What Makes A Good Portrait Great?

With the rise of digital cameras, the world of photography has drastically changed – for the better AND for the worse.  Now everyone is a photographer.  As a result, the market has been flooded with new photographers over the past few years.  Some have taken the time to learn their craft, while many just rely on the shotgun method – shoot hundreds of shots and hope to get a dozen decent ones.  The portrait is becoming a bit of a lost art, but it doesn’t have to be.

Here are a few things that will separate a good portrait from a great one:

1.  Lighting.  Learning how to control light is not easy.  It can take years to get to the point where you are really comfortable with it – but it is worth it.  Whether you are in the studio or on location, you have to learn how to see the light and make it work to enhance your images.  When I first started out, I was 100% “natural light” photographer.  My website proudly stated that I did this because I loved the natural, carefree feel of available light.  The truth was that it was all I knew.  Once I took the time to learn how to use studio lighting, my ability grew by leaps and bounds.  It actually helped me to create better images when I was working with available light, because I had a better understanding of how light works.   Sure, flat light is easy to work with, but your images will be just that…flat.

2.  Posing and Composition.  These are actually two different areas, but they kind of go together.  How you arrange your subjects in the frame – and in relationship to each other – has a huge impact on the final image.  Posing does not come naturally to most people, so you must help them along.  The trick is to not over-pose, but rather to fix posing problems that subjects will create on their own.   It takes time to figure out all the tricks and strategies of posing, but it is time well spent.   A minor pose adjustment can make someone look 20 pounds lighter- and who doesn’t like that? Once the subject is posed properly, you should use basic art guidelines, such as the “rule of thirds” to compose the image for maximum impact.

3.  Storytelling.  I saved this one for last, because it is probably the most important.  It is also the hardest to learn.  A good portrait goes beyond showing us what a person looks like, but rather shows us who they are.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, a good portrait is worth ten thousand.   This is done by getting to know the subject and finding out what kind of image they want to portray.   If you are running all your portrait clients through the same poses, with the same lighting, at the same location – you probably are not capturing their personality.  Take the time to explore their personality and tailor a portrait session for them that matches their persona.

Now go forth and create a GREAT portrait

portrait sample



  1. One of the greatest medium for capturing one’s character is through photography. It may not seem believable to say that a single shot can capture the character, but if done well it can surely tell you more about the person than any other medium.


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