How to take portrait photos fit for royalty using your smartphone

Want to snap portraits good enough to be hung in a palace? Check out our top tips.

Once upon a time, only the very rich – we’re talking royalty and aristocrats – could afford to have their portrait painted professionally. (They also had the extra cash to slip the artist a few extra gold coins to ensure a flattering job was done.) But these days, anyone with a smartphone can capture stunning, true-to-life portraits of their loved ones.

We’re sure to get a new royal portrait soon after King Charles III’s coronation in May. In the meantime, here are a few tips so you can take portrait photographs fit to be hung in a palace.

person laughing

Think about lighting

Lighting can make or break a portrait. To avoid your subject becoming silhouetted, ensure the photo’s main light source isn’t behind them – this applies whether the light is natural or electric. Avoid taking portraits in the harsh midday sun; photograph people in the shade or wait until natural light is softer and warmer in the afternoon (known as "golden hour"). Indoors, lamps are usually more flattering than overhead bulbs. Don’t be afraid to move lights (or your subject) around to find the angle where they’re lit best.

person standing in a field

Play with positions

Another thing that sets a portrait apart from a casual snap is a sense of composition. Put simply, this means the photographer has thought about where to position their subject in the image. Whether you’re taking a close-up shot, a full-length portrait or somewhere in between, a good beginner’s tip is to stick to the "rule of thirds". Imagine your photo is divided into thirds, horizontally and vertically, giving you four gridlines. Experiment with positioning your subject along different gridlines, and your portrait will feel more composed and considered.

person in front of a blue door

Find the right background

Putting some thought into your backdrop can set a portrait apart from a casual snapshot. Luckily, great backgrounds for portraits can be found in all kinds of places: the funky wallpaper in your friend's living room or a red door that clashes brilliantly with your mate’s yellow T-shirt. You can also make your own backdrop by hanging a sheet behind your subject. Neutral backdrops will ensure all the attention is on the person in the photo, while backgrounds that are interesting or beautiful in their own right can help bring a photo to life.

person staring

Use your phone’s special features

Most smartphone cameras now have special portrait photography settings, making it easier to take striking photos of your friends and family. Play around with the options in your smartphone camera, whether that involves blurring backgrounds, adjusting lighting, or even experimenting with black-and-white photography. Remember, different camera settings will work better in different environments, so keep testing options. You can also experiment with photography apps – the Adobe Photoshop Camera app, available on Android and iOS, is designed to help you take studio-like portraits in a snap.

child jumping outside

Capture their personality

Many of the best portraits capture a person as they truly are, so try using the tips above to snap a loved one in a characteristic pose or setting. Got a friend who loves gardening? Get a picture of them in front of their lilac tree. Football-mad niece? Ask her for a photo straight after a muddy match. If you’re taking more posed portrait photos, ask your subject questions, pay them compliments and make them laugh while you’re snapping away. The more comfortable they feel in front of the camera, the more likely you‘ll get a photo that shows them at their best. And that’s what we all want from a portrait, right?

Published: 11 Apr 2023