Putting Personality Into Your Pictures: A How-to Guide

What makes a great photograph? There a hundreds of fundamentals – from lighting to image structure, depth, color, personality and composition. Mastering the art of photography is what evokes emotions and makes people’s jaws drop when they see that image.

Photo by Ann Nevreva
Photo by Ann Nevreva

Art is not what you see, but what you can make others see – Edgar Degas.

Adding, revealing and capturing personality in your images is a crucial element of mastering this art. This is a big part of what separates an image that is good, from one that is truly magnificent. We look into a few tips to truly master photography.

Visual Flow

The visual flow of an image is important to ensure balance and attractiveness. It’s this composition that gives an image the powerful ability to capture someone’s attention and hold them there through a simple arrangement of elements within the frame.

To make a great photo, its composition needs to speak most strongly to your subconscious. It needs to flow, visually, through a process of simplifying and excluding elements. Everything within the image needs to be organized so it makes sense to any viewer, even if they weren’t at the scene.

Photo by Sasipa Muennuch
Photo by Sasipa Muennuch

When the basic, underlying structure of the image generates that ‘wow’ factor, it ensures nothing has been taken away from its unique personality – whether it be capturing the personality of the subject or injecting your own into it.

Know Your Subject, but Don’t Always Make it About Them

When the subject is a person:

When photographing people it’s a good idea to get to know them ahead of time. In most cases it’s much easier to capture or reveal a person’s personality when you know them. You know what to look out for, you know what’s unique about them and thus, it makes it less challenging to convey this. If the person is a stranger, spend some time with them before the photo shoot and take note of the little things.

If it’s a couple, find the distinctive personalities of them both and how they connect together, too. This will help to decide on the type of shoot they want, how they want to be portrayed and the location.

Photo by Ann Nevreva
Photo by Ann Nevreva

Portrait photography is more about capturing a sense of the person’s unique characteristics rather than trying to produce a technically perfect composition. As you become more experienced, though mastering the art of photography is when both the personality is revealed, whilst in perfect composition.

When the subject is an object:

What many photographers don’t realise though is that in photographic art – it’s not about the subject; the actual success of the image is about the underlying compositional structure, that visual flow.When the subject is an object, it’s chosen because it supports or creates a structure, not the other way around. It’s these subjects that provide the shapes and colours in the image that make up the basic design.

Because your mind’s subconscious eye can’t recognise the image’s objects from a hundred feet away, the actual subject is initially meaningless. If the photo has a good enough structure, your image can create that ‘wow factor’ and evoke emotions.

Color vs. Black and White

Eliminating color from an image, especially a portrait of someone, is like taking away a thin mask of that person. The mood shifts and the individual characteristics of the person are exposed without distraction.

Photo by Benjamin Hartmann
Photo by Benjamin Hartmann

Black and white though isn’t the only way to reveal the personality of an image. Whilst black and white expose the characteristics of the person and strips the image back, colors represent moods – and moods are a key part of personality. When using colors, make sure you pay close attention to what your subject is wearing and how that compliments (or clashes with) the colors in the background. Color splash techniques can be a great way to shift the mood of the image even more and convey different emotions or enhance the subject’s personality too.

Reveal the Eyes

They say eyes are the window to your soul so when they are exposed in an image, the true personality of that person is revealed. The ‘sparkle’ you see in the eyes are called catch-lights and it’s created when a glint of light is reflected in your subjects’ eyes. These catch-lights show a range of emotions from happiness, despair, seriousness, excited and love.

If you’re shooting close up, make sure there is focus on the eyes and these catch-lights are sharply visible. Without them, the feeling coming through the image is much duller and lacks liveliness – less life is less personality.

Tell a Story

Telling a story means not being afraid and not needing to alter any details. By learning to study the body language of the person, you will be able to capture the expression, the message and thus allow the image to tell its own individual story.

Photo by Luke Sharratt
Photo by Luke Sharratt

With images, you usually don’t have the luxury of words but the old saying a picture is worth a thousand words really applies here. Each person that views that image will read their own story.

Little Things Matter

The worry lines on someone’s face when they are thinking, the dimple in the cheek of the young girl that is giggling, the simple gesture that is renowned to that person – the little things are what matter.

When you really focus on your subject, these little things are revealed and contribute to what makes them and the end result of the image uniquely amazing. Think about what would make them smile if they were to look back at these images 20 or 40 years from now.

No Need to Say “Cheese”

When you’re photographing a person, allow them to be in their most natural state. Getting your subject in action, doing what they do best, what they enjoy or with the people they love is essential to capturing something uniquely beautiful about them.

Photo by Dmitry Ageev
Photo by Dmitry Ageev

It’s near impossible to see the true personality of people if they are all lined up in a row and asked to say “cheese”. They are doing the same contrived pose and there is no life in the image. If you’re shooting a family, get them to play in the sand, build sandcastles together to reveal the true essence of the story.

Capture moments where the person’s expression or their action stands out to whatever is in the background to let their personality shine through.

Author Bio: Jayde Ferguson writes for Viva Photography,which specializes in photography throughout Perth and Melbourne. Catch Jayde on Google+ to discuss this piece.

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