Capturing our own likeness has been a quest of the human race for thousands of years. One might start from the very rudimentary cave paintings, to the paintings of gods in Egypt and Greece, to portrait paintings of royalty and other members of the clergy and then the unabashedly vain selfie of today.
photo by Portland photographer Dylan M Howell
Portrait photography or portraiture is the art of photography of a person or group of people that captures the personality and strength of a subject by using effective lighting, backdrops, and poses. A portrait picture might be artistic and be very much aesthetically pleasing, or it might be clinical, as part of a medical study. Frequently, portraits are commissioned for special occasions, such as weddings or school events and these would be under the heading of event photography. Portraits can serve many purposes, from usage on a private Web site to display in the lobby of a business.
Dye to the daguerreotype in the middle of the 19th century being of relatively low cost than the cotemporaries and the condensed sitting time for the person being photographed, though obviously still much longer than now, led to a wide-ranging rise in the attractiveness of portrait photography over painted portraiture. The style of these early photographs showed the technical challenges associated with extended exposure times and the painterly visual of the time. Subjects were generally seated against basic backgrounds and lit with the soft light of a slide window and whatever else could be reflected with mirrors. However advances in photographic equipment and techniques developed have given the photographers the ability to capture images with shorter exposure times and the luxury of capturing portraits outside the studio.
Portrait photography is inherently usually personal. Of course there might be cases where one is asked to take the senior portrait of the pass out students, or to take photos for identity cards of different nature. But barring those, one often has a lot of emotion tied up with photos one takes, as a photographer and as a subject. If you are going to make energetic photos that expose something about your portrait subjects, first have to appreciate something about people. Not just people in common, but your specific subject – the subject in front of you who is sitting for a portrait because she or he has paid you to have a photo made, because you really want to take their photo, or for whatever reason it might be.
Depending upon the circumstances, you may not be aware of much about your subjects before you begin your portrait session. Of course, the opposite is also possible-you may be photographing your family and have a lifetime of information and awareness about them. If you actually do not know much about your subject, and your time to learn about them is short, then you’ll have to rely heavily on your instinct, perception, and general feel of people. And not to forget the ever important power of small talk here which might be able to make your subject feel at ease and get you unforgettable portraits.