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How to Take a Cover-Model-Style Portrait

By Guest Contributor

By Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks

1. Make sure your camera has the right lens.

The optimal length of lens to take a nice, tight portrait is 100 mm to 110 mm (don’t worry: even if you’re shooting with a point-and-shoot that has a zoom lens, chances are good that your camera has at least a 100 mm focal length). The reason? If you take a portrait with too short of a lens, you’ll have to get all up in your subject’s grill to get a good, close-up shot (and you probably won’t be able to focus the camera anyway); too long of a lens and you’ll end up having to move so far away to get all of your subject’s head in the shot, you’ll have to yell your instructions to your subject to get them to respond — and really, you don’t actually want to have to shout the words “MAKE LOVE TO THE CAMERA!” It’s unseemly.

2. Find the right place to shoot.
In my opinion, natural light is always the most … well, natural lighting to use when shooting a photograph; the trick is to find the right kind of light. Too little light and your images won’t come out very sharp; too much light, and your subject will look like she’s on fire — not to mention that very few people (other than Clint Eastwood or Jack Nicholson, I mean) look particularly good squinting. Avoid shooting in harsh overhead daylight, or the dark shadow formed under your subject’s nose will make her look like a toucan. My favourite time to shoot? During the Golden Light time — when the light turns that lovely golden hue about a half hour before sunset. Magical.


3. Make sure your subject feels pretty/handsome.
To get a great shot, you want your subject to feel comfortable — and they’re not going to feel comfortable if they feel ugly. Have them choose their own clothes, or do their own hair and makeup if they like. And don’t worry if you’re subject happens to put on her makeup with a putty knife: happily, the camera won’t make it look as garish as it does in real life. So try to keep the involuntary shuddering out of eyesight. Also? It’s always safe have your subject wear a solid colour, rather than a patterned shirt, if only to protect the seizure-prone viewer of your final prints from any … incidents. Quick tip: Everyone looks good in a simple, crisp white shirt. Everyone.


4. Once the subject is in place, look through the viewfinder, and before taking the shot, check out what you see.

Take a look through the camera and scan for anything that looks wrong. Weird shadow? Adjust your subject to minimize accordingly. A drug bust going down in the background? Ditto. And please, for the love of God, check your subject for stray hairs, boogers, the odd piece of broccoli lodged between the incisors — this is no time to be coy. No one likes a boogery, broccoli-filled portrait. Fix it.
5. Have your subject try to look right through the camera lens into your eyes, and squeeze the shutter.
But don’t do it just once — do it lots. In my experience, some of the best shots happen after the subject relaxes. Here’s what I mean: say, for example, you’re shooting your 18-year-old daughter for some natural-looking, high-school-senior shots. She’s all made up, wearing her white shirt, and as soon as you point your camera at her, she affects what you can only assume she feels is her best Keira Knightly pose. You take the shot. Predictably, your son is standing behind you, mocking her, trying to make her laugh. KEEP THE CAMERA AIMED AT HER FACE. She will invariably break down to giggle, scowl, throw a pillow at your son’s head, whatever. That’s when you click that shutter like your life depends on it. I guarantee you you’ll love one of the follow-up shots.
Of course, if all else fails, you can always hire a professional photographer. Then she can worry about the boogers and the broccoli.


Guest Contributor
About the Author

Guest Contributor

We often publish pieces by guest contributors. If you’re interested in being one, please drop us a line at contact[at]alphamom[dot]com.


We often publish pieces by guest contributors. If you’re interested in being one, please drop us a line at contact[at]alphamom[dot]com.

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  • Memoria

    October 15, 2008 at 11:50 am

    LOVELY!! Thanks for the tips!

  • amy

    October 15, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    darling! yr brill! I love that I have had my photo taken by you! I feel like a super star! yahoo!

  • Tanya Mills

    October 15, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Thank you for these great tips, especially number 4. In the excitement of shooting pictures, I often forget to check for anything that might be distracting. I’ll add this to my mental checklist!

  • Glad D

    October 15, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Great tips!! The shots are gorgeous!

  • Lu

    October 15, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Nice job on the article.

  • shea

    October 15, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    thanks so much for the great tips

  • Angella

    October 15, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Great post, friend. I expected nothing less from you 🙂

  • nicolien

    October 15, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    Great tips.
    And Alex’s smile is hilarious!

  • Jen Lee

    October 15, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    I love your photos of me, and now I can’t wait to take photos like that, myself. Thanks!

  • Patrick

    October 15, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    Wow. Those are some great pictures.
    We have been trying to do some of our own more formal family photos (i.e. not snapshots), and these tips will really help.
    Thanks for the post!

  • Wanda

    October 15, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    If these tips will make my shots look like yours, I will be sooooooooo happy. Thanks.

  • HSY

    October 15, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    Ah, now I want a new lens!
    Great photos and tips!

  • Elizabeth Perry

    October 15, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    Excellent advice – my favorite is the encouragement to keep pressing that shutter, right through the unexpected candid moments. I think it applies in lots of circumstances beyond portraiture, as well…

  • jcn

    October 15, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    love these tips!

  • littlepurplecow

    October 15, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    Great post, Karen. You are the portrait master. I also love your cropping and focus on the eyes. A tight crop makes the portrait feel more intimate.

  • Karla

    October 16, 2008 at 1:47 am

    Nice, Karen. I LOVE “No one likes a boogery, broccoli-filled portrait”!

  • angie

    October 16, 2008 at 4:54 am

    But I thought a white shirt makes you look darker? I feel so betrayed. . .

  • busymomma66

    October 16, 2008 at 6:16 am

    Great article. Hopefully I can get at least half as great a shot as you get. Thanks Karen!!

  • Francine

    October 16, 2008 at 6:53 am

    Great article Karen, thanks for the tips!

  • Jen

    October 16, 2008 at 7:25 am

    Thanks for the tips — I’ve always wondered how you manage to have such consistently great people photos on your blog!
    I’m finally getting my first DSLR camera soon, so these will come in handy.

  • crazylovescompany

    October 16, 2008 at 8:44 am

    I love it. Especially the tip about keeping the camera on the subject to get the best candid shots. Gracias!

  • PastormacsAnn

    October 16, 2008 at 10:14 am

    Great post – terrific tips! Love the writing style. TOO many “tips lists” like this are so dry, dull, boring. Appreciate the lightness and humor. Informative, interesting AND fun to read

  • Julie M

    October 16, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Love the tips!! AND the fun!!

  • steff

    October 16, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Thanks for having examples to solidify the guidelines. Off to figure out the length of my lens.

  • Nancy R

    October 16, 2008 at 8:04 pm


  • katherine center

    October 16, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Gorgeous photos and great advice. You rock!

  • judy

    October 17, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    thanks for the tips!

  • GailNHB

    October 17, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    Thanks for this wonderfully funny, well-crafted, and refreshingly simple explanation of how to take great photos – of a model or a beautiful daughter. I will put these ideas to work soon. Very soon. I hope you write more articles for Alpha Mom and share more about how to take great photos and document our lives in five easy steps.

  • Rebecca

    October 18, 2008 at 12:43 am

    Excellent article! Thanks. I love the photos. now I’m inspired to put these tips to work.

  • ardean

    October 19, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    these are great, easy to follow tips. now i just have to find a model…