5 Most Common Mistakes in Portrait Photography

Even if you are not a professional photographer and don’t have a fancy camera, you can still take good portraits of your family. Here is the list of most common mistakes that photo amateurs tend to make when shooting portraits — and useful tips on how to avoid them. This article is especially helpful during lockdowns when you can’t organize a professional photoshoot in a studio.

Picking a Wrong Background

portrait photography

Sometimes we pay little attention to the portrait background, focusing on the model instead. In fact, this mistake can spoil an excellent photo, if the background is distracting: cluttered, too bright, or more colorful than the subject. To avoid this mistake, choose simple and clean surroundings that complement your model’s clothes and emotions. A textured background (such as a brick wall, clear sky, or lush green leaves) is also a good option. If you want to beautify a portrait with unwanted objects in the back, blur the background during post-processing.

Photographing from the Wrong Height

The basic rule is to shoot at the model’s eye level: when shot from a lower angle, your model can get a double chin, distorted facial features, emphasized nostrils, and an arrogant look. When shot from above, people look shorter than they are, especially their legs. Who would like that? The same goes for children’s portraits: when taking them, squat down instead or even lie down on the floor.

Putting Your Model in Harsh Light

portrait photography

Generally, direct midday sunshine is the worst lighting for portraits. It creates deep dark shadows on the face, enhancing all skin imperfections — wrinkles, spots, scars, etc. Most likely, your subject will also squint in the harsh light, and the final picture will be extremely unflattering: dark eyes without any catchlights, a squinty grimace, accentuated blemishes and wrinkles. To avoid disappointment, shoot portraits in soft morning or evening light (or at least go indoors if you absolutely have to take a midday portrait).

Excessive Use of Flash

portrait photography

Too much flash can ruin virtually any photo. When you take portraits using the built-in flash, it often results in flat faces and red eyes. Instead of creating “a deer in the headlights” pictures, try to find a place where you can use soft daylight. Another viable option is to diffuse the flash with the help of a white paper napkin. It is a time-tested DIY solution for situations where you simply don’t have enough lighting for a good portrait. 

Ignoring Composition Rules

There is a set of rules that will help you take stunning portraits instead of average ones. The rule of thirds is probably the most famous and effective when it comes to people photography. Moreover, it is very easy to apply: go to the settings of your camera and switch on the grid consisting of two vertical and two horizontal lines. When shooting portraits, locate the eyes or the face of the model on the intersections of those lines, and the result will look just great. You can also improve the composition of your old pictures using the crop feature (it comes with the very same grid).

Another important composition rule is to leave some space in front of your model if they are looking sideways. We instinctively follow the subject’s gaze, and without that space, it is like staring into a wall. The portrait will lack balance and look somewhat off. 


We hope that this list of common mistakes will help you avoid them and take wonderful portraits of your near and dear. It can also help you create great selfies for social networks. However, don’t feel bad if some of your pictures leave much to be desired. You just need to find a portrait editor that will help you correct mistakes during post-processing. For example, the AI-powered program PhotoDiva removes red eyes, blurs the background, heals skin blemishes, sculpts your face, and applies digital makeup. What’s even better, you don’t have to be experienced in photo editing: you just make a couple of clicks, and smart algorithms do the rest.

Julie Higgins
Julie is a Staff Writer at momooze.com. She has been working in publishing houses before joining the editorial team at momooze. Julie's love and passion are topics around beauty, lifestyle, hair and nails.