I recently started to do more Portrait photography as well as Pet photography. Although similar in theory they use very different techniques. With dogs and cats you have to embrace their personalities and go with the flow. There is so much you can control but you have to accept that you might not get exactly what you want. You cannot control dogs or cats the same way you can guide people. There are techniques of course to get a dog to be more receptive, but overall it is difficult to get a dog to pose exactly the way you want. So personality in this case is very important. But at the same time with dogs you can learn to be more creative too. We all love looking at photos of dogs and cats with funny expressions or poses. Do the same with people and you get in trouble :)
With people it is a whole new level. Although humans don't necessarily run around, jump and sniff other humans, they are however very critical of themselves when it comes to portraits. People know exactly what they dislike about themselves but are not always good at telling you that. If you show them a photo taken from the wrong angle they will see it's not right but won't necessarily know why. Knowing your subject is obviously very important in certain situations more than others. With people, photos are a lot more controlled - the postures, the expressions, the hands... everything is dictated and organised for a reason: to be flattering!
So there is a huge pressure for a photographer. The angle, the light, the point of view, the pose, the expression, the clothes and the location, all play a very important part in taking great portraits. The lens used is also a critical and important choice to make.
As usual, instead of just listing general tips about portrait photography, let's take a look at those two portraits and quickly see what works.
Both portraits were taken outside and in the shade. These are probably the two most important tips to grab and remember. Oftentimes people think that you should photograph someone in the sun. Flattering light - which is what portraits are all about - cannot be achieved in bright sunlight. Unless the sun is very low, like sunrise and sunset. Otherwise seek shade. Open shade is the best - this means that you are outside in the shade but there is nothing above you, just the sky. Cloudy days and shade will produce the best light for most portraits.
The first photo was taken at 16.30 on a bright sunny day, by a beautiful yellow building using natural light only. The yellow wall worked as a reflector and projected a warm glow on the face. The second image was taken at 19.55 just a few days apart. The grey building was ideal to create a professional look.
These two examples show two similar portraits, taken in very similar ways but show two very distinct styles. Both achieved with natural light, in the shade.