Just what goes into capturing a model’s beauty and personality? Uncover the artistry of portrait photography with advice from these five professionals.

The studio portrait is a difficult thing to master. Everything must be perfect, from the wardrobe to the lighting to the minute details of the face. As an example, the great portraitist Yousuf Karsh, photographed everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Georgia O’Keeffe. As legend has it, he used to travel with 350 pounds of equipment, ranging from his camera to a vast array of lights. And once he arrived at his destination, he had to get his shot quickly; in the case of Winston Churchill, he had exactly two minutes to start and finish his work.

Like Karsh, the best portrait photographers create images that are at once timeless and contemporary. Their pictures speak to the modern age while referencing the long history of photographers who came before us. We asked five Shutterstock contributors to take us behind the scenes and share their best tricks for capturing beautiful and authentic studio portraits.

1. “It is better to spend two hours preparing and fifteen minutes shooting.”

Alex Malikov

5 Expert Photographers Share Their Best Portrait Photography Tips — Practice and Preparation

Image by Alex Malikov. Gear: Nikon D7000 camera, Nikon 85 1.8g lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f9; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This is a photo of a charming Russian girl named Elizabeth. I got the idea to make a classic portrait in the style of the 19th century. We picked up some simple clothes and used an abstract background. Next, I used the Rembrandt Triangle lighting scheme and added an orange backlight to give the photos a warm and colorful look.

Pro Tip:

The most important thing when it comes to shooting portraits is thoughtful preparation. It is better to spend two hours preparing and fifteen minutes shooting. I also suggest learning how to see and understand light. You can only do this with practice and by working in the studio.

Pictured: [1] Alex Malikov. [2] Alex Malikov. [3] Alex Malikov.

I advise you to look at photos by other photographers, watch films, observe paintings in museums, and analyze them. You should always be thinking, “How did they make such a beautiful picture? How many light sources were used? Why did they use those colors for the clothes?” That way, you will learn to develop your taste and maybe a style for your photos. And most importantly, always try new things and experiment!

Instagram

2. “Experience, intuition, and time spent with your model will help you to capture his or her real self.”

Tuzemka (Viktoriia Tuzenko)

5 Expert Photographers Share Their Best Portrait Photography Tips — Spend Time with Your Model

Image by Tuzemka (Viktoriia Tuzenko). Gear: Canon EOS 550D camera, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0L IS USM lens. Settings: Focal length 80.0mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f7.1; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This was my first shoot with my favorite model. We were young and full of energy, just like now, although many years have passed and we are old friends. It was summer, in the middle of the day. We laughed a lot, joked, and told each other stories about our lives. I remember those times with great warmth.

Pro Tip:

In order to create a good portrait, you need to watch a lot of people, not only when you have a camera in your hands or when you’re at work. Watch family members and strangers. Watch people in the shops, on public transportation, in the cafe. Observe people from different angles and under different lighting conditions. At the same time, analyze what kind of light and what angles will be most successful for each specific person.

5 Expert Photographers Share Their Best Portrait Photography Tips — Observe the People Around You

Image by Tuzemka (Viktoriia Tuzenko).

Experience, intuition, and time spent with your model will help you to capture his or her real self. Here is another little secret. Before I start shooting, I mentally draw portraits of the person I’m about to photograph. It happens automatically since I’ve been drawing people since childhood. It helps me to grasp their essence. And there is one more important point. I always try to show a person from their very best side, not to conceal anything, but simply for emphasis.

Instagram 1  |  Instagram 2

3. “First and foremost, you have to gather knowledge about the history of visual arts and follow the works of famous contemporary photographers.”

Oleg Gekman

5 Expert Photographers Share Their Best Portrait Photography Tips — Learn Your Art History and Theory

Image by Oleg Gekman. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. Settings: Focal length 100mm; exposure 1/160 sec; f11; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

In this portrait, I created a tender spring mood. The model’s appearance perfectly fits the theme, and to help complete the image, we used light makeup in pastel and pink hues, a hairdo in a romantic style, and a matching color scheme. I’ve always preferred to learn and to draw inspiration from paintings as well as classic and modern photography.

Pro Tip:

First and foremost, you have to gather knowledge about the history of visual arts and follow the works of famous contemporary photographers. Nowadays, a lot of beginners pay more attention to master classes provided by popular photographers, and then they start working in the same vein and completely fail to develop their own style. The only thing that you can get from these master classes is an opportunity to get to know the technical side of portrait photography. But afterward, you have to try and cultivate your own unique style.

Pictured: [1] Oleg Gekman. [2] Oleg Gekman. [3] Oleg Gekman.

You can only do this by constantly maintaining your personal growth, looking for new sources of inspiration, and experiencing the real world. A visit to an art museum provides more knowledge and inspiration about how to work with color and light than the internet does. I believe one of the most important conditions for creating interesting portraits is following the basic rules of art theory. In particular, make sure that all the details, including your model’s appearance, fit the image you are creating.

Instagram

4. “Before shooting, the model should understand and feel comfortable with the photographer’s chosen concept, goals, and plan.”

Ranta Images

5 Expert Photographers Share Their Best Portrait Photography Tips — Bring Your Model Onboard

Image by Ranta Images. Gear: Nikon D810 camera, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens. Settings: Focal length 50mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f8; ISO 64.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This is an example of a studio portrait with a basic main light setup that still gave great results. The concept was to show a young, happy, successful businessman.

Pro Tip:

If they want to shoot portraits, photographers should study and understand the basics of main light, fill light, and background lighting techniques. The inverse square law is an extremely important concept to understand. Also, learn how different light modifiers change the light from hard to soft. While setting up in the studio, small changes can alter the final results dramatically. I recommend against shooting with constant lighting, which would have to be kept on relatively low power to keep the model’s eyes comfortable, resulting in high ISO, slow shutter speeds, and the risk of noise or motion blur. Instead, use studio strobes, which will allow you to use a narrower aperture and faster shutter speed while keeping the camera’s native ISO. I also recommend a modeling light so you can see the light fall on the model’s face and know how the image will actually look. That way, it’s easy to make slight adjustments.

5 Expert Photographers Share Their Best Portrait Photography Tips — Understand Lighting

Image by Ranta Images.

Makeup and wardrobe should be chosen carefully to fit the feeling and the character of your model. Before shooting, the model should understand and feel comfortable with the photographer’s chosen concept, goals, and plan. Make sure the model knows exactly what type of images you’re looking for.

5. “In most cases, I give my models freedom to move. That way, you’ll be able to see their inner beauty and charm.”

Irina Bg (Irina Ryabusjkina)

5 Expert Photographers Share Their Best Portrait Photography Tips — Give Your Models Freedom

Image by Irina Bg (Irina Ryabusjkina). Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF100mm 2.8 macro lens. Settings: Exposure 1/200 sec; f7; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This is a pin-up style portrait. The clothes were made to order, and with some extra effort, I found a hairdresser who could do this vintage look.

Pro Tip:

It’s important to have a team to help you prepare the model for the shoot. Your makeup artist and hairdresser should share your taste.

Pictured: [1] Irina Bg (Irina Ryabusjkina). [2] Irina Bg (Irina Ryabusjkina).

During the shoot, I rarely direct the model’s pose. I do that only in extreme cases, like if time is limited or if I’m shooting a photo using specific examples. In most cases, I give my models freedom to move. That way, you’ll be able to see their inner beauty and charm.

Instagram

Top Image by Alex Malikov.