Portrait Photography

Portrait Photography

Photo credit Theklan

Portrait Photography or Portraiture is arguably the most popular technique or manner of photography. A famous quote from David Busch, a well-known photographer and author, is “Human beings are the most fascinating subjects of all.” Without a doubt, people are the most common subjects in photography. Our emotions and expressions, our actions or inactions, and our seclusions or interactions, make a picture more dramatic and artistic. The complexity of our human lives makes us a better and more interesting subject.

Before our portraits are turned into a photographic masterpiece, proper practice of portraiture must be achieved first. A photographer must primarily know the important aspects that need to be considered in order to turn an ordinary person into a piece of art. It is important then that a photographer must know the essential matters in shooting portraiture.

So, what matters most in portraiture?


First stop, you need to have a camera that is capable of shooting large resolutions. Professional photographers strive for at least twelve megapixels in order to create a quality portrait. Megapixels are not everything but a large resolution is important because post-processing is almost always necessary in portraiture. If your photos have decent amount of resolution then cropping and retouching of photos is easier and can be more effective. So in portraiture, larger resolution can help us create better quality portraits.


The type of lens you are going to use would depend upon the purpose of your portraiture. Some photographers shoot people in order to document the lives and conditions of their subject. Some shoot people for glamour, business or advertising. And some shoot for the sake of art.

If you are one of those who shoot people to tell the world their story then you need to get more details on your photos. In the December 2012 issue of Photography Monthly Magazine, featured photographer John Kenny narrated that in order for him to take pictures with outstanding sharpness, he used a f/1.8 prime lens together with his 36MP DSLR Camera. Higher aperture makes the subject sharper and focused. So if you want to achieve this kind of quality, you need to use prime lens.

Generally in portraiture, you need a lens that has the ability to zoom or in other words, a telephoto lens. Usually in commercial portraiture, i.e., glamour or studio portraits, photographers use medium telephoto lenses. The quality and the approach of telephoto lenses tend to generate a more natural look of the subject unlike wide lenses which make the portrait overly detailed. But you need to be careful, because when you tend to ‘over-zoom’ the subject, it will make the photo flat and wide which would make it undesirable for a portrait. So in order to achieve a more natural look of the subject you need to use a medium telephoto, but always keep in mind not to over-zoom as not to distort or alter the portrait.


I believe that lighting is the most essential matter in portraiture. The story, the theme, or the message you want your subjects to effectuate could be achieved by proper manipulation and control of light. “Modify the lighting, and a person can be pictured as sinister, powerful or glamorous.“ — David Busch. You can make your subject express whatever you like them to express. Lighting is your paint brush in painting portraiture.

But lighting is a double-edged sword. “The right light can make your images really come alive, whereas the wrong light can kill them.” is a common quote by Rob Sheppard. Attention and care is required for the proper manipulation and control of light.

Usually, portraits look better treated with soft lights. That is why there are a lot of tools and gadgets use to soften or diffuse light in portraiture. You can utilize an umbrella, or a lens diffuser or even the clouds to get the desired soft light upon your subject. You can also try to play with one light source or even with two or more light sources. Shooting with multiple light sources, with proper technique and methodology, generates better quality of portraits.

There are numerous ways to manipulate lighting. It is really up to you on how you can achieve the desired portrait. Remember, that portraits can be greatly improved if you know how the light is applied or directed, not only to your subject, but also to the rest of the picture.


Although contrast is an incidental product of lighting, it is best to consider that it is not entirely dependent to light. Careful adjustment of contrast could greatly improve the portrait’s overall appearance. It can add drama and realism to your photos. A lot of photographers, especially those who are into monochrome portraiture, rely significantly upon the application of contrast.

Proper contrast could be applied by adjusting the light upon the subject, by using the right settings on the camera or by post-processing. Whatever method or combination of methods you choose to do, take into account that the outcome of the image should be in parallel with the story or message you want to convey from your portraits.


An equally essential matter in portraiture is the subject and how you are able to portray them. The artistry of the portrait would depend upon the composition, the pose, and the eyes of the subject. Among the three, the eyes should be given more weight and importance. The expression of the eyes of the subject is very effectual on the overall appearance and portrayal. “The eyes are the most important component of any portrait, as they will always be the center of attention. They must be sharp and lively, even if you’re going for a softer look in the rest of the portrait.” — David Busch. Although composition or pose of the subject could be a factor in portraiture, it must be born in mind that the eyes should be the center of attraction. Through it, the story or the emotion of the portrait is best communicated.

Portraiture Final Words

So there you go, the essential matters to keep in mind when doing portrait photography. If you are able to properly utilize and apply these four matters, we can assure that you are going to be able to create artistic, dramatic and quality portraits. ‘Til then, keep experimenting, keep trying and learning, and shoot as many photos as you can.

Finally, let me share the words of the photographer John Kenny: “Portraits are as much a reflection of the artist as they are the subject.

How do you usually snap portraits? Any tips you want share? Let us know in the comments below.

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