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Moving away from the mugshot. It`s endlessly frustrating when your photos don`t look anything like the beautiful pictures the professionals produce. Of course, professional photographers have top quality equipment and years of training and experience behind them, but the average happy snapper can still take portraits that look more like the `real thing` by using a few simple techniques. 

Lighting

The right lighting, probably the most important factor in photography, is crucial for getting a good photo.

To make faces look good, you`ll need lots and lots of diffused light on the subject.

Direct sunlight is too bright and hard, and throws every pore and wrinkle into sharp relief. This generally doesn`t look good in a portrait, unless photographing an elderly tribesman, and wrinkles are the point of the picture.

Ordinary flashes on point and shoot cameras don`t usually deliver professional-looking results either, unless you`re using a flash in direct sunlight to "fill in" some of the harsher shadows.

For diffused light, place the subject in the shade, or next to a net-covered window. You can also use a diffuser on the camera flash, or cover a lamp with sheer, white fabric or white paper and direct the light onto the subject.

When lighting the subject with a lamp, try using a bright, cool white energy-saving globe positioned slightly to one side of the subject`s face.

Fill in some of the dark shadows on the other side of the face by positioning a reflector opposite the lamp. Reflectors are available from camera shops, or improvise with a silver car sunshield or a large sheet of white polystyrene.

Focus

An easy rule of thumb when photographing people is to focus on their eyes. Unless you`re taking a profile shot or a picture of them engrossed in doing something, try to get them to look towards you and their eyes will play an important part of the overall picture.

If the camera has an aperture priority (AV) mode, give it a try. Setting the aperture priority at the lowest number (e.g. f/1.4) should help keep the focus on the subject, while slightly blurring the background. (This is called a shallow depth of field and it helps make the subject stand out from the background.)

Position, position, position

While there`s no need for a completely neutral background for a portrait, it helps if the background isn`t too cluttered. Before taking the photos, check that the subject doesn`t look like she has a plant growing out of her head. It happens.

Posing

Don`t just place the subject up against a wall and snap away directly into their face. This can result in a picture that looks like a police mugshot. If they aren`t naturally "smiley" people, don`t force them to smile either. The best portraits happen when people look natural and relaxed.

Try seating the subject and making them turn their body slightly away from you, perhaps looking at the camera with their head slightly tilted, or looking over one shoulder. This generally makes for more interesting and professional-looking shots.

It often works well to have the model look slightly above the camera lens when you take their picture. It has also been said that older people`s faces look smoother and younger if they`re photographed looking upwards. Try seating them and photographing them from above.

 If the subject feels awkward in front of the camera, try photographing them doing something they enjoy, like fishing or playing chess. Encourage them to talk about their hobby and photograph them as they talk. This should result in photos with animated, natural facial expressions, plus the end result will say more about the person than if they were photographed in a neutral environment.

Take lots of photos in each pose to lessen the chances of catching someone in mid-blink or with a strange expression on their face.

Nip and tuck, basic photo editing

Once the photo has been taken, there is still a lot you can do to improve it. As long as the picture is properly focused and well lit, you can eliminate red eyes, wrinkles, spots and ugly backgrounds using one of the many digital photo editing suites available. The photo can also be changed from colour to black and white or sepia for a different effect. Go high-end with software like Photoshop or CorelDraw Photo-Paint, or simply use the software that came with the camera or download free tools like Picasa.

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