Professional Portrait Photographer Dishes Out His Top 5 Tips

By Lee Kuen (a Malaysian writer)

Steven Lee, director of KLPA, tells us how to make a good portrait photo

Started in 2009, the Kuala Lumpur International Photo Awards (KLPA) is an annual photography award for portraiture. The awards attract applicants from around the world, working on personal, historical and contemporary themes. Here, director Steven Lee shares his thoughts and tips on what makes a winning photo portrait.

“I have quoted in one of my catalogue introductions that a successful portrait should stop you in your tracks as you pass along the gallery walls. It should arrest you for at least 10 seconds, enough time to make you read its title and caption, and to appreciate the subtleties of the image the way the photographer intended.

“Whether the portrait is a good or poor one depends on one’s outlook in understanding the image. Aesthetics play an important part, especially in travel and landscape photography, however, in portraiture, it is less so. What is more important is whether there is an emotive response generated by the image at first glance. The emotion may not always be a positive one, it could also repulse the viewer, and that is already a success in capturing one’s attention.”

Tips for taking better photo-portraits

1. Understand who your sitter is, what their interests, likes and dislikes are – get to know them well.

2. Keep a clear and uncluttered background, for close shots. For environmental portraits, pose and position them appropriately to reflect their surroundings.

3. As a general rule, practice the deadpan style for formal portraits, as these are usually more timeless, unless they are candid.

4. Lighting. This is a vital element of the sitting which many photographers do not realise. It can be a simple white wall, or side window, but think about your light source in every portrait. Side lighting adds depth, and creates form, but frontal lighting can flatter a face.

5. For close up head shots, focus on the eyes, or the closest eye to you. Do check that your image is in focus. Most of all, enjoy your shooting session.

More on Steven Lee

Interview with the Director of KLPA

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