5 Habits that will improve the quality of your portrait photography


Over the last 25 years, many of the ways I light, shoot and edit my photos have changed and evolved but the following three habits have remained consistent. I continue to use these habits as part of my shooting protocol because I have seen first hand how they work for me.

1. Shoot RAW

I know, I know shooting RAW is a complete pain in the ass; it creates extra work, the files are huge and take up valuable space on your hard drive but the results are totally worth it.

Shooting in RAW gives you so many more options for post production and will definitely take your photography to the next level. You have far greater control over colour balance, highlight retrieval, tone and shadow details. Got a great shot you overexposed by 2 stops? Shooting in RAW means you can rescue much of the missing data. If you’re not ready to fully commit to RAW then try shooting in RAW and full size JPG from now on. You can then save the RAW files for later on when you’re ready to embrace shooting in RAW. You can thank me later!

2. Don’t pray and spray

Going by the the law of averages, if you shoot 3000 frames in a portrait shoot, you are guaranteed to get a least one good frame in there. But you are also creating lots of extra work for yourself in postproduction and what about your poor model who has to sit through the whole experience?

There is also a huge difference between the accidental good shot and working slowly and deliberately to create a great shot.

Overshooting also zaps your model’s energy levels and mood. This is a finite resource. After the first 100 frames they will start to get bored, hungry and twitchy.

If you think you may have a problem with spraying and praying and are a bit trigger happy try limiting yourself to 30 frames per shot and slow down. Then you can use the extra time you save not having to edit 1000s of frames processing your RAW files

3. Use a light meter

If there was one accessory that will guarantee your studio and location fill lighting is spot on every time, it’s a light meter (*cue epic soundtrack* I bang on and on about this in all my books and podcast because I know first hand how great these little puppies are.)

  • If you want to save time lighting your images, use a light meter
  • If you want to nail the exposure right rather than guessing, use a light meter
  • If you want to create beautiful studio portraits with complicated lighting ratios, use a light meter
  • If you want your clients to not lose confidence in you because you are spending an hour tweaking your lights, use a light meter
  • If you want to lose that last 7 pounds, use a light meter (and walk lots every day)

4. Frame in camera

Framing “in camera” basically means you shoot your shot exactly the way you want it to look. Many new photographers are unsure of exactly what to photograph and end up shooting very loose images with lots of empty space and then cropping their images to look the way they want them to.

This is ok while you are finding your feet but the problem with this is you end up with a much smaller file size. Shooting a loose ¾ shot of someone and then cropping to a headshot means that you may only end up with 10% of your original file size. So for an average file of 40MB cropping in will give you a final size of only 4MB. The lower the file size the smaller the resolution which means your images have more noise and are not as sharp.

Try experimenting by moving in and filling the frame with your subject every time you shoot. How you frame your images is as much a part of your shooting style as lighting and editing.

5. Give meaningful direction

Many photographers often blame their models if they don’t end up with a good shot.

There is no doubt that having a great model who is comfortable in front of the camera makes a huge difference but, unfortunately, most of us don’t get to work with supermodels who know how to bring it that often.

In my experience, most people I photograph would rather be doing their taxes or getting a root canal than pose for photos so it really helps to have a system of working that gets people to relax as quickly as possible. If you want to learn more about some of these techniques, check out the following blog posts on posing and directing that I’ve written over the last few months:
Why I think this pose needs to stay on the soccer field

Forgot something? The Portrait Photography Checklist

Ditch the photo face and hold the cheese to create the perfect headshot

Funny business: the serious art of the comedy portrait


Knowing how to give meaningful direction is the difference between good and great shots because if your model looks relaxed, the portrait will look natural whether you’re shooting Tyra Banks the supermodel or Tyra Blank from the supermom.

How to direct and pose like a pro

About Gina

About Gina

Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE

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