Girl portrait

What about portrait shooting?

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As a photographer, I am most passionate about landscape and macro photography. Nothing wrong with that. It is healthy as humans to enjoy different things – not to be all the same. I’m guessing that in 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 portrait photography,… 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 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 long terms – not my way. I find it annoying. The main idea is, for a portrait shoot, you’ll need (besides a photo camera and other gear) a being with a face. It might be a person or group of people, or it can be your dog – still a portrait.

dog portrait

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

It is not enough to take a picture with someone’s face. According to the task, you may have to take shoots that express 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 it is a girl, and she is an incurable dreamer, and you will have to capture her expression to express that.

Girl portrait

Lighting techniques

Three-point lighting is a basic setup that uses three lights to bring out the subject’s features. 

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

Other lighting equipment

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

Softbox – Made of translucent fabric, provides 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 of the photographer’s presence or action. The candid capture would show the subject with his natural emotions and environment, with no prearranged poses and activities.

candid portrait with melancholic womanPosed portrait – In this case, the subject is aware of the photographer’s presence and selects a picture’s body posture.
posed portrait

Formal portrait – When posing for a formal occasion like a 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 a single, couple, or group.

See a great video by Run N Gun about portraits:

Lighting patterns

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

  • 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 a little more behind, depending on the subject’s physiognomy, 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, a shadow on the cheek, taking care that these shadows will not interfere with the face.
  • Rembrandt Lighting – In Rembrandt lighting, the nose and cheek shadows meet, which creates a little triangle of light in the middle. We have to make sure the eye on the face’s shadowed side 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 more rooted into detail.

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

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4 thoughts on “What about portrait shooting?”

  1. Avatar of condruzmf

    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. Avatar of Andrew

    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. Avatar of condruzmf

    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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