Portrait photography is a popular subject area, after all we’re always taking photos of our nearest and dearest. However, there is a big difference between the common family snapshot or selfie and a carefully thought out and crafted portrait photograph.

A great portrait makes a connection between the viewer and the subject, it also balances the contrasts between light and dark, has good composition and hopefully tells a story. It leaves the viewer with questions or stirs emotions.

By following a few simple rules and guidelines you can easily transform an average family snapshot into something truly special. So buckle up for some top tips that will help you discover how to take great portrait photographs with your iPhone or smartphone.

1. Use the Light

Light is one of the most important ingredients of any photograph. It’s vital that you pay attention to it and learn how to use it to your advantage, especially when shooting with smartphone cameras.

Shooting into direct sunlight will cause you all sorts of problems with a smartphone so my advice would be look for natural light which is soft and diffused. Look for light coming in through a door or window or in a shady area. This sort of light will be a lot less harsh than strong direct sunlight and will give you a softer finish that is going to enhance colour and skin tone. If you have a lot of contrast between a dark background and a light foreground which illuminates your subject then consider shooting black and white to fully take advantage of these contrasts.

Photo by Brandon Kidwell

‘That semi-shy smile’ by Brandon Kidwell

2. Look for a Simple Background

A distracting and busy background will draw the viewers eye away from your subject. It will confuse the eye and lessen the impact your portrait will have. For this reason it is important to remember to keep it simple. Look for plain backgrounds or try to use depth of field to bring focus to your subject and take attention away from the surroundings.

Noa Lily by Alon Goldsmith

Noa Lily by Alon Goldsmith

3. Make Your Subject Relaxed and Comfortable

When taking any portrait, it is important that your subject is relaxed and comfortable. Should they be tense and uptight then it will show in the results with a  stiff and uncomfortable feel to the photograph.

To ensure great results you need to make sure your subject is fully relaxed so keep conversation flowing, give them time to settle, to act naturally and embrace spontaneity. Try to guide your model but at the same time be guided by them. This way you are more likely to capture to true essence of the person and this will allow them to shine through in the images you take.

Photo by Andy Butler

4. Pay Attention to Composition

Composition is another important part of any photograph so it is vital you pay close attention to it. When composing your image consider applying the rule of thirds.

Turn on the camera’s gridlines, this will give you a framework to align your subject to in the composition. When applying this rule, you’ll use the gridlines to place your subject at one of the grid’s four points. This will help to improve the visual appeal of your photographs rather than if your subject was placed centrally within the frame. That said, the rule of thirds is just a guideline rather than a rule that must be adhered to. And as they say, rules were meant to be broken, so experiment. See what works best for you.

Photo by Andy Butler

5. Crop and Frame Your Subject

As I mentioned before, a great portrait is one that connects with the viewer. An excellent way to do this is to get up close and personal with your subject and crop in close. Not only will you exclude any distractions from the background but you’ll instantly make a closer connection between the subject and the viewer. Pay attention to the eyes, to the direction of the lighting and to skin tone or shadows.

You also want to look for creative ways that you can frame your subject. Maybe in a mirror, looking out of a window or archway. Framing your subject will help give more emphasis to the subject in your image.

Photo by Andy Butler

6. Change Your Point of View

Consider changing your point of view and composing your photograph from different angles. When photographing children for example, get down to their level or even lower and shoot upwards. You will achieve a more interesting and intimate connection to your subject especially if you can make a strong link between the camera and the subjects eyes.

Photo by Rob DePaolo

‘Game On…’ by Rob DePaolo

7. Focus on the Eyes

This brings me onto the next tip. The eyes. As a general rule of thumb in portrait photography, always try to focus on the eyes. Doing so will help make a stronger connection with the subject. If you can incorporate some of the other points mentioned here such as using a simple background, close cropping and lighting then your chances of taking a great portrait photograph will be amplified.

Noir by Paula Gardener

Noir by Paula Gardener

8. Have Fun

Above all have fun with photography. There are many apps out there that will enable you to montage images together so get creative.

Photo 7 - Andy Butler

‘Stiff Upper Lip’ by Andy Butler

These are just a few tips and ideas which when applied will help to improve the standard of the portrait photographs taken with your iPhone. Next time you’re out taking a family snapshot or selfie, stop for a moment and consider some of these points. The results will show.

Finally, consider this. With every photo you take try to tell a story. It is the ability to tell a story through a single image, no matter what style of photography you are shooting, which is a real gift. Being able to tell a story will add an extra dimension to what is otherwise a two dimensional image. It is guaranteed to stir emotions.

Do you have any top tips that haven’t been outlined here? If so, leave a comment below and see if we can start to expand on those listed above.