Portrait Photography

Portrait photography
involves photography of a person or a group of people that captures the personality of the subject through effective use of backdrops, lighting and poses. Portraits may be artistic or clinical depending with the value for which it is supposed to serve. Quite often, portrait photos are often commissioned for certain occasions; could be weddings, graduations or other memorable events. The purposes served by portrait photos vary as well, can be used on personal websites, business premises or simply hanged on house walls.

Portrait photography originated in the 19th century; the fatigue associated with long hours of seating and exposure to reflective light,  the inability to control background and other necessary photo effects essentially gave rise to portrait photography. One fundamental aspect of portrait photography is lighting.

Lighting for portrait photography

When portrait photographs are captured in the studio, the photographer often has the liberty and pleasure of regulating the lighting in order to produce the desired effects. There are several ways of lighting a subject’s face. Among the common ways of lighting a subject’s face include:

  • Three point-lighting: it is the most common lighting system used in lighting subjects face. Three different full light models are used in this case to reveal the features of the subject’s face. The three lights include: key light; is also referred to as the main light. It’s always placed on one side of the subject’s face between 30 and 60 degrees off the center, and slightly above the eye level. The purpose of this light is to produce the shape of the face. The second light is Fill-in Light; it is used to control the contrast in the scene. It’s often placed behind the subject’s head. The third light is the back light; this light serves the purpose of accentuating the subject’s face. It typically separates the subject from the background.
  • Butterfly lighting: this lighting system only uses two lights and is often placed in front of the subject, often above the camera. A reflector is usually placed below the subjects face to provide fill light and soften the shadow. The strong light that often falls on the forehead, the upper cheek, the bridge of the nose and the distinct shadow below the nose which typically looks like a butterfly are the typical aspects of the light system.
  • Background Lights: this light is not often considered much of the portrait lighting plan. They are often designed to provide illumination at the background of the subject. Other lighting systems in portrait photography include accessory lights,

There are different types of portrait photography, the most fundamental technique to capture the eyes and the face in sharp focus while, other less important elements are portrayed in soft focus. Sometimes, portraits may focus on other features such as hands, eyes or parts of the torso, it really depends on what portrait lenses are you using.

There are four main types of approaches to portraits; environmental, Candid, constructionist, and creative.portrait-photography

  • The constructionist approach is the most commonly used in social photography and studios. It involves creating ideas around the portrait. The ideas may include romance, happy family moments, among other social ideas.
  • The environmental approach depicts the portrait in a particular environment, may be at work, out in the wild, or any other setting.
  • Candid approach involves taking pictures of people without their knowledge, going about their businesses.
  • The creative approach involves digital manipulation of people’s portraits


Portrait photography is such a popular type of photography nowadays. Unlike other forms of photography that essentially involve taking of photos under certain background effects, portrait photography involves a lot of professional skills especially with light effect.

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