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I'm a Portrait Artist that uses photographs as reference. Most people have smart phones with great cameras these days, and these are perfectly adequate to get a good photo for me to work from. Of course a digital camera or an SLR/DSLR camera will do a great job too. Either way if you’re not a confident photo taker the following tips should help you get the best reference photo possible.


Make sure the lens is clean, use a special lens wipe or soft tissue to ensure the lens is free from smudges etc.


Don’t use portrait mode – while it produces a lovely, flattering soft focus to a face, a lot of character and emotion defining detail is lost.


Take multiple photos of the same pose if possible, you can always delete the ones that are blurred/unsuitable. A lot of cameras these days have burst shot mode – this can be really useful to choose the best shot out of many.


Hold the phone/camera as still as possible to avoid blurring. You could always rest it on a table or bench if possible, or, better still, a tripod. I appreciate this won’t always be possible though so it’s worth having a practice…just take photos of a random object trying to hold your phone/camera as still as possible, practice makes perfect!


Good lighting is vital, outdoor photos are ideal, although make sure your subject doesn’t look into the direction of the sun otherwise they’ll end up squinting. Also keep in mind that you can cast a shadow on your subject if it’s a sunny day and you stand between them and the sun.

For indoor photos it would be a good idea for the subject to stand by a window or near/under a bright light. The best, most dynamic portraits have high contrast, which means the light source is strong and coming from one direction only.


For more natural pose try taking photos whilst the subject is busy/laughing/playing. They don’t have to be smiling and/or looking at the camera.


For non-conventional poses try taking photos from positions other than head height. For example you could hold the phone/camera at hip height to get some really interesting shots, or you could kneel down and look up to your subject. I wouldn’t get too close to your subject though, or you could end up with a fish-eye effect and your subject's face will be distorted. This is particularly crucial if taking a selfie, try to hold the phone as far away as possible, selfie sticks come in useful here. 


When taking photos of children it might help to get them to sit on a chair or stool and give them a small toy to play with, or you could 'hide' the toy somewhere so when you point to it they'll be looking in that particular direction with hopefully a lovely expression on their face. It can also help to ask them silly or thought-provoking questions like "Would you rather be a superhero or a wizard?" or "what do unicorns sing when they're having a shower?".

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