A General Guide to Portrait Photography

portrait1 A General Guide to Portrait PhotographyPortraiture is one of the most popular approaches in photography since people as subjects are just naturally interesting. Whether it’s our loved ones or complete strangers, we seem to gravitate towards images of fellow human beings, especially if the photographer has managed to capture their distinctive appeal. A portrait is generally defined as a posed image of a person (or persons, if a group portrait) with the face as the main point of focus. However, the term ‘portrait’ now has evolved and has a looser meaning which can include candid, animal and partial portraits.

Focus on the eyes – as the saying goes, ‘the eyes are the windows to one’s soul’. Eyes are very expressive and you can take advantage of this in your image. A person looking straight at the camera can give an impression different from someone gazing off-camera.

Show the subject’s mood – the human face is capable of expressing a myriad of emotions which can evoke a response from the viewer. More than that, other body parts can similarly show one’s mood. The hands, for instance, can be very expressive and can portray what the person is feeling at the time.

Be creative with the camera viewpoint – the usual camera angle when shooting portraits is straight forward at eye level. Changing the camera angle and portrait2 A General Guide to Portrait Photographyviewpoint can make the image look more dynamic and can present the subject in a more uncommon manner.

Show the subject’s personality – the subject may be filled with life and cheer but if your composition is drab and dull, it will hide any signs of life. Work the subject’s personality in your composition. Make full use of lighting, secondary elements, the environment, colors; whatever you can include that will help reinforce your image’s intended effect.

Play with lighting – lighting has a major impact on mood of the image. Soft diffused lighting is often used with baby portraits since it enhances their aura of fragility and softness. Dramatic lighting with hard shadows can make the subject look more dynamic and edgy. The direction of your light should also be considered. Sidelighting can show off the textures of the skin and backlighting can turn the subject into a silhouette. Experiment with different light sources. Although sunlight and studio lights are most often used, try lighting your subject’s face with some candles, or the glow from a TV screen or a flashlight.

portrait3 A General Guide to Portrait PhotographyTry partial portraits – instead of making the subject’s face entirely visible, try framing only half the face or just the eyes or the feet. By showing only a part of the body, it adds a sense of mystery and drama since it is less conventional than the regular portrait. 

Include a prop – take advantage of items or objects that support the subject, either just visually or also physically. Props can be anything from small things such as toys or household items, to large furniture. Using props can give the subjects something to relate to in the shot, which in turn can present a story.


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