What is portrait photography?

What is portrait photography and what are the different types of portraits?

Imagine a shot that precisely captures individualism, photography that’s arresting in its glaring honesty, and a deeply personal picture that bares it all, all in a portrait?

Well, that’s portrait photography for you and yes, it’s shaking things up in a world where knock-offs, say-cheese smiles, and cheap imitations are all the rage. 

Read on to discover what is portrait photography and why this sub-category of traditional photography is making waves in photography studios across the planet.

What is portrait photography?

Portrait photography (or portraiture) is simply a photograph capturing the personality of the individual or a group of people by using transformative lighting, suave backdrops, and tact poses.

The photographer focuses intensely on the face that he/she wants to capture with everything else being blurred even if right next to the subject.

This increasingly popular genre of photography allows the person behind the lenses to deploy his creative talents to create a fascinating portrait – it can be artistic, heart-warming, care-free, etc.- while bringing out the person’s true identity and attitude.

There are specific guidelines to follow when coming up with masterpiece portraits – those that let the personality of the subject shine through and through- and it’s important for aspiring photographers, photography students, and new photographers to first learn the art before engaging clients.

Where did portrait photography come from?

While portraiture came to being long before photography, portrait photography is thought to have first captured the imagination of the World in the 1830s when American photography pioneer Robert Cornelius released a tantalizing self-portrait captured in the background of the magnificently radiant Philadelphia sun.

Since then, photographers have used their prowess to invent a ton of refreshing portrait photography ideas to help them artistically represent the faces of celebrities, business owners, and their other clients.

Where is portrait photography used?

Because it’s all about expressing the persona, portraits can serve a wide variety of roles.

A business can, for example, post a giant portrait of their customer care star receiving an award of excellence on their front lobby to showcase their winning culture.   

Entrepreneurs can as well upload similarly endearing portraits on their websites as part of a campaign to build a unique personal brand.

Expert portrait photographers like the London-based Zuzana Breznanikova also help professionals pass distinctive messages about their line of work through spectacular portrait photography.

She collaborates with the professional to design scenes that aptly captures the person’s profession before zooming in.

For example, if the subject is a fashion mogul, then the portrait could be shot with the fashionista donning her latest statement swimsuit in his/her location of choice.

Types of portrait photography/approaches

To inspire beauty and portray charisma, photographers go for a host of distinguishing portrait photography approaches.

Indeed, there are tons of ways in which people look at portrait photography- it’s all a question of displaying the human spirit at its best.

Here is a brief rundown of the primary alternatives:

·      Creative - there’s immense experimentation and simulation. The objective is to reveal the subject’s heartfelt mood artistically.

·      Environmental - the basic principles of environmental composition is to exploit the ambiance to breathe more life into the portrait.

·      Constructionist - based around the subject to relay a certain sentiment (for example, cheery, romantic, or loyalty).

·      Candid - the photographer times and shoots away when the subject least expects it. The released portraits are full of passion. 

To make the portraits striking while retaining their natural charm, leading photographers mix good techniques, posing, styling, and lighting.

Plus, he may alternate between upper body shots, close-ups, facial shots, and even ‘full body’ portraits (3/4 of the whole body) until he achieves optimum magnificence.

Types of portraits

Depending on the occasion the portrait is being commissioned for, photographers can take the following types of portraits.

·      Traditional- The subject is snapped posed(there are plenty of stunning portrait photography poses he/she can adapt).

·      Candid - As hinted above, these are unplanned, street-style portraits.

·      Formal -He shoots professionally-themed portraits.

·      Lifestyle - This captures the subject as they go about their daily business.

·      Conceptual - The shooter brings ideas to life.

·      Glamour -To make a genuinely unforgettable snapshot, the photographer’s focal point is the surrounding beauty.

·      Environmental- The photographer accords the surrounding environment more prominence to give the portrait a touch of subtlety.

·      Fine art (abstract) - Here the portraits are inspired by authentic pieces of fine art.

·      Surreal -The theme is dreamlike.

In all cases, the shoot is meticulously planned and revised with the customer.

Portrait photography techniques

As mentioned previously, photographers apply a range of techniques to add style and grace to the portraits. 

Most open up tremendous creativity options when composing the shot and help the photographer meet the expectations of the client.

Below are some examples of tactics used in this famous personality photography.

·      Focus -  to deliver a smashing portrait, skilled photographers tend to use sharp focus for the face. The eyes are also tremendously appealing if in sharp focus. 

·      Lighting - how the subject’s face is lit is vastly vital and the good thing is that photographers have abundant courses of action when it comes to directing the light and perfecting the intensity. For instance, three-point lighting entails the use of three to four lights to highlight the client’s features in 3 dimensions. She could additionally use the correct fill-in light for contrast and ideal accent lighting to emphasize other effects.

·      Angles - typically, portraits are captured from different angles- can be from below eye-level or above- to keep things fresh and cool.

The right technique in the right scenario makes all the difference, especially when taking portraits for marketing or advertising.

Celebrity portrait photography / celebrity portraiture

Celebrity portraiture is an exclusive subset of portrait photography capturing the essence/persona of a celebrity usually for an editorial / magazine. 

The emphasis is placed just on the subjects – the celebrities in music, royalty, sports, actors and actresses, or fashion, and is more artistic and totally opposite to what we see on social media platforms.
Good celebrity portraiture involves shooting iconic pictures of big name celebrities in a style that vividly brings out their personality in a portrait while sharing compelling stories, something which isn’t easily achievable with other genres of photography.

For the most part, specialist celebrity portraiture photographers such as the previously mentioned Zuzana Breznanikova shoot the portraits either off-site or in a studio (check out her London studios) and strive to get a wide range of pictures that editors, publicists, and managers can select from.

As highlighted earlier, lighting is extremely vital in portrait photography and the lights are set up by a professional in advance.

Besides, celebrity photographers think smart and make precise moves, while staying tuned in to their creativity when snapping celeb families, celeb babies, and various stars.

That way, celebrity photographers are able to get great portraits for local magazines, PR companies, celebrity photo agencies, and more.

Musician and actor portraiture 

Musicians and actors can also profit from portraits and professional headshots (the latter is taken from the collarbone) work fabulously as a marketing tool and can be published on their websites, LinkedIn personal profiles, or even printed.

Some directors even demand that actors and other entertainers include a head shot together with their résumé when submitting an application for a role. 

The portraits are customized to fit myriad situations and retouched if necessary to reflect the actor’s/singer’s best traits.

Again the photographer flexes his/her creative muscle to come up with portraits that create a buzz around the actor or musician’s name.

This may help unlock dozens of lucrative opportunities for the subject. 

What is portrait photography: Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Here now are answers to a couple of questions that tend to bother beginners. 

Is a portrait always one person?

Portraiture could be a photograph of one person or a group of people (wikipedia).

Having said that, a portrait has traditionally been associated with one person but the emergence of new types of portraits like family portraits means that a shooter can capture a group. 

Why is portrait photography important?

Portrait photography is essential because it communicates the valid personality of the person in the portrait- there’s no way of ‘faking it’ and the final image will unveil the best facets of the subject’s personality. 

This helps subjects reveal the best version of themselves without uttering a word.

Wrapping it up

Portrait photography is all about capturing people and personalities and is much more than snapping a smiling person.

From getting the lighting, backgrounds, and the poses right, it’s a truly thrilling piece of skill to have and at the same time rewarding for clients.

Don’t fret about learning all these steps and techniques- Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Again practice makes perfect.

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