Portrait Photography

Portraits can be formal or environmental and anything in between, they can be documentary in nature, on location through to heavily choreographed studio portraits. The only real criteria is that it contains a person, part of a person, the suggestion of an identity or an animal, we also have plant portraits!

My own portraits vary wildly, I love colour and contrast, to use multiple light sources, carefully chosen clothing, hair, makeup, location, but I also enjoy natural portraits of people in their ‘own’ places, a work or home environment, surrounded by things that tell their story. Often my portraits don’t even include a face. For me the best portraits are those that describe a person without being so obvious as a face, those images that only someone who really know the person, could identify them.

Are these images portraits? Would they be better with the face included? What do they tell you about the person in them?

Where do the boundaries between portraiture and documentary photography begin and end? Every portrait documents a persons life to some degree.

The photographs above are both decidedly portraits, however both could also be described as documentary. The Soldier Shell Shocked US Marine on the left was photographed during the Vietnam War by Don McCullin, the image of Churchill The Roaring Lion on the right by Yousef Karsh at a meeting in Canada during World War II. Both documenting a time and place, but undoubtedly portraits. Both images had significant impact for the photographers, both reflect the mood of the situation at the time, in the images and the expressions of the subjects.



Formal Portraits, such as school portraits, portraits taken in a studio, or on location with lighting tend to have a specific look, they often use highly controlled lighting to cast shadows that shape and flatter the face.

Environmental Portraits are usually shot on location and include a part of the surrounding environment, a work or home environment, an artists studio, an executives office.