What about portrait shooting?

Girl portrait

As a photographer I am mostly passionate about landscape and macro photography. Nothing wrong with that, it is normal as humans to enjoy different things – not to be all the same. I’m guessing that a world where everybody shares the same passion, it’ll be a very boring one.

About portrait shooting

I am not saying that I dislike the portrait photography, just… not my ”number one”. I’m finding myself in many situations surrounded by friends or family, and it is a joy to start taking portrait shoots. A great way to keep your memories alive too.

There are a lot of tips and techniques for the portrait photography. I will try today to give a general and fair description of the main things you can do when shooting portraits. Therefore…

What is portrait photography?

I will not start with complex definitions and big terms – not my way, I find it boring … Main idea is, for a portrait shoot you’ll need (beside photo camera and other gear) a being with a face. Might be a person or group of people, or can be your dog – still a portrait.

dog portrait


In portrait photos we are using lighting, backdrops and poses to capture the personality of the subject and the artistic representation of it’s attitude.

It is not enough to take a picture with someone’s face. According with the task, you may have to take shoots which expresses feelings or moods, or you may have to immortalize someone’s personality in a photograph.

In which case you need to ”study” your subject, to get to know him better. Let’s say is a girl and she is an incurable dreamer, you will have to capture her expression so as to express that.

Girl portrait


Lighting techniques

Three-point lighting – This is a basic set up that uses three lights to bring out the details of the subject’s features. 

  • Main light – positioned bit higher than eye level, between 30º and 60º  off center. Not to higher because we’ll have to deal with the nose and chin shadow, for example.
  • Fill-in light – Is a large light source used to control the contrast in the scene and is almost always set up above the lens axis. It’s role is to fill the shadows only.
  • Back light – Play the role of accentuating a subject, to separate it from a background.

Butterfly lighting – This technique uses only two lights.

  • The main light – Is placed in front of the subject,  above the camera and a bit higher than in the three-point lighting method.
  • Rim light – This is a fill-in light placed below the face for soften shadows.

Other lighting equipment

Accessory lights – Used to provide additional highlights or add background definition to the upper described techniques.

Soft box – Made of translucent fabric provides a softer lighting (softer/creamier light effect).

Portrait types

Candid portrait – Is this picture things should be natural and spontaneous. I said ”should” because the subject shouldn’t be aware about the photographer’s presence or action. The candid capture would show the subject with his natural emotions and environment, with no prearranged poses and actions.

candid portrait

Posed portrait – In this case the subject is aware of the photographer presence and selects a body posture for the picture.

posed portrait

Formal portrait – When posing for a formal occasion like business,  weddings, funerals, confirmations etc…

wedding portrait

Environmental portrait –  The environmental portrait focuses on the relation of the subject with the chosen background. This can be more dominant than the facial expressions in this kind of picture, especially if the whole body is caught in the picture together with a large area of the environment.

environmental portrait

Regarding the number of subjects in the picture we can also classify the portrait as being single, couple or group.

See a great video by Run N Gun about dramatic portraits using only one light:


Lighting patterns

Beside the lighting techniques, we have the lighting patterns. These refers to the way we can play with light and shadow across the face to create different shapes. The butterfly lighting technique we’ve spoken earlier is also a lighting pattern, so I will not mention it again here.

  • Split Lighting – Positioning the light source 90º to the left or right of the subject, it splits the face into equal halves – one side being in the light and the other in shadow. Going with the light little more behind, depending of the subject’s physiognomy, it might  result in a spark of light in the eye.
  • Loop Lighting – To create this pattern, the light source must be slightly higher than the eye level and between 30º – 60º  from the camera. The idea is to generate a little nose shadow and, going on, shadow on the cheek, taking care that these shadows will not interfere on the face.
  • Rembrandt Lighting – In Rembrandt lighting the nose and cheek shadows do meet, as so creates a little triangle of light in the middle. We have to make sure the eye on the shadowed side of the face is in the light otherwise the effect is pointless.

    In the end…

    I hope I have covered the main idea about portrait photography and that it was enjoyable. If you want to know more about something specific, please comment below and I will go much deeper in details.

    If you want to read more about photography categories, I wrote a post about that few days ago. You can read it herethanks!



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Author: condruzmf

4 thoughts on “What about portrait shooting?

  1. Yeah you’re right :)) Not really mate, this is only informative. It is so much more to understand if it is to go deeper in the portrait photography. Anyway I am glad that you enjoyed

  2. The pictures you show here are awesome. I assume you have taken them? You obviously know what you are talking about. I find getting the lighting right is the most difficult part of taking a great shot. I’ll visit again for more tips. Many thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  3. Glad you enjoyed, I am planning to go deeper in the subject. It will take some time, since I am more concentrated on reviews for now – but definitely I will do it

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