Portrait Photography: Definition, Techniques & Tips

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  • 0:04 Portrait Photography
  • 0:53 Characteristics
  • 1:39 Approach
  • 3:22 Tips
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

Portrait photography is more than just capturing a picture of somebody; it's an artistic representation of a person's attitude. In this lesson, we'll learn about portrait photography as well as explore some tips for taking great photos.

Portrait Photography

Imagine if a person asked you to define who he or she is in a photo, ultimately snapping their personality to preserve it forever. Well, you probably wouldn't just take a quick photo of that person, now, would you? You'd have to think about how the background and the person's position would help to emphasize his or her key characteristics and features. Well, welcome to the world of portraiture. Portrait photography is about much more than a snapshot of somebody's face; it's about capturing the essence of a person's identity and attitude, which means a portrait photographer has a really big job to do. Learning how to work with clients and use a camera to find the perfect exposure involves hard work and the use of a few simple tips. In this lesson, we'll go over an in-depth definition of portrait photography and explore some tips and techniques to help you master portrait photography.


Portrait photography is all about the face. A photographer's goal is to take a carefully crafted photograph of a person's distinguishing facial features while capturing the person's attitude, identity, and personality. The photo may include a blurred background and the person's body, but those factors are not emphasized in the image.

A portrait is carefully planned and rehearsed with the client. That's why a candid photo is not considered a portrait. Does that mean that a portrait cannot appear candid? Definitely not; this should be taken into account depending on the client's overall attitude and the purpose of the image.

A portrait, regardless of whether it appears candid, should be planned with the client. The background, props, client's dress and position, and the angle of the photo should be prepared before the actual photo shoot takes place.


Portrait photography involves four types of approaches: environmental, constructionist, candid, and creative. In concert with the client, the photographer should select a specific approach based on the type of portrait that's being taken. Let's look at the different styles of portrait photography.

  • The environmental approach to portrait photography means that the client is positioned in surroundings that speak to the person's identity or profession. For example, if a client loves horses, then the portrait might be taken with the client in a stable while brushing a horse. On the other hand, if a client is a professional writer, then the portrait might be taken inside an office with the client holding a pen and a notepad.

Portrait Using Constructionist Approach

  • A constructionist approach to portraiture is all about building emotion and developing atmosphere. The photographer may choose to set the mood of the portrait through the background, lighting, and person's body language to build a conveyed emotion. For example, a photographer might have a mom-to-be holding her belly and looking downward to convey the notion of waiting. Likewise, for a serious attitude, the photographer might have a client look intently into the camera and use a minimal background.
  • The candid approach involves capturing the essence of a client when he or she thinks the photographer isn't working; but this doesn't mean that the photo wasn't planned in advance or that the photographer isn't providing some type of subtle direction. What isn't planned is exactly when the photograph is going to be snapped.

Portrait Using Creative Special Effects

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