Tips + Techniques

Making Portraits Pop: Jen Huang’s Photography Fundamentals

April 16, 2021

By Jen Huang

© Jen Huang

One of the hardest parts of being a photographer is the relentless pressure to create work that surpasses expectations over and over again. It can kill the joy behind creativity. Much of the philosophy behind my workshops and my instructional guidebooks is to build the important foundational skill set that a photographer needs in order to inspire themselves, rather than to be influenced by others in their circle. Here are five portraits I love with some simple instructions on making portraits pop, inspired by the philosophy behind the photo. 


making portraits pop with simple scenes and white backgrounds

If you’re familiar with my work, you know that I’m a minimalist. I love photographing my clients in a simple white space. I once joked that pretty soon I’ll just be shooting white walls with no one in front of them.

[Read: Best Natural Light for Photography—5 Types and Tips]

There’s something pure and powerful about making portraits pop by finding the essence of my subjects, and I think the easiest way to do that is to declutter my mind and declutter the scene so that I can capture a true moment. It may seem daunting because you’re left with very little to work with, but I find it to be liberating. If you’re filling your image with props and clothes, it can be distracting. I think it’s great practice to whittle something down to its essential qualities and build up from there. 


changing perspective by jen huang editorial shoot

What makes this image so enticing is the change in perspective (and possibly the rosé). I find my eyes drawn to images taken by drones simply because these are perspectives I never see.

[Read: Drone Portraits—A Guide to Making Images That Soar]

This image is similar in that the couple is photographed from overhead. It can be difficult to find angles like this at a shoot because we’re so preoccupied with shooting non-stop. With the goal of making portraits pop and creating show-stopping images, sometimes it is helpful to take a stroll away from your client to find different points of view. 


jen huang natural posing wedding photography

The best portraits are oxymorons—they’re planned but also natural. It’s a balance that every photographer needs to strike to create authentic moments that look polished. For me, this means taking care of all the details around my client so that they can be their true selves.

[Read: Posing Couples for Naturally Romantic Engagement Photo Shoots]

In this photo, the lighting and the scene have all been set up in advance, but the pose itself looks like I just happened upon them. When I’m with a couple, I place them in the scene that I want and give them directions that include movement. The way they move and interact with each other is completely true to themselves. All I have to do is click my shutter at the exact right moment. 


making portraits pop with black and white photography

With the onset of social media and their complex and irritating algorithms, I’m finding photographers are making portraits pop in color but sharing less and less black-and-white work. I recently had a client ask that I shoot their entire wedding on black-and-white film, which felt so refreshing.

[Read: Pulling Off the Elevated Editorial Engagement Shoot]

Black and white is classic, emotional, soulful and deep. It tells such a compelling story, yet with the onslaught of quick entertainment, its voice has been demoted. I find some of my most amazing portraits are in black and white. Not only that, shooting in black and white teaches me to see in a different way than color.

In this image, the beauty can be found in the contrast, shadows and shapes—all strong qualities in black-and-white photography. 


jen huang on finding your voice asian-american culture importance

Much of my personal projects in the last few years have revolved around photographing the Chinese bride. In this particular portrait, I photographed one of my brides in a Hmong/Miao headdress that I own. It is made of hammered silver and is part of the traditional dress of the Hmong/Miao people—a diaspora in China and other Southeast Asian countries.

The danger of doing a project like this is that I didn’t want to objectify or exoticize Asian-Americans. With the current rise in violence towards Asian-Americans, I did not want to perpetuate more stereotypes or belittle Chinese culture. It was important to me to use models and clients who were of Asian-American descent, who have a connection to the culture.

[Read: Making Portrait Projects That Educate and Empower]

To me, the headdress is not a prop; it’s a celebration of the Chinese-American bride so that she can see herself as beautiful, powerful—a descendant of a people who have a long history of culture and tradition. While these images weren’t necessarily photographed in a different way than my day-to-day work, they succeeded in drawing people’s attention because they resonated with people in a very deep way. Creating personal work that is important to you will allow you to naturally and effortlessly create work that has the power to resonate and connect and inspire change. 

Jen Huang is a fine-art wedding and portrait photographer who, over the last decade, has photographed in over 20 countries and on six different continents. A photography educator who offers a variety of instructional and inspirational materials, she’s an author of several guide books relating to wedding style, portraiture, the fine art of film and more.