9 tips for taking beautiful Instagram photos of people

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June 26, 2018 BY Elise Darma

Before we get into this article, I know what you’re thinking, and yes – this is 100% an article you should send to your boyfriend, mother, best friend or anyone else who normally takes your Instagram photos for you. 

If you’ve suffered through:

  • photos where you’re out of focus
  • photos where you’re not even completely in the shot
  • photos where you absolutely just weren’t ready
instagram photography tips

Obviously not ready.

instagram photography tips

Lighting? What’s that?

instagram photography tips

I’ve been there.

And it’s time. 

Time that we all get better at taking photos of each other. instagram photography tips

If you’re here because you want to take your Instagram feed to the next level or to take better photos of the ones that you love, you’ve come to the right place.

I’ve reached out to two of my favourite portrait photographers, Tara McMullen and Max Power, to get some of their best and most professional tips for taking pictures of people.

And the good news is that you don’t need a fancy DSLR camera to improve your photography.

Whether you’re taking photos of models or yourself on an iPhone or a camera, here are some tricks you can use that will help elevate your photography and finally have you snapping ‘OMG-I-must-like-this-post’ portraits.

1. Shoot Your Photos Portrait-Orientated

Instagram prefers photos that shot in portrait mode – AKA, vertical orientation.

Why? A portrait post takes up more real estate on mobile phones, giving people more to look at before they scroll past.

instagram photography tips

Instead of shooting in landscape or cropping your photo into the standard square, maximize the amount of time eyeballs are on your posts by using portrait orientation.

2. Keep Your Aperture Wide

If you’re shooting with a DSLR, take your portraits to the next level by keeping your aperture wide. By setting your camera to around f/2.8 – f/5.6, you’ll have a blurred background that will help your subject stand out.

instagram photography tips
Photograph by Tara McMullen (@taramcmullenphoto)

For more control over the depth of field in your photo, shoot in Aperture Priority mode. It will make sure that you have the right shutter speed for the correct exposure.

3. Be Patient If You Want Exceptional Photos

When taking photos of people, you need to be patient.

“If you are photographing candid moments, I always tell photographers to wait for the crescendo in emotion,” says Tara McMullen, a Toronto-based photographer who specializes in weddings and portraiture.

instagram photography tips

Photograph by Tara McMullen (@taramcmullenphoto)

“Wait for a moment of laughter or tears or reaction, and then shoot through the entire arc of reaction.” 

Patience is key to capturing a great photograph.

4. Get to Know Your Subject

It can be easy to view photography as a passive activity. One where you’re simply snapping away endlessly at someone who’s striking pose after pose.

But the truth is that photography is about telling a story.

It’s about revealing the different sides of your subject – their playfulness, their shyness, their curiosity.

And as the photographer – it is your job to bring that personality out of them.


By getting to know your subject! 

Here is what Max Power, an internationally published portrait and adventure photographer has to say: “Immerse yourself in a country, a culture or simply a moment in time. Say hello. Stop to observe. Listen. Embarrass yourself by stumbling through a foreign language. EAT. Laugh! Engage. Get out of your comfort zone and THEN take out your camera.”

instagram photography tips

Photograph by Max Power (@thisismaxpower)

5. Build a Rapport

If your model doesn’t feel comfortable, you won’t get amazing final photos.

“Portrait photography is 90% forging connections,” says Max. “Create an exchange with your subject, and they will share a piece of their soul.”

instagram photography tips

Photograph by Max Power (@thisismaxpower)

If you see someone interesting on the street, approach them and introduce yourself. Or if you’re meeting a model for a shoot, take the time to chat with them over a cup of coffee before taking out your camera.

“If you are creating portraits of a person who isn’t used to being in front of the camera, I always ask them to take a huuuuuuge long deep breath, and I will do it with them,” says Tara.

“Both of us feel more comfortable having shared that stress release together, and it reminds people to breathe. Relaxed subjects are photogenic subjects.”

Once you start shooting, don’t forget to offer your model direction. Tell them how you want them to pose and share shots between takes to help boost their confidence.

6. Use The Rule of Thirds for Portrait Photography

Turn on the gridlines for your camera or smartphone. You’ll have two vertical and two horizontal lines that will help you create more interesting compositions.

instagram photography tips

Place your subject in the middle, left or right of your photo by using the gridlines. You can also avoid a crooked horizon by using the horizontal lines to align your picture.

7. Embrace Shooting Portraits in Cloudy Weather

Overcast days are perfect for shooting portraits because the light is even. As a photographer, you always want even lighting on your model and in the background.

The clouds act as a big diffuser of the sun, and this helps you avoid those harsh dark shadows.

It will give you more options to place your subject, and you won’t have to worry about one part of the photo being blown out or dark under-eye shadows.

instagram photography tips

Photograph by Tara McMullen (@taramcmullenphoto)

8. Avoid Using a Wide-Angle Lens

If you’re shooting your portraits with a DSLR camera, ditch the wide-angle lens.

It will distort your subject and create an unflattering, surreal look. For the best results, avoid shooting portraits with lenses wider than 50mm unless you’re taking the photo from further away.

9. Play with Angles

It can be tempting to stand directly in front of your subject and snap away. But it’s also dull and overused.

instagram photography tips

Keep things interesting by shooting your model from an entirely different position.

Try taking your photo from higher, lower or to the side of your subject. It will give you a chance to capture their features in different ways, while also helping your Instagram feed to stand out from the rest.

Free Workshop: Sell more on Instagram by doing less

If you loved this blog post and want even more how-to tips on making sales through your Instagram account, join me for my FREE hands-on workshop.

instagram photography tips

In this ~co-working~ style workshop, we’ll check off:

  • What your best Instagram strategy is – even if you’re new in business or are just starting to use Instagram for your business (PLUS, we’ll give your profile and bio a total makeover)
  • What your current season of business is and which features you should focus on to get the most results for your efforts
  • How to navigate making reels for your business, especially if you feel silly pointing or dancing on camera (PLUS, we’ll generate 80 content ideas for your next posts – yes, 80!)
  • Future-proofing your account for inevitable changes that are coming to Instagram (including an evergreen formula that’ll never go out of style)

Join me at this FREE workshop now ⬇️

June 26, 2018 BY Elise Darma
Hi, I’m Elise Darma!

I traded my 9-5 office cardigan for
that 7-figure entrepreneur life. But
I’m no overnight success. I’ve
experienced burnout, overwhelm
and ghosting Instagram for the
entire month of February 2019. I’m
probably the laziest Instagram
marketer you know, but if you want
to know how to sell more by doing
less – you’re in the right place.

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