Choose the right background: A portrait photo is all about the object’s face. The most important part of the photo is the face. Choosing the right background can make sure the viewer is focused on the face. Pick a neutral background that does not attract attention. For example a soft solid color background is better than a busy street background. Avoid having people or moving objects in the background.
Blur the background: In addition to choosing a neutral background you should further blur it. This will put even more emphasis on the object instead of its surroundings. Blurring the background is best achieved by taking a photo using a shallow depth of field. This can be accomplished by using a zoom lens and shooting from a short distance or with a wide aperture manual setting. If your camera does not allow you to blur the photo by setting a shallow depth of field (for example it is hard to achieve such a depth of field with simple pocket cameras) you can always blur the background later using photo processing software on your computer.
Focus on the eyes: The center of a good portrait should be the object’s eyes. Before taking the photo look at the object eyes and try to figure out what story they tell. Depending on what you would like to capture in the portrait guide the object to look straight to the camera or maybe sideways focusing on some object. Adding a smile is also recommended unless you specifically want a face that does not smile in order to send some message to the viewer.
Use natural lighting: Natural lighting is necessary in order to capture the full color range and warmth of the skin. It is best to take portrait photos outdoors during the day. When shooting outdoors position the object in a way that the sun light hits it from the side. Never take a photo with the sun behind the object – results in shading – or right in front of the object – results in over exposing the face and distorting its natural colors. If some shades appear on the face use a soft fill-in flash to get rid of them. If you have to shoot indoors and use artificial lighting always use indirect light sources such as bounce flash or lights that illuminate the room instead of directly shining on the object.
Take many photos and experiment: I can not over emphasize this. In the digital era the cost of taking another photo is zero. One of the best ways to shoot a great photo is simply by shooting many photos. In fact all professional photographers do that they keep on shooting more and more photos so don’t be shy about it. Experiment with different settings – lighting, object position, white balancing settings to get different color temperatures, exposures, depth of field and more. When you are done sit down and sort the photos until you choose the one that you like the best. It is common sense that the chances of finding that one great photo are much higher if you tried 500 photos than if you just shot a few.