How to take your portraits from Meh to Amazing

“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.”
—Jimmy Johnson

There was this guy I went to high school with, his name was Tony Facciousa (not his real name). Tony was the kind of guy that when he walked into a room, everybody noticed. There was something about him that made everyone look twice, he had the X-Factor.

The X Factor is difficult to define. It’s a combination of lots of little things that gave Tony Facciousa The X Factor. The way he walked, the tone of his voice, the lazy smile, the clothes he wore and the fact that he always had this air of quiet confidence that only someone comfortable in their own skin can pull off.

Tony made quite an impression on me, so much so that whenever I shoot a portrait, I like to implement what I now call the ‘Tony protocol’.

The Tony protocol helps me create intriguing portraits. I want the people I photograph to look like they’re really comfortable in their own skin and I want all my pictures to have Tony Franciosa X Factor.

The Tony protocol is a checklist of items I tick during my portrait shoots to ensure that the people I photograph look comfortable, confident and polished just like Tony. This is a checklist I’ve developed over the last 30 years.

Once you’ve checked your exposure, nailed the focus and are happy with how the composition looks it’s time to apply The Tony protocol.

Before you get caught up in the shoot, take a few seconds to slow down, scan your image and check the 1%ers.

1. The Big Picture

Does your model look comfortable and confident or shy and awkward?

2. The Background

Does the background complement or detract from your model?
Is the background too busy?
Is there something growing out of the back of your model’s head?

3. The Fit

Does your model look comfortable in the clothes that they’re wearing? Do they fit well?
Is the line flattering?
Tip: Avoid patterns and stripes and logos because this is going to clash with most backgrounds and reduce the amount of variety you’ll have when choosing locations for your models.

4. The Details

They may seem really inconsequential, but these little details can make or break a photo:

  • Scruffy shoes or dirty feet
  • Pants that are too short to long
  • Clothes that are too tight or too loose?
  • Ditto marks, stains wrinkles
  • Dandruff

5. The Hands

Are the fists clenched or do the hands look awkward?

6. Hair

Check for flyaway hairs or stray hairs across the face or eyes.

7. Eyes

Are the eyes squinting?
Is the expression in the eyes relaxed, warm, authentic?

Do you have your own Tony Facciousa protocol? I’d love to hear about it. Oh and if you happen to read this Tony Facciousa, call me!

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