Portraits existed long before the invention of photography. Far before there was a camera even to take a photograph, rulers and monarchs hired painters to paint their own portraits. Today, portrait photography has taken the place of this tradition. Portrait photographers as tasked with the ambitious goal of capturing the identity of a subject in a single image. What is portrait photography and what types are there? In this article, we’ll answer these questions and take a look at the types that exist depending on the subject and goal of a photograph. 

What is Portrait Photography

Art of the portrait photo

Before we dive into the different types of portrait photography that exist, let’s take a look at the definition. 

It will help us better understand the fundamental characteristics of the photographic method and genre. 

PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY DEFINITION

What is portrait photography?

Portrait photography aims to capture the identity, personality, and essence of a subject utilizing photographic techniques such as composition, lighting, and posing. There are various types of portrait photography that are dependent on the subject of the portrait as well as the style. For example, some portraits are more traditional and formal for professional use and publication. Other types of portraits are more casual such as lifestyle portraiture that capture subjects in everyday life. 

Common types of portrait photography:

  • Traditional portraits
  • Lifestyle portraits
  • Glamour portraits

Studio Portrait Photography

Traditional Portrait Photo

When you hear the term “portrait photography” the images that come to your head are most likely traditional portraiture.

A traditional portrait photo is more formal and is typically taken in a studio with the subject looking straight into the camera.

What is Portrait Photography Robert DeNiro portrait photo by Platon

Robert DeNiro portrait photo by Platon

Photographers who take traditional portraits aim to capture the essence of the person they are shooting. That’s most iconic figures in popular culture, politics, and history have traditional portraits taken of them. 

Check out this behind the scenes video of Platon, an iconic photographer known for the traditional, yet moving portraits he captures. 

What is Portrait Photography  •  With Platon

Traditional portraits aim to capture subjects at their best and most authentic self. Lighting, posing, and composition are all used to accomplish this. 

Family Portrait Photography

Group Portraits

While most portrait shots are taken of a single subject, multiple subjects can still be captured in a group portrait. This is common when taking photos of couples, families, and professional partners. 

What is Portrait Photography Family portrait photography

Family portrait photography

The goal in group portraits is to capture the dynamic of a relationship. In wedding portraits photographers aim to capture the love and romance. Family photographers aim to capture unity. In business group portraits photographers may aim to capture the shared work ethic. 

Since group portraits are always taken with multiple subjects, it's important to focus on the relationships between your subjects. 

What is Portrait Photography

Lifestyle Portraits

Not all portraits are as formal as traditional portraits. More casual portraits typically tend to be described as lifestyle portraits. Lifestyle portrait photography captures subjects in everyday situations and environments. They’re almost always taken out of a studio and on location.

What is Portrait Photography Creative portrait photography

Creative portrait photography

Lifestyle portraits are more casual and are often used in advertising to relate more to consumers. Because of the more casual nature of shooting lifestyle portraits, many of the photographs are taken candidly.

Capturing people in their natural environments tends to result in more authentic and raw portraits that many clients love. 

Outdoor Portrait Photography

Environmental Portraits

Environmental portraits are similar to lifestyle portraits except they draw more importance on the environment of the photo. These portraits are often used to reflect the subject’s personality or identity. 

For example, take this portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Annie Leibovitz. Capturing the environment of Buckingham Palace is important to capturing the royalty of Queen Elizabeth. 

What is Portrait Photography Best portrait photography of Annie Leibovitz

Best portrait photography of Annie Leibovitz

Environmental portraits are often used to capture iconic subjects in an environment that best describes them. This may be an artist in their studio, an American president in the Oval Office, or an iconic CEO behind a large desk.

It’s important to never forget the power of a background when learning how to shoot portrait photography. While the subject may be the main point of focus, the background can powerfully complement them in the portrait photograph

Professional Portrait Photography

Glamour Portraits

In the world of portraiture, fashion and beauty have always had its place. That place is in glamor portraits. Glamour portraits are designed to highlight the beauty of a subject. 

Beyond things like makeup and wardrobe, lighting and photo editing also becomes an integral part of the process to glamorize a portrait. 

What is Portrait Photography Rihanna Portrait photo by Paolo Roversi

Rihanna Portrait photo by Paolo Roversi

While it is similar to fashion photography, glamor portraits draw more emphasis on the subject than the accessories and attire they are wearing. Fashion photography aims to sell the look or attire of an image, whereas glamor portraits aim to capture total beauty in an image. 

Creative Portraits

Conceptual Portraits

A more abstract and often creative portrait photography is conceptual portrait photography. Conceptual portraits are a type of conceptual photography where portraits are used to illustrate an idea or concept. Conceptual portraits are commonly also self portrait photography as photographers find various ways to express how they view themselves.

These portraits take advantage of staging a photo, props, and photo editing to create often surreal images. Portrait photography ideas of concepts and feelings often become more abstract and expressive. 

What is Portrait Photography Conceptual Portrait photo

Conceptual Portrait photo 

The concepts explored in conceptual portraiture can range. Many photographers aim to capture internal states like emotion in a conceptual portrait.  Conceptual portrait photograph also gives photographers the creative freedom to think outside of the box and to utilize visual elements to capture the identity of a subject.

Portrait photography is one of the most common types of photography that beginner photographers start with. It has the most straightforward subject. It is also one of the best forms of photography to practice with as you can experiment with lighting, on location shooting, even conceptual photography. 

No matter which type of photography excites you the most, it’s important to practice. Hopefully, this article inspired you to shoot your own portraits. 

UP NEXT

Portrait Photography Techniques

If this article excites you and you’re ready to go shoot your own portrait photography, be sure to check out our next article. We dive into various photography techniques and tips from lighting to posing subjects to editing.

Up Next: Portrait Techniques →
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  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

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