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Photography Tips

10 Secrets to Portrait Photography with Celebrity Music Photographer Christie Goodwin

1st April 2021

Keen to broaden your photography skills or simply discover how to take the best shots of your friends and family? Portrait photography is your route to success! This style is no mean feat, but Christie Goodwin – the woman behind the lens of some of the music industry’s most iconic shots – makes it look effortless, having flawlessly photographed stars such as Camila Cabello, Paul McCartney, Ed Sheeran and Usher. We were fortunate enough to chat with her as she revealed her top ten portrait photography tips.

1. Think About The Background

Portrait photography isn’t just about the subject, your choice of background is just as important. In most cases, the best choice for a background is something plain and simple. Choose a background that ensures your subject remains the focal point of your picture. Avoid any messy scenes or cluttered backgrounds – if the background is too busy, your subject will get lost in the whole scene.

2. Choose Ambience Over Artificial

Just think back to all those great masters of the Renaissance – they would place their subject next to a window, and to this day we are still in awe of their works. The secret? Ambient lighting that softly touches the subject’s skin. This is what allows those portraits to be so flattering. In photography, the same rule applies so, if circumstances allow it, I would recommend choosing ambient light over artificial light.

Status Quo - Photographed by Christie Goodwin
Status Quo - Photographed by Christie Goodwin

3. Compose Your Portrait

Choose carefully how you want your subject to be captured within your frame to make them stand out. Sometimes, tightening your crop on the face of the subject can create a more dramatic result and placing your subject slightly off-centre can make your portrait more interesting. Be creative and compose your scene so your subject will stand out.

4. Use A Telephoto Lens

There is an abundance of portrait lenses available on the market today but if you want to be sure to get the best results, use a telephoto lens. The reason is that a wide-angle lens sometimes distorts faces, which is not flattering. A telephoto lens doesn’t do that, giving you a more reliable result.

Camila Cabello - Photographed by Christie Goodwin
Camila Cabello - Photographed by Christie Goodwin

5. Focus On The Eyes

The key to a great portrait lies within your subject’s eyes. Be sure to focus on the eyes, so they are 100% sharp in your image. The eyes are the most expressive part of the face and will really draw you into the picture, so a portrait where the eyes aren’t sharp in focus usually doesn’t work so well.

6. Dare To Use Different Perspectives

Allow yourself to experiment using different perspectives when taking a portrait. You can, for example, ask your subject to kneel, lay down, lean forwards or backwards. The possibilities are limitless, and those different perspectives can bring a whole different mood to your portrait.

Donny Osmond - Photographed by Christie Goodwin
Donny Osmond - Photographed by Christie Goodwin

7. Props Can Break The Ice

We are all very insecure beings and most of us feel quite exposed when a camera lens is pointed at us. If you feel your subject isn’t relaxed because of this, it can help to introduce a prop into your composition. Sometimes, if the subject holds a flower, a scarf, a book – or anything at their disposal – it can take away the attention from themselves, and they will start to loosen up.

8. Find The Personality Poses

You can make your portraits more interesting by suggesting poses for your model, which will bring life into your picture by bringing out their personality. Talk your subject through it in a calm and positive way, and invite them to come up with their own poses, too. I often tell my subject to look away from the lens and on my signal to quickly look right into the lens. You’d be amazed how much more natural they look that way!

Clare Bowen - Photographed by Christie Goodwin
Clare Bowen - Photographed by Christie Goodwin

9. Black & White Remains Classic

Whenever you are shooting portraits, always try to include some black and white. As photographers, we sometimes get so absorbed in colours that we forget the power of black and white! It can turn a portrait into an instant classic and will usually result in strong pictures than can stand the test of time – even more so if you experiment with light and shadow too.

10. Keep The Wardrobe Simple

If you are able to influence what your subject will be wearing for the portrait shoot, ask them to avoid bright and busy patterns. Bright clothing, especially white, is very hard to capture well without it taking away too much temperature from the face of the subject. Equally, busy patterns take away the attention from the face and do not result in very flattering pictures.

Showcase Your Portrait Photography

Once you’ve put Christie’s tips to the test – or perhaps you already have – the next step is to showcase your photos in the world’s largest photography competition of its kind – the CEWE Photo Award. Open to all and free to enter, your work will be seen by a global audience and judged by some of the world’s leading photography experts… including Christie!

Be quick, though… the contest closes on Monday 31st May! Enter for your chance to win one of 1,000 prizes up for grabs. Otherwise, consider printing your collection in a Large Portrait photobook, for a physical copy of all your beautiful photography.

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