Portrait photography is popular among photographers because it mixes fine art, storytelling, and commercial aspects. You find many fashion photographers and photojournalists that do portraits as well. From celebrities to outsiders of society, portrait photography covers an extensive range of subjects and approaches.
When you do something that many other photographers do, it’s hard to find your own voice and style. You can learn a lot from the masters of portrait photography (Annie Leibovitz, Albert Watson, Steve McCurry, Angus McBean, Diane Arbus). In the same time, you need to find the style that suits you and allows you to express your artistic vision.
Documentary style in portrait photography
Portraits are often found in documentaries and photo stories. Photographers spend long periods of time getting to know their subjects and understanding their lifestyle. It’s only natural to use close-ups to exhibit their stories, to show their intimate thoughts and features. This approach needs care and attention to detail. It’s a realistic style and you have to respect people’s privacy and requests. It doesn’t need much editing, but it needs powerful compositions.
Beauty and fashion glow
Many photographers choose this style as a eulogy of beauty. The subjects are carefully selected and they usually are models or celebrities. The composition has to be seductive, flattering, and stylish. Image retouching is a frequent practice and many image editors that offer presets for portraits use this style.
This category of portraits covers also the never-ending search of beauty. Photographer Mihaela Noroc published in her book The Atlas of Beauty portraits of women met in a six year journey around the world. She searched for distinctive beauty that blossoms in every woman and allowed cultural differences and activities in her pictures.
Redefining aesthetics and boundaries
Some photographers choose to provoke their public. Diane Arbus chose to photograph outsiders (giants, dwarfs, performers, nudists) and showed their ugliness and dark side. Her aim was to raise awareness to specific social categories and encourage tolerance and kindness. Terry Richardson chose an erotic style and put famous people in ordinary situations. By doing something completely different and provoking aesthetics you can convey your message in a controversial form.
Fine art portrait photography
Photographers with an art background combine photography with painting or graphic art. The result is an artful style that transforms portraits in a complex composition. You can use any artistic mean that suits you: filters and heavy editing, collages, painting over photographs, theatrical decors, etc. For example, David Edmonson is inspired by Dutch painters like Vermeer and Rembrandt and by Jane Austen novels.
Black and white portrait photography
Use this style for dramatic portraits in which you want to underline deeper levels of intimacy. It’s a style preferred by music photographers like Anton Corbijn, who undress his characters of fame and glamour and shows their inner self. Black and white portraits are also used at weddings to emphasize emotions. It’s a simple and powerful style, based on contrast and shapes. It’s also very decorative and used for interior design purposes.
Finding your favorite style is a manner of time and experience. Study the works of famous portrait photographers, try everything you like, and allow yourself to engage with the subjects and their story. Whatever style you choose, it’s important to build your own artistic vision rather than to borrow it.
Cover Photo by Eunice Lituañas on Unsplash