5 Tips for Shooting Minimalist Portraits / by Jordan Hefler

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Sometimes I sit around and ask myself why I like a certain photo. Usually the answer is that it's SIMPLE. Although I am far from being a minimalist in my personal life, I am drawn to a minimalist approach when it comes to compelling photographs. 

I have been in kind of a rut with portraiture for a while now because a lot of my clients just want photos of themselves smiling at the cameras standing with their hands on their hips. Nothing wrong with that depending on the situation or nature of the shoot, but it can get tiresome for me as a creative when I don't get to do something different every once in a while.

Enter Toni, a badass chick and hairstylist from Denham Springs who wanted some fresh content for her social media platforms. I had been waiting on a brand new lens I bought on Black Friday to come in, and it arrived just an hour before her shoot. I literally picked up my the Sigma 35mm Art 1.4 lens from my mailbox and went straight to meet her.

We shot in downtown Baton Rouge without a plan, and it was so refreshing to use my brain (hate to break it to you but sometimes photographers are on autopilot when it comes to portraits) and challenge myself.

Here are 5 tips to make a minimalistic portrait work for you:

1. Less is more

5 Tips for Shooting Minimalist Portraits / Jordan Hefler

I once had a middle school algebra teacher tell me K.I.S.S. which stood for "Keep it simple stupid." Obviously the first rule of minimalism is to basically eradicate everything besides what's important. The same rule can apply for photography in the case of simple portraiture. You may feel like you're being boring, but for real- get rid of the props, ditch the ridiculous backgrounds, and go find a dumpster somewhere.

5 Tips for Shooting Minimalist Portraits / Jordan Hefler

No really, this photo was shot behind a grocery store and in front of a dumpster.

2. Use a prime lens

5 Tips for Shooting Minimalist Portraits / Jordan Hefler

I am a huge advocate for prime lenses! If you don't know what that means, it basically just means the lens is fixed and doesn't zoom. So if you want to get closer or farther away from something, you gotta use your feet! I definitely think there's a time and place for zoom lenses, but I find myself getting lazy when I use them for portraits because I just stand in the same spot. The more you can move around and get to know your client, the better the photos will come out, and prime lenses are also sharper FYI so that's a plus!

The type of prime lens needed depends on your preference and your camera model (whether it's full frame or crop frame is a huge factor.) Some examples of prime lenses that should do the trick are linked below:

50mm 1.4 lens

Sigma 35mm 1.4 art

Sigma 24mm 1.4 art

5 Tips for Shooting Minimalist Portraits / Jordan Hefler

3. Shoot with shallow DOF

Ok shallow depth of field is my favorite secret weapon for everything. Not only do I think it's the most effective way to distance your subject from the background, it also just makes everything look "professional." I know that probably sounds amateur (ironically) to say, but it's true. Everyone has an iPhone and can take a photo of whatever, but not everyone has professional camera gear, a fast lens, and the knowledge to shoot manually. If you have a lens that's 2.8 or faster, you're golden. Pick one thing to focus on in the shot, take it with the aperture wide open, and it'll be the easiest way to wow anybody and isolate your subject.

5 Tips for Shooting Minimalist Portraits / Jordan Hefler

This is why I'm so IN LOVE with my new Sigma 35mm because it's wide enough for me to take portraits without distortion and still really sharp even when I'm shooting at 1.4.

Shooting this shallow also makes your backgrounds have creamy bokeh, making it pretty easy to shoot almost anywhere and make it look void of distraction in the background.

5 Tips for Shooting Minimalist Portraits / Jordan Hefler

4. Leverage light in your composition

5 Tips for Shooting Minimalist Portraits / Jordan Hefler
5 Tips for Shooting Minimalist Portraits / Jordan Hefler

Lighting is obviously one of the most (if not the most) important components to taking great photos, but you can also get creative with it as part of your composition as well. If your background is pretty boring (like the top of this parking garage was) you can use shadows and harsh light to make the composition more dynamic and add some dimension to the environment.

5 Tips for Shooting Minimalist Portraits / Jordan Hefler

5. Perspective is everything

5 Tips for Shooting Minimalist Portraits / Jordan Hefler

I think something that is super effective but also really easy to look over is just changing your perspective when photographing your subject. Some of the most compelling shots happen when you get higher than your subject or lower than them.

5 Tips for Shooting Minimalist Portraits / Jordan Hefler

For this shoot I was literally laying on the ground at some points, or standing completely underneath Toni as she sat on a higher ledge above me. Be careful doing this, as it can distort the appearance of your client, so make sure to compensate with poses that are still flattering. Nobody wants to be photographed up their nose hairs. But don't be lazy and shoot every shot at eye level!

Sometimes my thighs and lower back are so sore because of all the squatting and weird positions I put myself in. My physical therapists can always tell if I've had a lot of shoots by how tight I am haha. Get moving! 

5 Tips for Shooting Minimalist Portraits / Jordan Hefler

I'd love to hear any other tips you might have in your experience of photographing portraits! I'm looking to do more posts like this in 2018, so let me know if you have any specific questions or blog post topics you'd be interested in me writing!

P.S. if you thought this post was helpful, pin the image below onto your Pinterest!

5 Tips for Shooting Minimalist Portraits / Jordan Hefler