What is Portrait Photography

by theartinvogue on 03/18/2021


 Portrait photography involves preserving the essence of an individual’s or a group’s personality through the use of effective lighting, background and posing in order to emphasize the person’s key characteristics and features. A good portrait photo should be able to capture the essence of the person’s identity and his/her attitude and so it’s easy to conclude that portrait photography is much more than a simple snapshot of someone’s face. Everyone has a different personality and so it is important to employ varying approaches for different people.

Even though it sounds simple in theory, portrait photography could prove to be one of the most difficult forms of photography to master. The goal is to allow the subjects personality to show through, and so the portrait photo needs to look both natural and prepared.

The kind of equipment used for portrait photography does not really matter as long as the photographer is able to capture the subject’s character. It’s always useful to have high end equipment but, in this case, it’s not really needed.

The portrait photographer’s main duty is to find the perfect background/location for the photograph and to use the right lighting. They also provide posing tips to the subject.


The photographer may choose to select a background within the studio or he may choose to scout for a location outside the studio

Ideally the photographer clicks the portrait photograph within a studio against a plain background. This is done in order to isolate the subject and to eliminate any kind of background disturbance. The other option is to scout for a location outside and by doing so the photographer can introduce creative elements which would help to emphasize the subject’s character.

Whichever location the photographer chooses, it is important to ensure that the main focus is on the subject and not on the background.


Lighting is one of the most crucial aspects of portrait photography as a whole different attitude/emotion could be generated by simply using different lighting setups.

Most photographers don’t rely on the camera’s built-in flash but rather prefer to use studio lighting and reflectors or natural light in case of outdoor photography. He may even use a combination of the camera’s flash along with the reflectors while shooting in a studio.

A great knowledge of daylight timing along with appropriate body positioning is necessary to achieve the perfect portrait photo when shooting outdoors.

 Types of Portrait Photography:

Although there are various forms of portrait photography, all of them have the same goal – which is to capture the subject’s personality appropriately. Some of the sub-genres of portrait photography are as follows –

  1. Traditional portraits-
    Also known as standard portraits or standard posed portraits, it is pretty much all about the subject’s face and expressions and it typically involves the subject looking into the camera and posing for the photograph. These are normally shot in a studio with the help of studio lighting  and a prepared background.These are usually cropped so as to show just the head and shoulders rather than the full body. This type of photography often comes to mind when thinking about portrait photos.
  2. Environmental Portraits-
    Environmental photography is all about the relationship between the subject and his/her environment. This type places emphasis on the environment while still allowing the subject to be the main focus. These are normally taken in a location that means something to the subject and is special to him/her. It’s in a location that forms an important part of the subject’s personality.For example- a chef in a kitchen, an artist in his/her studio, a classroom, etc.The main goal is to capture the subject in what he/she considers to be their natural environment.
  3. Conceptual/Creative Portraits –
    This approach of Photography owes a lot to fine arts and is of the kind where the photographer can get really creative. The main purpose of this type of photography is to be able to capture an idea i.e. a concept within the portrait. This is mainly accomplished through the use of props and also by using backgrounds.The goal is to capture the everyday aspect and to add another dimension into it, so that we end up seeing a different reality altogether.These are often used in advertising to capture the concept behind the product. It is also used in fine-art photography and fashion editorial imagery.
  4. Lifestyle Portraits-
    This type of portrait involves capturing people in their everyday environment, doing everyday things. It is considered to be a mix of posed, candid and environmental photography.They can be shot either indoors or outdoors and they usually tend to be bright and cheerful.
  5. Formal Portraits-
    This approach is normally used for businesses, schools, id photographs, etc. This tends to be a serious kind of photograph which is normally used to give the subject an aura of professionalism.
  6. Close-up Portraits-
    It involves extreme close-up shots of the subject or parts of the subject. It is used to bring out the details of the subject’s eyes or the texture of his/her skin. The model’s best facial features are highlighted while hiding any flaws.

This type of photography usually requires extra equipment such as macro lenses and a tripod for best results.

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