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Taking portraits


Students will examine pictures of themselves and of their friends to see what common mistakes are made when taking portraits of others.  Then, students will learn some basic tricks to improving the quality of portraits, particularly skills which will be helpful for yearbook and newspaper photography.


  • Students will learn skills for taking effective portraits and environmental portraits.
  • Students will use their knowledge of effective portraits to take photos that they can use in their portfolios.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.a. Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.


45 minutes


Sample portraits and environmental portraits for students to critique

Copies of former school newspapers and/or yearbooks.

Slideshow: tips for taking portraits

Lesson step-by-step

1. Prior to the lesson

Instruct students to bring in portraits and snapshots that they have of themselves or of their friends (ask them to print off pictures from Twitter or Instagram or bring photos they have from home).

2. Think/pair/share — 10 minutes

Have students Think/Pair/Share about the sample portraits that they brought with them to school.  What do these photographs do well? What do the photographs not do well? (Students should think about skills they have already learned such as composition, etc).

3. Slideshow — 15 minutes

Share “Tips for taking portraits” slideshow with students.  Go through these tips and tricks together.

4. Activity — 15 minutes

Pass out old copies of the school newspaper or the school yearbook (or copies of other schools’ papers and yearbooks).  Give students time to flip through these resources and look for positive and negative examples of the tips and tricks they have learned about today.  For negative examples, ask students to consider if the pictures could have been improved by making one or two small changes.

Last 5 minutes of this time: ask students to share a few examples that they found.

5.  Exit slip — 5 minutes

Have students construct a list of the top three skills they learned today about portraits that they think would improve their photography the most, then explain why.

Differentiation/optional extension activity

To get additional practice, consider asking strong photography students to “recreate” 2-5 of the sample images they brought to class today, except utilizing the portrait skills that they learned today.  For instance, if they brought a photo of their little sister standing in the backyard, they can recreate and improve upon that photo by taking a stronger image of their little sister playing on the swing set in the backyard or picking the petals off a wildflower.