portrait photography

8 Common Portrait Photography Mistakes and How to fix them

Portrait Photography Mistakes

Portrait photography is one of the most popular genres of photography. Unfortunately, it is one of the most challenging. It will take a lot of practice before you can get good in this genre of photography. You are going to make mistakes. But that's normal, we all make mistakes. Even professional photographers make mistakes at some point.

However, you must be willing to learn and avoid your mistakes. It is your determination to master portraiture that is going to make you an expert portrait photographer. Unfortunately, one of the problems newbies face is that they are making mistakes without realizing it. In this article, you will learn about common mistakes in portrait photography and how you can fix them.

Below, we have listed some of the most common types of mistakes in portrait photography. Read on to know them and learn how to fix them.

1. Not Shooting in RAW

When shooting a portrait, it is always recommended that you shoot in RAW. RAW files have more information than a JPEG and give you more post-processing power. It is best to use RAW because it allows you to have much control over the amount of sharpening you want to apply to the image. Moreover, using this mode will allow you to make changes to the white balance and exposure adjustments.

Remember to learn how to post-process image correctly when you are shooting in RAW. The alternative is to shot in JPEG, which doesn't require editing but won't always come out the way you want them.

2. Not Focusing on the Eyes

Everyone starts somewhere - as a newbie photographer, it may take you some time to learn that eyes of the subject are one thing you must get right in a portrait. The fact is that a great lighting, a great pose, and a great composition can't make up for eyes that aren't sharp.

You can get a better focus on the eye when you use a single point autofocus area mode. To use this mode, simply point your camera cursor over one of the subject's eye. This will make the camera to focus on the eyes and give you a better chance of getting a much-focused portrait that looks absolutely great.​

3. Too Wide Background

portrait photography mistake

Most photographers make the mistake of using a very wide background when shooting portraits. Although using a wide background isn't bad but it is not recommended. Using a wide background will deflect focus from your subject. People will tend to focus on the background instead of focusing on the subject.

If you want to incorporate the background, make it narrower so that the focus of the spotlight will still be your subject and not the background. Don't think you can solve the problem of a very wide background by making it blur, it will still dominate the portrait photo. The best way to ensure that your subject stands out is to make your background narrower.

4. Standing Too Far

I've seen this mistake hundreds of time before especially among newbie portrait photographers. If you stand too far when you are taking a portrait, the object will not only look too far but small. This will make it hard to know the main object. Moreover, you will get a wider background when you stand far, the farther you are from the subject, the wider your background will become.

​Standing too far will make your photograph lack good contrast which would have made your subject prominent. The two ways you can solve this problem is either to use a zoom to make your subject look bigger and closer or get closer to the subject but not too close.

5. Standing Too Close

Next to standing too far is standing too close. Unfortunately, most portrait photographers make this mistake. Standing too close to your subject will definitely make your subject look weird and bloated.

​You will get a nose that is too big, a mouth that is very wide and eyes that look like they are popping out. The best way to stand is not too close and not too far. Find a modest distance when you want to take a portrait photograph.

6. Shooting from a Wrong Angle

It is not uncommon to see portrait photographers that are making the mistakes of shooting their portraits from a wrong angle. It takes an experience to determine the best angle that works for your portrait.

​When you shoot from a wrong angle, your portrait will look weird and unnatural. This problem is common when shooting from the upward and downward. To get the best portrait, you must ensure that you shoot from an angle that delivers a flatter impression. If you are not sure where to shoot from, set your image to RAW and then shoot from various angles and you can determine the best angle later during post-processing.

7. Harsh Shadows

No doubt, shadows can make or break a portrait. On the other hand, they have the capacity to add drama and enhance mood but when done wrong they can be an unattractive distraction. Unfortunately, you have more chances of getting the later result when you have harsh shadows on your portrait.

​Your goal when you are shooting a portrait will be to have a soft lighting with subtle, understated, properly placed shadows. You can achieve this by making use of a diffuser and then strategically arrange your lighting setup. Using a diffuser is the best way to get a desirable result.

8. Too Much Detail

When trying to get the eyes into focus, ensure you don't have blemishes in focus too. If you choose to shoot only in JPEGs, ensure that you are not applying too much in-camera sharpening. You can choose to use a large aperture or a soft focus lens or filter.

To overcome this situation, I will recommend that you shoot in RAW. This will help you to make the necessary adjustments such as skin tone, saturation, and whitening eyes and teeth during post-processing. Don't overdo the editing, or else your subject will look unnatural. Just apply a selective retouching and sharpening.

9. Over-Editing

You want your portrait to look the best, so you open up your image in Photoshop and try to force your subject to look like a model on the cover of a fashion magazine. Unfortunately, this is not the purpose of a portrait.

The goal of a portrait is to make the subject look like the best version of themselves and nothing more.


Portrait photography is fun and enjoyable but challenging. Once you learn how to avoid these mistakes mentioned above, you will see a great improvement in your photography.​

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