You can’t deny that portrait photography is one of the most popular genres in the whole world of photography. You probably have heard of it several times, even if you are completely new to the concept of portrait photo shooting.
So, what is portrait photography? Well, it is more than a snapshot of a person. It brings the perfect exposure of what you are trying to capture in your pictures. It’s mostly used to take headshots of a person’s face, which brings his/her character and attitude to the picture.
Let’s go over an in-depth discussion over portrait photography down below.
Table of Contents
- 1 Introduction to Portrait Photography
- 2 History of Portrait Photography
- 3 Characteristic of a Portrait
- 4 Approaches to Portraiture
- 5 Lighting for Portraiture
- 6 Styles of Portraiture
- 7 Lens for Portrait Photography
- 8 Tips for Portrait Photo Shooting
- 8.1 Focus is Key:
- 8.2 Right Location is Crucial for Better Portraits:
- 8.3 Good Pose is Important:
- 8.4 Taking Candid Shots:
- 8.5 Capturing the Emotions and Expressions:
- 8.6 Using the Camera the Right Way:
- 8.7 Choosing the Right Lens:
- 8.8 The Background Matters:
- 8.9 Lighting is Crucial:
- 8.10 Try out Different Angles:
- 8.11 Break the Rules:
- 9 Final Thoughts
Introduction to Portrait Photography
As mentioned earlier, it’s one of the most popular genres in photography. This is captured very carefully to bring the full characteristic of a person in the picture.
There are two things that a picture needs to be a portrait. First of all, it has to be about the subject and nothing extra. And finally, the subject has to consent to be photographed.
If the picture gets a bit about the hair, makeup, dress, or even the background props such as cars or bikes, it loses the character of a portrait. That becomes a fashion picture.
For instance, there is a woman in a photo. If her jewelry, clothes, or any other fancy object gets prioritized over her, then you know it’s not a portrait photo. If you can see her identity and attitude coming through the picture that’s alive, you got yourself a portrait.
It might not be a perfect technical term, but it works perfectly.
History of Portrait Photography
Portrait photography has been around for a long time. It was around 1839 when the first portrait was considered to be taken. That was a photographic self-portrait.
From then on, portrait studios started to spread. That wasn’t a fast spread at all. That’s because the public was not sure of the new medium and concept of portraits.
However, that started to go away when the photographers started to capture portraits of famous persons. That includes Abraham Lincoln and Charles Dickens. From then on, portraits have become one of the best and most commonly used types of photography all over the world.
But surely, there were a lot of things that came to play, making it that popular. Besides taking pictures of renowned celebrities and icons, portraits started to get used as a medium to preserve history.
Something else that helped it reach its peak is the Civil War. In that war, the soldiers could have a portrait of their loved ones, and the same goes for their loved ones. That made a strong emotional impact that made portrait photography what it is today.
Overall, the portrait was one of the best ways to preserve the history that people still use nowadays.
In 1870, portrait shots were taken to identify the criminals. That was an evolutionary step to the world of criminal investigations. That is still the most effective way to do the job.
People started to capture their emotions in a portrait photo. That’s what made it the most demanding photos. Back then, they could preserve the pictures of the dead. That was a very strong emotion that was attached.
Soon it became the way to remember the dead and their memories. We use portraits to preserve our memories with loved ones to this day.
Characteristic of a Portrait
As you can probably tell by now, portrait photography is mostly about the face. The goal of a photographer is to bring the true personality and the identity of a person. That may be hidden other times, but in a portrait, it’s distinguished with care.
Professionals plan and rehearse before the photoshoot sessions with the client. That makes it very different from a candid photo.
But sure, a candid photo can be a portrait if it has the overall feel and purpose behind it. The main focus plays the biggest role in that, after all. And the intent is another thing that’s important in such activity.
But whether it appears candid or not, it should be well planned with the client beforehand. Also, the background props are a crucial part for you to prepare before the photo shoot. That also includes props and even the dress of your client. You should also determine which angle you are going to use beforehand.
Approaches to Portraiture
The environmental portrait approach involves the surroundings that your client is positioned at. Typically, these environmental exposures help to highlight the identity or the profession of your client.
For instance, if your client works online, he should be in front of a laptop, placing his fingers on it. And if he loves horses, there can be a bunch of horses in the background that will send the message through the photo. Similarly, if he’s a professional writer, he can be holding a notepad and pen while the portrait is taken.
It’s a great way to emphasize something that your client loves or is good at.
Professional photo shooters use this. They build the best emotion and atmosphere to capture the best photo possible. For that, the photographer sometimes changes the lighting, background, client’s pose, and so on, to craft the conveyed emotion.
For instance, the client might have to look at a direction or point in a direction to achieve the desired effect. For conveying a serious attitude, the client might have to give an intense look and change his mood completely at that point. That helps to add life to the picture.
A constructional approach is very important for getting the best picture that sends a message or a story that the client wants to convey with the picture.
That’s a unique type of approach some photographers take while shooting their portraits.
In this approach, the client doesn’t have an idea that the photographer is taking his pictures. Thus, it allows the photo to be the most natural and authentic.
But that doesn’t mean that these photos are not planned. Planning is required to get the best angle and give the photographer an idea of what he’s going to snap. That’s very crucial for good photography.
And finally, there is a creative approach that the photographer can take. It’s the exception of every rule.
Lighting for Portraiture
Lighting is one of the most important things you need to consider while shooting a photo. No matter how good the lens or camera is, it’s all useless without good lighting.
The world of portrait photography lighting is so vast. Let’s go over a couple of those down below.
The Split Lighting:
This is the most common lighting setting you’ll find. The split lighting lets one side of the face bright and another side to being in shadow. That creates an interesting dramatic effect in the pictures.
The spill lighting is generally great for photo shooting men. But that doesn’t mean women can’t use this type of lighting. It works just a bit better on men in general.
Following the proper way to use lighting will give you astonishing shots in your portraits. That’s a great setting for lots of scenarios.
This setting forms a tiny shadow of the subject’s nose on his/her cheeks. Loop lighting requires the light source to be in a bit higher position than the eye level. Of course, it will be different for everybody.
It’s a slightly more advanced method than the split lighting. But it’s a pretty good setting to emphasize the facial features.
The Rembrandt Lighting:
Famous painter Rembrandt made this lighting popular as he used to use this lighting in his paintings. He used to use this pattern of lighting in his self-portraits.
It might seem similar to the loop lighting, but it’s not. The Rembrandt lighting is pretty unique in its way. It forms a triangular light on the cheek area of the subject’s face. That helps to create more mood and darker feel to the portraits. Make sure to use it in appropriate settings only.
The butterfly lighting is typically used in the fashion world. It functions pretty uniquely which lets you use the shadows for so many purposes.
This lighting pattern allows for a bit of shadow underneath the cheeks and chin. Which makes it the most used lighting in the glamour shots. This lighting also helps to reduce wrinkles in your shots.
Any of the lighting given above can be broad lighting. For that, the subject has to turn his face from the camera ever so slightly. That makes the side of the face, which is facing the camera broader and more radiant.
The shadow size gets noticeably smaller in this lighting. But one downside to this is, broad lighting makes a face look broader. Most people don’t want that. They want a slim looking face.
If you are well aware of portrait photography techniques, then you know short lighting. It functions completely opposite from previously mentioned broad lighting. It makes the subject appear slimmer. Short lighting is used in darker portraits.
Window Light Portraiture:
That can be as same as split light or broad light portraiture. The natural light allows for more radiant pictures. Most people use that as the main lighting for their photography.
Styles of Portraiture
There are so many different types of portrait photography nowadays. They give instinctive styles and effects to your portrait photos. Let’s go over a few of them down below.
Traditional portraits are getting more and more popular these days. These help to show the culture and tradition of a nation.
Despite that, it’s very renowned in every country as it helps to showcase its own culture.
This is another common style of capturing portraits. It’s a huge trend to capture portrait pictures in the streets. Especially in the evening, you’ll see a lot of people capturing portraits with their cameras.
Most of the cameras have portrait photography settings that are suitable in low light. Those give the most radiant and mesmerizing portraits that you can get.
The couple, Family, and Group Portraits:
Who doesn’t love to take pictures with their loved ones? Portraits are also used to capture those magical moments.
People are going for portrait photography to preserve those pictures that they spend together. Thus, this type of portrait is getting more popular. You’ll see these types of photography in every program and function.
Those are typically taken to capture a milestone in life.
Think about it for a moment. What can be better than capturing a moment of a huge success in a picture? There is no better way to preserve such memories than a portrait. These types of portraits usually cost a lot.
Back in the day, you needed to have an expensive DSLR to be able to take portrait pictures. But now, you can just use your smartphones to capture portrait photos.
Modern smartphones use portrait lenses that let you take great portrait shots of subjects. You’ll also find features such as Bokeh in the recent smartphone models. This adds so much ease in your portrait photography.
Lens for Portrait Photography
The lens is one of the most important aspects that help to add so much to your photography. Different lenses are made for different types of photography. For capturing great portraits, you need a lens that fits specific criteria.
The first and foremost thing you need to consider is the focal length of the lens. A lens with 85 mm is optimal for shooting the best portrait pictures.
It’s important to go with a prime lens while selecting your lens for capturing portraits. Prime lenses have a single fixed focal distance that allows for maximum precision during photo shooting.
On the other hand, you won’t get the same detail in fields with a zoom lens. Zoom lenses are better for magnification. But they are not the best option for portrait photography.
Prime lenses provide you with the crispest, clear picture. Those are specially designed for giving you the best portrait photo shooting experience. And the Bokeh blurs out any unnecessary background that you don’t want.
Lenses are crucial for every camera. If you are serious about your photography, you should buy a lens for your DSLR. Investing in a good prime lens will help you to take your portrait photography to the next level.
Tips for Portrait Photo Shooting
Portrait photography is not the easiest task in the world. Everyone can do it. But only some do it in a way that’s just astonishing.
But nobody is born a good photographer. It’s a skill. And like all the other skills, it can be developed. To help you with that, let’s go over some tips that you can use while shooting your portraits.
Focus is Key:
The most important thing in any type of photography is the focus. You need to have a good focus on the subject to get the most out of your portrait photoshoot.
To focus better, you need to have better communication with your client. Some people get nervous in front of cameras even if you know him already.
If you communicate with him at that time, the nervousness will leave. That will allow for a more loose and relaxed state, which is optimal for taking photos. Thus, it will help you so much in your photo shooting process.
Right Location is Crucial for Better Portraits:
Choosing the right location is very important for portrait photography. It will save you a lot of your time and energy processing the photo afterward.
The location you choose to capture the picture has the most impact on your photos. Many people go for natural lighting. But it also comes with a lot of challenges. That includes weather, time of day, clouds or sudden change in light, etc.
However, you can undoubtedly go for direct sunlight, but it won’t be efficient. It’s better to shoot portraits indoors. You’ll get more control in lighting as well as the freedom to change the background of your picture.
Good Pose is Important:
For an average person who has no understanding of photography, the pose is the most important thing for him. But it’s not completely untruth. Pose plays a huge role in how the result is going to look.
Getting the best pose will complement the surrounding of your subject. It’s not an easy thing to pick the best pose suitable for the environment. It might take some repetition to get the best pose.
But it’s certainly worth spending some time finding the best pose. After all, it will determine the quality of your picture at the end of your day.
Taking Candid Shots:
Candid shots give you the most natural and effective pictures when it comes to portraits. It’s something that you can’t get with a picture that your subject poses for.
A professional photographer should not just stick with those normal shoes. Candid shots can be a gem. Thus, it’s a good idea to take these shots.
That doesn’t mean you can’t plan out the scenario. Planning will give even better candid shots mainly because you’ll know what you are looking to get a shot off.
Capturing the Emotions and Expressions:
This is something that differentiates the amateur photographer from professional photographers. The emotions and expressions are the most valuable thing in a portrait. It’s like the life of the picture.
For getting these emotions and expressions, you must communicate with your client. You must make your client comfortable in the situation. A friendly talk can open up and eliminate all the stiffness and anxiety buildup.
That will allow the real emotions and expressions to form. If you are in the world of photography, you know how crucial those two things are.
Using the Camera the Right Way:
A camera can be a pretty complicated device for someone who’s a complete beginner in photography. You must learn how to use your camera in the right way. That will allow you to take far better pictures than the general.
And as you probably know, a modern camera comes with a lot of additional features. Those can add so much more to enrich your experience of portrait photography. So, make sure you learn how to use those as well.
Choosing the Right Lens:
Lenses are important to give you the best possible pictures. But for portrait photography, prime lenses are the best ones to go. Those have a single distance focal length.
That allows for maximum precision and depth infield, which is perfect for portrait photography. Make sure to go with a lens that has around 85mm focal length. That’s just a sweet spot of a lens that’s best for portrait photography.
The Background Matters:
Background matters in all types of photography. But for portraits, you must have a suitable background to get the best portrait of your subject.
Some people like to blur out the background by using the Bokeh effect. But you can certainly enhance the identity and give a bit more personal touch with a background that’s set with intention.
Lighting is Crucial:
Lighting is a very important aspect of portrait photography. It dictates the quality of your portrait. The lighting must be suitable for the subject and the type of photo you want to take.
It’s not wise to use direct sunlight as the main source of lighting. There are so many advanced lighting systems that you can use for getting stunning portraits.
Try out Different Angles:
Angles are another aspect that you need to consider for great portrait photo shooting. It’s better to try different angles while your subject poses. That will help you find an angle with perfect lighting and pose.
Break the Rules:
As a photographer, you should follow your heart and break the rules. Rules will only prevent you from using all of your creativity. So, don’t let it happen and do what works for you.
That was everything you need to know about portrait photography. Whether you are a professional photographer or someone who loves to take pictures with his DSLR, you’ll need to take portraits now and then.
That said, it is the most demandable type of photography nowadays. It would help to learn how to take better portraits with your camera.
Now that you have a clear concept of it, you are going to be able to take more astonishing portraits with your camera. Hopefully, this information will help you get even richer experience in your overall photography.