Fix These 13 Portrait Photography Mistakes That Are Easily Neglected

January 16, 2021 in Photography

Fix These 13 Portrait Photography Mistakes That Are Easily Neglected

When you perform photography, it’s great to know what you should be doing. But knowing what you should not be doing is equally essential.

The most common kind of photography in the niche is portrait photography. Every photographer takes portraits. They’re simply elegant, impactful, and artistic.

The photographer who can do good portrait photography can be considered the one who can create a proper balance between angle, distance, and light.

If you’re lacking this balance, then there must be several portrait photography mistakes you might be committing. Committing these mistakes is pretty obvious as these details can often get neglected even by the professionals.

In this article, I’ll be sharing with you 13 such common portrait photography mistakes that you can avoid to become the master of it.

13 Common Portrait Photography Mistakes

1. Not Knowing What is Portrait Photography

The first and foremost portrait photography mistake that photographers commit is not understanding what portrait photography actually is. Let’s take an example of this image:

portrait photography mistake

Source: OnPortrait

This is just an image with people in it. This is NOT Portrait Photography.

What is Portrait Photography?

In a true sense, portrait photography is an image taken with the knowledge of the subject where the subject is in the environment that’ll be capturing its expressions, its emotions, and its actions which will be just as important as what she is wearing and how she looks.

A portrait is a detailed shot that captures more than a face. Hence it’s important that you avoid this portrait photography mistake and make sure that what you capture looks combined in one frame, rather than the scattered and too many emotions like in the image above.

2. Having the Distractive Background

portrait photography mistake

Portrait photography is about focusing on the subject. If the viewer is getting distracted by the background, then it’s the biggest portrait photography mistake that’ll make you fail.

Most photographers blur their backgrounds, but that’s not how it works. Especially, if the background has too many colors or lights, then it appears a lot messier.

If you intend to keep the background in your portrait, make sure that it’s subtle and not too busy. A solid background or something that compliments your subject is best to avoid portrait photography mistakes. It is because when you are capturing a background along with your portrait, you’re trying to enhance your subject. If you see this purpose not getting fulfilled, I’d suggest you try something better rather than clinging to it.

3. Poor Composition

portrait photography mistake

In this portrait photography mistake, we’re talking about poor choices. Poor choice of the background, colors, angle, lighting, and positioning of your subject.

Let’s talk about the background and colors here. Make sure that your background color composition is in alignment with what your subject is wearing and expressing.

Many photographers take photos of subjects wearing black on a black background or red on a red background. A lot of them wonderfully pull off that shot. Such shots have a great composition of lightings, angle, and the technique of capturing details.

However, this doesn’t work all the time, and of course, not for everyone. Trying a slightly lighter shade of the same dark can work wonders – Like black on grey.

On the contrary, capturing bold colors on plain white or pastel or soft colors can enhance your portraits in a much better way – Like red on pure white or bright orange on peach color.

Keeping your subject always in the center is also a big portrait photography mistake. Follow the rule of thirds or golden ratio. Try positioning your subject slightly on the side from where the light is falling on it.

4. Keeping the Subject too Close to the Camera

portrait photography mistake

You keep the subject too close to the camera to make sure that you create the focus wight on it. You try to play safe, but end up ruining your portrait, and that too – without knowing that you ruined it!

Most photographers when performing portrait photography using a wide-angle lens. This cliche isn’t always right. I’d suggest that you try both, with and without the lens, but choose what’s working best.

Taking photos from too close – directly or indirectly – ruins the structure and features of the page. The nose, the lips, the ear all look different than what your subject’s actual face is.

5. Using Camera Fash every Single Time

portrait photography mistake

If you do portrait photography at night, or inside the studio, avoid the portrait photography mistake of using your camera flash.

If you’re photographing at night, I believe that you’re doing it on purpose. You want that effect. Then, why combat it with your camera flash? It’s much better if you can use other studio lights from a distance to throw light on your subject’s face, still maintaining the feel of the night.

Use reflectors and diffusers to control the light. But do not throw the direct light from the same tools that are in front of your subject’s face – your camera.

6. Not knowing What they want to Convey

portrait photography mistake

“A photo speaks a thousand words”. Whoever has said this has said it right. Your photo does speak for itself. Some photos convey warmth and comfort, some convey dedication, struggle, happiness, aggression. And sometimes, all this is conveyed without any extra efforts.

You need to identify what you want to convey. And, are you able to convey that? Your subject should not look like a living dead. Try to motivate your subject or tell them clearly with what vision you’re capturing him.

7. Keeping the Eyes Dull and Unexpressive

portrait photography mistake

Dull eyes and expressions that don’t distinguish any emotion can’t succeed to keep the viewers engaged. Eyes are the most important feature of the face. The eyes in a portrait tend to grab the attention at very first.

The eyes in your portrait must be full of purpose, spark, and charm. It isn’t necessary that your subject is staring right at viewers. Your subject might be looking sideways, gazing at distant things, something that’s aimed, or something that’s seen only by him/her.

Avoid this portrait photography mistake by focusing more on the eyes. Communicate with your subject to bring out the actor in them. Yes – Portrait photography does involve acting to create masterpieces in the form of photos.

8. Too Slow Shutter Speed

portrait photography mistake

This is another huge portrait photography mistake that photographers don’t focus on. People move. And in portrait photography, you need to take multiple shots one after another with slight head and expression movements. Therefore, it’s mandatory that you keep your shutter speed fast to freeze your subject.

A slow shutter speed is always the number one reason your portraits aren’t coming sharply. 1/250th of a second is generally fast enough. Anything below this may cause issues.

9. Poor lighting

portrait photography mistake

Lighting is the basic element needed in all kinds of photography and photo editing activities. When it comes to portrait photography, your subject narrows down to a very less area. Too much or too little lighting can put your portrait photography in a bad mood.

It also depends on the mood of your photo. Do you want bright, enthusiastic lights or soft, romantic lights?

The angle plays an important role too. The tilt of your subject’s head and its position all come together when deciding from where the light should come.

10. Bad Timing

portrait photography mistake

Cautious timing can make or break your photo. Photographing the right expression will flatter your subject. If you miss them, they might never let you photograph them again.

Waiting for that right moment for that right expression to come and instantly pressing that shutter button is priceless. You need to be ready when your subject looks best.

Most photographers don’t wait for the natural thing to come and rather impose things on their subject. This portrait photography mistake doesn’t let you be patient and you repeat this mistake with each of your clients or models.

11. Either taking too little or too Many Photos

portrait photography mistake

Not knowing when to stop is the biggest portrait photography mistakes photographers commit. Many photographers hurry up their shoot and miss the opportunity that they could’ve got if they would’ve taken the photos patiently and a bit more to choose from.

You need to take enough photos so that you have enough choices to pick the best ones out.

Similarly, your results will suffer if you’re taking too many photos for too long. Some people might be comfortable with long photoshoots. But if your subject is getting agitated or bored, then this will show on their face. This will directly impact your end results.

12. Not Communicating with your Model

portrait photography mistake

Not communicating with your subject is the biggest portrait photography mistake you must be enacting. Maybe that’s the answer to how you can improve.

Talk to your subject, share with them your perception, and ask for their opinions too. There must be some similarities and differences that you may come across between both of your opinions. These differences need solutions to reduce portrait photography mistakes.

Communicating also builds a stronger relationship between you and your client. Once your client is comfortable with you, you’d be able to see drastic changes in the results.

13. Excessive Editing

portrait photography mistake

Doesn’t matter which photo editing software you’ve been using, don’t commit this portrait photography mistake, don’t overdo it.

Over skin retouching, color correction, and other edits can make your subject’s skin look like plastic and it can steal away the natural look.

Your editing should be so subtle that your subject doesn’t lose its originality. A few freckles and birthmarks should be left untouched so that it can appear real and not fake.

The best you can do to avoid this portrait photography mistake is to hire professional photo editing services. These experts have enough knowledge of what all things need to be altered and what shouldn’t be.

Apart from that, outsourcing photo editing saves you a lot of items and effort along with being a smart investment.


Photographers who want to capture exceptional portraits need to learn what are the basic portrait photography mistakes and how to avoid them.

These mistakes can’t be corrected with expensive gear and lighting equipment. It requires experience and learning from the experiences of the other professionals.

The portrait photography mentioned above is some of the common mistakes that can easily be neglected, unlike other obvious mistakes. Don’t be mistaken and fall for these mistakes to be “Okay and Usual”, but rather try and fix them.

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