There are many different forms and styles that define portraiture. Headshots, often referred to as mugshots, are the most common everyday type of portrait. These images fall into the category for corporate profiles, social media, such as “selfies”, and travel, with the likes of passports and official documents. Not the most exciting form of portraiture, as the images are generally photographed straight on and result in a ‘flat, no feelings” kind of look… not very complimentary. For the more “abstract and moody” feel, the look is completely different, as styling and composition is key to achieving the story in the character that you want to portray. Examples of this genre relate to personality and behavior, with intention to explore and capture the expression.

The most important thing to consider is light, location and composition. A single character can be expressed and captured very differently and, in many ways, just by coordinating the background to the theme of the image. Sometimes a plain background is chosen when you wish to make the subject pop and really stand out, while a busy background, such as a street scene will have a completely different feel.

Good Lighting is the answer to Portraiture

As mentioned, lighting is key. The way the light falls on the subject will distinguish the hardness or the softness on the person. Lighting is great for achieving depth and contrast, so decide which part of the character you wish to light, and which side you wish to introduce shadow.

How to get Expression from your Subject

Expression is everything, something that makes portraiture such a wonderful genre. Understand the person and what you want to pull from the personality, it can be happiness or sadness, or even confusion or anger. This is achieved by ensuring the person is comfortable and open to you. The more the subject can let down their guard, the better the chance you have of getting the shot you want. Often speaking to the person helps while you are shooting, as the person will release expression. This you will capture in th eyes, the mouth and the lines in the facial muscle.

Black and White versus Color

Again, this will depend on the nature of the portrait. Some photographers prefer black and white as it brings out all the hard lines and the tends to be “punchier”, especially for street photography and reportage that show mood and tell real stories. I personally love black and white, as it is a gradation of monochrome.  My suggestion is shoot in color and convert in post to black and white thereafter. In studio, photographers will often use a plain baby blue backdrop for black and white, as it tends to work nicely for effect, white is very cold and used only for specific looks. When capturing family portraiture, black and white is not a popular choice. Most family and baby pictures are shot in color, same as fashion, where the colors play a large role.