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Portrait Photography

What is portrait

Portrait is the artistic portrayal of a person or rather pictorial study of a human face and other parts of the body. Through portrait photography an artist simply tries to convey the emotional state and the soul of an individual. With the muscular change of face the expressions seem to vary. The character study provides a physio-psycho analysis of the subject. A living portrait reveals the inner spirit of the character with the help of suitable composition,appeal and technique.Photographic lighting,camera angles, exposure, posingare the means to produce a desired portrait.The sitter does not have to be good looking but should possess characteristic appeals to be exploited that are essential for a good portrait.

Types of Portraits

Candid: Candid portraiture is not a specific characteristic of the individual. It is often done on the everyday activities of the people and spontaneous or natural expressions of the subjects without their knowledge.

Characteristic Portrait:

In this kind of portrait one particular feature of the subject that stands for the actual character of it is depicted.In order to fulfill this purpose the photographer has to be well-aware of the right facial expression of the sitter that gives

the essence of his inner self.Very often one’s camera consciousness stands in the way of a proper depiction of his very character.So the photographer has to make a good rapport with the individual to be photographed and make him relaxed and easy going in his expressions.The best way is to involve in a conversation with the subject to catch the appropriate mood for normal representation.

Background of Portait:

Try to make the background as simple as possible and remove the unwanted and
distracting elements to create an appropriate atmosphere that projects a three-dimensional effect.Natural and non-distracting background is always appreciated and should be well-related in shape and theme with the subject.You can avoid the clumsy and disturbing objects by removing them physically or simply changing the angle of view.

Position of the Camera:

According to the shape of the face the right position of the camera should be determined.

Round Face – The camera should be placed a little away from the face.

Symmetrical Face – The camera must be facing the eye level.

Disproportionate Face – The camera is to be placed away from the bigger part of the body.

Lighting and quality of Portrait

Lighting is one of the vital factors in deciding the quality of a portrait. Lighting arrangement should be made in a way to emphasize on the muscle and other portions of the body. A pictorial photographer can make a great use of lighting through an effectiveunderstanding of lighting variation, quality and angle. In case of outdoor photography the daylight provides a number of lighting combinations.If the area of the main light source increases it reduces the ratio of shadow and light(S:L) and softens the edges of the shadow. A 3-D quality of the subject can be obtained if the S:L ratio becomes 1:4 or 1:8.For outdoors,if the sun is the main source of light flashlight can be used as fill- in. When the sun is diffused by light cloud the lighting becomes ideal for portraits. In outdoor photography control of shadow value is very important. The sun gives soft lighting in the morning and afternoon and therefore these times are considered to be the best times for capturing good portraits as the low light gives a certain delicacy to the face.

Artificial Light

As in outdoor photography we can move the subjects but not the light source in indoor photography the main source of light can be easily moved and the subject can be posed according to that by virtue of artificial lights.

Key Light

Key light is considered to be the principal source of light in indoors and that is why it must be stronger in character to create prime features.

Secondary Light

Secondary light is comparatively diffused light that brightens theshaded portions.Soft box is a lighting arrangement that bounces light off a secondary surface to create diffused and even light.Umbrella light is the best known form of soft box lighting.


Reflector is one of the effective photographic equipments that can add drama to the image and engage the subject more by being held by a third person on the shadow side of the subject.

Mixed Light

Try natural and tungsten light together to cast a warm and soothing light effect in the background and illuminate the subject with a glow.

Apart from all these the photographer can make use of top light, backlight and indirectlight according to the necessity.

It is advisable for the portrait photographer to make the sitter feel easy to provide the desired expressions to be captured. The photographer can ask the subject to moisten the lips for the sake of additional luster and relief to the muscles of the mouth.The subject should engage himself to some activities or conversation to avoid the straight forward look.The camera should be placed at an angle or at a slightly lower position than the eye level.A feeling of depth or liveliness can be brought by turning the head slightly upward or setting the shoulder at an angle.


Eyes are of great importance in the sense of reflecting the inner spirit of an individual. Therefore the focus should be on the eyes and it is better to look at the same direction in which the head is turned.The eye sockets are to be well-defined to represent the personality and control the outward expression.

Different moods bring different look and facial changes. A good photographer mastersthe implication of these changes and possesses tremendous tenacity and patience to easily read the mind of the subject and depict the feelings and mood through minute observation.Using a tripod is recommended to avoid camera shake and it is advisable to use fast telephoto lens instead of wide angle ones. Last but not the least it is obvious that a good portrait is all about how you see and understand the subject and not only about the techniques and equipments.

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