The Magic of Portrait Photography


Portrait photography also known as portraiture is capturing a person or a group of people with the help of photography where the emphasis is on the expression present on the faces. Thus, since the entire focus is on the face, the subject is often seen to be directly looking at the camera. The aim is to portray likeness, personality and also the mood of the subject. Also, another interesting fact about portrait photography is that here the subjects are often non-professional models. This particular form of photography began since the invention of the camera and its popularization in the 19th century. It is also known as the oldest type of photography.

The Early Beginnings of Portrait Photography

In early times, people often resorted to portrait painting which has been used by distinguished figures and eminent personalities before camera became popular. However, when photography as art had become popular people also find out that portrait photography was much cheaper and more easily accessible than portrait painting. With this realization and with the advent of the commercially successful cheap photographic process ‘daguerreotype’, portraiture gained prominence. With time as more photographic techniques developed, photographer ventured out of the known and tested their talents outside studio in battlefields, across oceans and in remote places. The most prominent of the portraits are William Shew’s ‘Daguerreotype Saloon’, Roger Fenton’s ‘Photographic Van’ and Mathew Brad’s What-is-it? Set the milestones in this field.

The nuances of Portraiture

Portrait photography has many branches. A portrait becomes popular or draws attention only when it tries to convey something powerful, better than what words can say. Thus, to get the desired effects in a particular photo a photographer can change the light sources, background, the focal length of the lenses and the shutter etc.

To begin with portrait photography can be classified into two main sections.

Based on Shots

The first is the ‘Facial Shot or Close-ups’. This type of photography style is applied when you wish to take a shot of children or a baby, or one particular person. Here, the expressions of the face are taken into account along with the angle of the heads and position of hands. The combination of shadows and lights come into play here to highlight varied expressions. The second comes the ‘Upper Body Shots’. In this type the torso of the subject is taken into consideration apart from the head. In these photos the photographer can experiment and create a story. The subject need not look directly at the camera.

Based on Approaches

Apart from the above there are four varied approaches taken to portraiture and the reasons for which can also vary. It may be artistic, technical or cultural. They are-

The Constructionist approach is when the photographer while clicking a portrait builds an idea around the subject. It could be a happy couple, a romantic gesture or a trustworthy executive.  This approach is mostly used in social photography. Its usage is also found in advertising and marketing when an idea has to be communicated. Environmental approach is that in which the subjects are found to be in their usual environments like work, home, school or playgrounds. The environment provides us information on the person being photographed. It tells us about their likings, class, work etc. These portraits carry a lot of social and historical significance as sources of information. Candid is another approach to portraits where people are photographed without them knowing about it and thus these photos tend to project the natural, spontaneous and impromptu moment which every photographer loves to capture. While this technique is often criticized, this style has given the world some excellent, important images of people in various situations over the ages. The last of all is the Creative approach, where digital manipulation comes into play. Thus, the resultant picture is a wonderful product with the flaws removed to near perfection.

The other variations one can bring about to portraiture are by making changes to the poses, proper positioning of your subjects, or photographing from different angles. Also, you can experiment with the various photo settings, light, exposure, white balance and focusing to capture the best shot. So, if you are a novice or a professional when you set out for portrait photography keep the above details in mind as they are essential to making your photos eye-catching and appealing!



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