What is Portrait Photography?

What is Portrait Photography?

Portrait photography – or portraiture – describes a photograph taken with a keen focus on displaying the face, expression, or mood of the subject. Most portraits are centered on the person's face, but the context, background, and the rest of the body can be included as well.

What makes a portrait?

It captures the face and personality of the subject. It should be noted, however, that some pictures with a focus on the face cannot be described as a portrait if there is no deliberate attempt to capture a particular uniqueness about the subject.

It is staged. When composed in a studio, a photographer prepares the lighting to display the composition of the subject. A portrait certainly can be candid, although even those tend to have some intentionality in the lighting, poses and backdrops.

It is commissioned. This is not an absolute rule, but in a general sense most portraits serve a definite purpose. An business may use a portrait of a subject for advertising purposes, while a graduate may use a portrait to add to their senior yearbook.

Portrait Styles

There are a number of popular techniques used in portrait photography. The primary goal is to capture the subject's face and eyes in sharp focus while rendering other less crucial elements in a softer focus. Keep in mind that some portraits of individual features may focus on areas such as the hands, body, or another part of the subject's torso.

Approaches to taking a portrait

Four main approaches exist when it comes portrait photography, including:

  • Constructionism
  • Environmental
  • Candid
  • Creative

Each of these approaches serves a specific purpose, such as marketing, advertising, paparazzi, and more.

The most common misconception about portrait photography is that it only features a picture of a person's face. This is not an entirely accurate description. For an image to be considered a portrait, it has to capture some essence about the subject's face, typically in a rehearsed fashion.