Profile on Portrait Photography

Portrait photography or portraiture is photography of a person or group of people that displays the expression, personality, and mood of the subject. Like other types of portraiture, the focus of the photograph is usually the person’s face, although the entire body and the background or context may be included.

A few words on studio portraits

Lighting is a main consideration to prepare for prior to the photography session . The type of light and quality of the shapers will effect the  mood tonality and expression of the person . Skin types also change the end result , dark , oily or smooth all bounce or absorb light differently . Flash ,continuous and daylight all have their own advantages and my best advise would be to test these light qualities prior to starting the session.

Make your subject comfortable and relaxed ,  good direction and conversation will result in a more intimate portrait and try and capture the subjects unique personality.

Portraits by Richard Weinstein

A Brief History

Portrait photographs have been made since virtually the invention of the camera. The relatively low cost of the daguerreotype in the middle of the 19th century and the reduced sitting time for the subject, though still much longer than now, led to a general rise in the popularity of portrait photography over painted portraiture. The style of these early works reflected the technical challenges associated with long exposure times and 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.

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 Doisneau and 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 fast, medium telephoto lenses, though any lens may be used, depending on artistic purposes. See Canon EF Portrait Lenses for Canon lenses in this style; other manufacturers feature similar ranges. The first dedicated portrait lens was the Petzval lens developed in 1840 by Joseph Petzval. It had a relatively narrow field of view of 30 degrees, a focal length of 150mm, and a fast f-number in the f/3.3-3.7 range.

Classic focal length is in the range 80–135mm on 135 film format and about 150-400mm on large format, which historically is first in photography. Such a field of view provides a flattening perspective distortion when the subject is framed to include their head and shoulders. Wider angle lenses (shorter focal length) require that the portrait be taken from closer (for an equivalent field size), and the resulting perspective distortion yields a relatively larger nose and smaller ears, which is considered unflattering and imp-like. Wide-angle lenses – or even fisheye lenses – may be used for artistic effect, especially to produce a grotesque image. Conversely, longer focal lengths yield greater flattening because they are used from further away. This makes communication difficult and reduces rapport. They may be used, however, particularly in fashion photography, but longer lengths require a loudspeaker or walkie-talkie to communicate with the model or assistants.[4] In this range, the difference in perspective distortion between 85mm and 135mm is rather subtle; see (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.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7]

Portrait lenses are often relatively inexpensive, because they can be built simply, and are close to the normal range. The cheapest portrait lenses are normal lenses (50mm), used on a cropped sensor. For example, the 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.

There are a lot of ‘rules’ out there when it comes to composition and I’ve always had a love hate relationship with them. My theory is that while they are useful to know and employ that they are also useful to know so you can purposely break them – as this can lead to eye catching results.

The Rule of Thirds is one that can be effective to break – placing your subject either dead centre can sometimes create a powerful image – or even creative placement with your subject right on the edge of a shot can sometimes create interesting images.

Mark Webber an Australian Formula One driver

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