creative portrait photography - toddler on the beach

It’s easy to create a typical portrait, but it can be easy to create an interesting one as well. One of the best ways to do this is to introduce an action into the image.

Some portrait photographers will have their subjects dress in a three-piece suit and jump on a bed. This may seem slightly outrageous, but outrageous is intriguing. Engage your subject in the photograph, and create motion where there isn’t motion. Have them move, jump, dance, tell jokes, or anything to shake them up. This will prevent you from having to work around dry facial expressions and boring stances. It will loosen them up and give you an opportunity to produce a gorgeous image.

Your subject might be annoyed with you during the shoot for making them do it, but they’ll thank you later when they see the pictures.

Be creative

Lastly, be creative. Every photograph you take is an example of your particular style and means of expression. If you are always doing what everyone else is doing, you’re not going to be able to set yourself apart. Experiment and take risks. In doing so you’ll make mistakes, learn what you do and don’t like, and hone your skills. Photography is an art form, a creative expression. It’s your job to treat it like one.