Portrait photography or portraiture is portraiture, the focus of the photograph is usually the person’s face, although the entire body and the background or context may be included.
Portrait photographs have been made since virtually the invention of the painterly aesthetic of the time. Subjects were generally seated against plain backgrounds and lit with the soft light of an overhead window and whatever else could be reflected with mirrors. Advances in photographic equipment and techniques developed, and gave photographers the ability to capture images with shorter exposure times and the making of portraits outside the studio.
Lighting for portraiture
When portrait photographs are composed and captured in a studio, the photographer has control over the lighting of the composition of the subject and can adjust direction and intensity of light. There are many ways to light a subject’s face, but there are several common lighting plans which are easy enough to describe.
One of the most basic lighting plans is called three-point lighting. This plan uses three (and sometimes four) lights to fully model (bring out details and the three-dimensionality of) the subject’s features. The three main lights used in this light plan are as follows:
Also called a main light, the key light is usually placed to one side of the subject’s face, between 30 and 60 degrees off center and a bit higher than eye level. The key light is the brightest light in the lighting plan.
Placed opposite the key light, the fill light fills in or softens the shadows on the opposite side of the face. The brightness of the fill light is usually between 1/3 and 1/4 that of the key light. This is expressed as a ratio as in 3:1 or 4:1. When the ratio is 3:1 this is sometimes called Kodak lighting since this was the ratio suggested by Kodak in the instructional booklets accompanying the company’s early cameras.
The purpose of these two lights is to mimic the natural light created by placing a subject in a room near a window. The daylight falling on the subject through the window is the Key light and the Fill light is reflected light coming from the walls of the room. This type of lighting can be found in the works of hundreds of classical painters and early photographers and is often called Rembrandt lighting.
Also called a rim light or hair light, the rim light (the third main light in the three-point lighting plan) is placed behind the subject, out of the picture frame, and often rather higher than the Key light or Fill. The point of the rim light is to provide separation from the background by highlighting the subject’s shoulders and hair. The rim light should be just bright enough to provide separation from the background, but not as bright as the key light.
Sometimes the rim light is set just off to the side, on the fill light side. This can add edge detail to the shadowed side of your model’s face. This can add the effect of having a kicker light using only the three basis lights of three point lighting.
The “fourth light” in three point lighting, a kicker is a small light, often made directional or limited in coverage through the use of a snoot, umbrella, or softbox that adds a bright edge light on the fill light side of the subject’s face, usually just enough to establish the jaw line or edge of an ear. The kicker should thus be a bit brighter than the fill light, but not so bright it over fills the off side of the face; the placement and brightness of a kicker is a matter of taste and technique. Many portraitists choose not to use a kicker and settle for the three main lights of the standard plans. It may thus also be considered an accessory light (see below).
Butterfly lighting uses only two lights. The Key light is placed directly in front of the subject, often above the camera or slightly to one side, and a bit higher than is common for a three-point lighting plan. The second light is a rim light. Often a reflector is placed below the subject’s face to provide fill light and soften shadows.
This lighting can be recognized by the strong light falling on the forehead, the bridge of the nose and the upper cheeks, and by the distinct shadow below the nose which often looks rather like a butterfly and thus provides the name for this lighting plan. Butterfly lighting was a favourite of famed George Hurrell which is why this style of lighting is often called Paramount lighting.
These lights can be added to basic lighting plans to provide additional highlights or add background definition.
Not so much a part of the portrait lighting plan, but rather designed to provide illumination for the background behind the subject, background lights can pick out details in the background, provide a halo effect by illuminating a portion of a backdrop behind the subject’s head, or turn the background pure white by filling it with light.
Other lighting equipment
Most lights used in modern photography are a gels placed in front of the light to create coloured backgrounds.
Windows as a source of light for portraits have been used for decades before artificial sources of light were discovered. According to Arthur Hammond, amateur and professional photographers need only two things to light a portrait: a window and a reflector.
The best time to take window light portrait is considered to be early hours of the day and late hours of afternoon when light is more intense on the window. Curtains, reflectors, and intensity reducing shields are used to give high key lighting. At times colored glasses, filters and reflecting objects can be used to give the portrait desired color effects. The composition of shadows and soft light gives window light portraits a distinct effect different from portraits made from artificial lights.
While using window light, the positioning of the camera can be changed to give the desired effects. Such as positioning the camera behind the subject can produce a silhouette of the individual while being adjacent to the subject give a combination of shadows and soft light. And facing the subject from the same point of light source will produce high key effects with least shadows.
Styles of portraiture
There are many different techniques for portrait photography. Often it is desirable to capture the subject’s eyes and face in sharp focus while allowing other less important elements to be rendered in a soft focus. At other times, portraits of individual features might be the focus of a composition such as the hands, eyes or part of the subject’s torso.
Additionally another style such as head shot has came out of the portraiture technique and had become a style on its own.
Approaches to portraiture
There are essentially four approaches that can be taken in photographic portraiture — the constructionist, environmental, candid and creative approaches. Each approach has been used over time for different reasons be they technical, artistic or cultural. The constructionist approach is when the photographer in their portraiture constructs an idea around the portrait — happy family, romantic couple, trustworthy executive. It is the approach used in most studio and social photography. It is also used extensively in advertising and marketing when an idea has to be put across. The environmental approach depicts the subject in their environment be that a work, leisure, social or family one. They are often shown as doing something, a teacher in a classroom, an artist in a studio, a child in a playground. With the environmental approach more is revealed about the subject. Environmental pictures can have good historical and social significance as primary sources of information. The candid approach is where people are photographed without their knowledge going about their daily business. Whilst this approach taken by the paparazzi is criticized and frowned upon for obvious reasons, less invasive and exploitative candid photography has given the world superb and important images of people in various situations and places over the last century. The images of Parisians by Cartier-Bresson to name but two, demonstrate this. As with environmental photography, candid photography is important as a historical source of information about people. The Creative Approach is where digital manipulation (and formerly darkroom manipulation) is brought to bear to produce wonderful pictures of people. It is becoming a major form of portraiture as these techniques become more widely understood and used.
Lenses used in portrait photography are classically f-number in the f/3.3-3.7 range.
Classic focal length is in the range 80–135mm on Castleman 2007) for examples and analysis.
Speed-wise, fast lenses (wide aperture) are preferred, as these allow shallow depth of field (blurring the background), which helps isolate the subject from the background and focus attention on them. This is particularly useful in the field, where one does not have a back drop behind the subject, and the background may be distracting. The details of bokeh in the resulting blur are accordingly also a consideration; some lenses, in particular the “DC” (Defocus Control) types by Nikon, are designed to give the photographer control over this aspect, by providing an additional ring acting only on the quality of the bokeh, without influencing the foreground (hence, these are not soft-focus lenses). However, extremely wide apertures are less frequently used, because they have a very shallow depth of field and thus the subject’s face will not be completely in focus. Thus, f/1.8 or f/2 is usually the maximum aperture used; f/1.2 or f/1.4 may be used, but the resulting defocus may be considered a special effect – the eyes will be sharp, but the ears and nose will be soft.
Conversely, in environmental portraits, where the subject is shown in their environment, rather than isolated from it, background blur is less desirable and may be undesirable, and wider angle lenses may be used to show more context.
Finally, soft focus (spherical aberration) is sometimes a desired effect, particularly in glamour photography where the “gauzy” look may be considered flattering. The Canon EF 135mm f/2.8 with Softfocus is an example of a lens designed with a controllable amount of soft focus.
Most often a prime lens will be used, both because the zoom is not necessary for posed shots (and primes are lighter, cheaper, faster, and higher quality), and because zoom lenses can introduce highly unflattering geometric distortion (barrel distortion or pincushion distortion). However, zoom lenses may be used, particularly in candid shots or to encourage creative framing.
Portrait lenses are often relatively inexpensive, because they can be built simply, and are close to the normal range. The cheapest portrait lenses are Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is the least expensive Canon lens, but when used on a 1.6× cropped sensor yields an 80mm equivalent focal length, which is at the wide end of portrait lenses.
In high school.
Formal senior portraits, in and of themselves, date back at least to the 1880s in America. Some traditional senior portrait sittings include a citation needed]
In some schools a portrait studio is invited to the school to ensure all senior portraits (for the yearbook) are similar in pose and style, and so that students who cannot afford to purchase these portraits on their own or choose not to purchase portraits will appear in the yearbook the same as other students. Other schools allow students to choose a studio and submit portraits on their own.
Modern senior portraits may include virtually any pose or clothing choice, within the limits of good taste. Students often appear with pets, student athletes of both sexes pose in watermark of the studio.
Uses of senior portraits
Senior portraits are often included in graduation announcements or are given to friends and family. They are also used in yearbooks and are usually rendered larger than their underclassmen counterparts and are often featured in color, even if the rest of the yearbook is mostly reproduced in black and white. In some schools the requirements are strict regarding the choice of photographer or in the style of portraiture, with only traditional-style portraits being acceptable. Many schools choose to contract one photographer for their yearbook portraits, while other schools allow many different photographers to submit yearbook portraits.
Many parents[who?] choose to frame a large print of their child’s senior portrait for display in their home. One popular way of displaying the senior portrait is in a special photo mat cut to display small copies of the student’s school photos from kindergarten to their junior year, displayed in a circle (like the numbers of a clock) surrounding a larger opening for the senior portrait.
- Hammond, Arthur. “Pictorial Composition in Photography”
- Keating, Patrick. “From the Portrait to the Close-Up: Gender and Technology in Still Photography and Hollywood Cinematography”, page 91, Cinema Journal 45, No. 3, Spring 2006, trinity.edu
- Greenspun, p. 2
- Canon EF 85/1.2L II USM Lens Review, by Philip Greenspun
- Greenspun, p. 3
- Greenspun, p. 4
- Castleman, William L. (9 September 2007), EF 85 f/1.8 vs EF 100 f/2 vs EF 135 f/2: Is there a detectable difference in perspective? (3rd ed.), http://www.wlcastleman.com/equip/reviews/85_100_135/perspectest.htm