The Art of Portrait Photography

I wanted to write a post about the art of portrait photography, because with the overwhelming amount of people with the access to cameras, is the art of portrait photography getting lost?

It's certainly exciting to see the photography industry explode, as anyone that has a smart phone is suddenly a photographer. They have the chance to capture images all the time and share them across multiple platforms. With all the access to filters and apps that improve photos, what's the need to go to professional studios or professional photographers anymore? 

Let's discuss this, shall we.

So by definition, owning a camera makes you a photographer right? Just like owning a piano make you a pianist. Or owning a plane makes you a pilot. Okay maybe it's a stretch but that's how a lot of people feel.

Uncle Joe owns a camera so he's qualified to take my senior photos or business headshots right? Sure thing. Having or owning a camera does qualify you to actually use it. The results however are going to be way different than what you'd get if you hired a professional. And maybe you know that, and maybe that's okay with you. Then you probably will never need a professional because your value of photography doesn't exist. It's the same for people that believe hot dogs are just hot dogs and they don't need to spend extra on Smith's Hot Dogs. 

The way I see it, it can't be replicated. Copied? Yes. But I can stand in front of several students and teach them exactly how I do what I do and they won't be able to create images exactly like me. It's because it's not the equipment that makes the photograph. No one can see like I see or interact with clients like I do. Because no one can be me except me. That's why art is so valuable. It's someones unique creation. 


What is portrait photography? 

Creating a portrait has many complex parts but primarily consists of:

  1. Technical aspects: such as choice of camera or lens.
  2. Artistic elements: location, background choice, wardrobe choice and style.
  3. Lighting: arguably one of the most important elements.
  4. Emotional: the choice of how your client wants to be perceived. 

Let's explore these.

First up, tech. As technology is consistently evolving it's important that you stay up to date on this section. The choice of camera depends on how the final product will be used or printed. Will this be on a bus, or a building? Or is this going to be viewed as an 24x36 inch print? The choice of lens can really change the feel of the portrait. It's important to have options here. Since most of these professional grade lenses can cost well over $2,000 it's good to get a jump start on building your collection.


What about location, colors, wardrobe and over all style? Just like an artist painting a canvas has to choose the colors and setting, so must a photographer. Understand colors and what compliments one another is very important. You must be able to put it all together. This is often built right in front of the clients prior to the session. 

Lighting. Hard, soft, diffused, indirect, cool, and warm. Many choices are here as well. The light in a photograph is similar to the paint and brush strokes a canvas painter might use. It's actually what paints light over the parts of the image we want to control. Your eye will go to the lightest part of an image first and then move across the medium to other parts of similar brightness. The lighting also controls the mood of the portrait. 


Finally, emotions. This is a hard one. A really great photographer has mastered a way of managing how to get their subjects to be themselves. And a really, really great photographer can do that in just a few minutes. Portraits are by definition a portrayal of the person or subject being photographed. They tell a story without the need for words. The viewer feels an emotion and possibly a connection with the subject even if they don't know that person. This is where the true power exists. This is where the transformation from photograph to portrait happens. 

My wish is that you have a better understanding of portraits. It truly is an art form. Mostly it's a gift, as with any artist. Some people just have a natural ability to create magificent works of art. Mine just happends to be portrait art. 

So if you are looking for someone that can combine all those aspects to create an authentic, artistic, empowering portrait, that will leave you wondering how they did it, even though you were there for the entire process, then you're looking for a professional photographer. If you could care less and a photograph will do, then you're looking for Uncle Joe. 


Jennifer DworekComment