Portrait photography is a lucrative and one of the most popular photography genres, but did you know there are many different types of portrait photography?
First, let’s define our terms. When we talk about portraiture in photography, we’re talking about capturing images of people.
You might be thinking about the portraiture photographers of your childhood when you think about this genre; those are the ones who would take the family picture once a year when your mother made everyone get dressed up and pose in front of the fireplace.
And, you’re not wrong–that is one type of portrait, but there are many other types as well.
Portrait photography is devoted to capturing people and personalities. But portraits often go beyond a photo of a smiling person. There are many different sub-genres or types of portrait photography.
Ready to flex your creative muscle and expand the different types of portrait photography in your arsenal? We’ve put together a list of the essential types of portrait photography to understand this exciting genre better.
The traditional portrait is typically where the subject is looking at the camera and posing for the photograph. These are usually shot in the studio with a formal photography backdrop.
Frequently, these portraits are cropped to show the head and shoulders of the subject rather than the entire body. A typical example would be a senior yearbook portrait.
This type of portrait photography endures precisely because the mix of posing and studio lighting results in positive images.
A traditional portrait often depicts the subject looking at the camera. Classic portrait photography is posed. This is to help the issue look its best.
Often, traditional images are shot in a studio with a formal photography backdrop. The genre also tends to favour the most traditional portrait composition.
This means the head and shoulders crop rather than a full-body portrait. But that’s not always the case. Formal portraits are often what comes to mind first when considering the portrait genre.
This type of image has been around for a long time. But it remains popular because the mix of posing and studio lighting is flattering.
A sub-genre of the traditional portraits are formal portraits. Formal portraits use the same posing and studio setting but with legal or business attire.
Family and Group Portraits
This is that family picture you took every year where your mother made you wear your formal, Sunday ‘go to church’ clothes.
Nowadays, you might prefer a portrait with your significant other or perhaps a close group of friends, and maybe you choose to keep it casual instead of formal.
One type of portrait photography is group photography, and you can decide who is part of the group, as seen here with this group of friends.
A portrait isn’t always a single person. Photos of couples, families and other groups together still fall under the portrait category.
Images of more than one person are often more challenging than portraits of an individual, with more people posing together and interacting within the photograph.
With more than one person, you can also capture genuine interaction. You can’t grasp this with a single person. Portraits of groups can still fall under other sub-genres too. Lifestyle photography, for example, is a popular genre for family photography.
Whatever the case, these portraits are often shot on location in the subject’s home or some other place where the group gathers. The nice thing about these pictures is that you can often capture genuine interaction between the issues, making compelling images.
This is a category that pairs well with the traditional and group types of portrait photography. It simply means a carefully arranged pose under optimal lighting conditions that capture the person or people looking their best. They are often wearing more formal attire, just like when you were a kid!
This kind of portrait is often used to take severe photographs, such as those used by businesses for advertising purposes or to highlight some of their best employees. Formal portraits involve posed shots with flattering lighting, and often, formal attire, as seen in this portrait of a man in a business suit.
This type of portrait photography captures people in their everyday environment doing everyday things. To do this, you might have to schedule more than one session, and you’ll also have to be a director as well as a photographer.
You might, for example, ask the kids to jump on the bed or play tag in the yard. You want to capture them doing things that they do regularly together.
This is where you can get creative with your images. Lifestyles portraits show people doing everyday things. Talk to your subjects and get an idea of what they’re like. That will help you as you think about the kinds of images you want to capture.
Lifestyle portraiture is the polar opposite of traditional portraits. Yes, it’s still a portrait of a person (or multiple people). But lifestyle portraits capture people in an everyday environment, often doing simple things.
Instead of a studio, this genre of photography works in an environment familiar to the subject. Lifestyle portraits, for example, can be taken in a family’s home.
Lifestyle portraits aren’t posed in the traditional sense. A lifestyle photographer often has a limited time frame in which to capture a series of images.
Lifestyle photographers will usually direct the subjects. For example, they ask siblings to jump on the bed or ask a family for a group hug. This type of direction, however, isn’t posing.
Lifestyle photographers don’t adjust the placement of the hands or nitpick the position of the subjects. Clients that choose lifestyle photography often favour the genre for the way images resemble real life.
Lifestyle family photography also tends to capture the interaction between family members. This can create some touching memories.
This is another type of portrait photography where you can get creative. Conceptual portraits capture an idea (a concept) within the picture, and they often use props to do so. These types of images are often used in advertising to capture the idea behind the product.
With this type of photography, you’ll often use unique backgrounds. For example, you might find some interesting street art to use behind your subject, or you might even take a picture with your issue in water. That often has a dramatic effect.
Conceptual portraits capture an idea or concept within a portrait image, often using props, setting, or photo editing to achieve that concept.
Because abstract photography encompasses a statement, the possibilities are endless. Levitation, perspective manipulation, makeup or wardrobe tricks, Photoshop stunts and more are all part of this unique genre.
This is a mixture of two types of portrait photography–traditional and lifestyle.
An environmental portrait is standard in the sense that they involve poses and optimal lighting conditions. They are lifestyle portraits because it is taken in a particular location to the photo’s subject.
With environmental types of portraits, the photo is taken in a particular location to the subjects, like this family on this hilltop.
It’s a location that means something to that person and forms an integral part of their personality. It could be an artist’s studio, an office, a den, a kitchen, or a classroom.
With environmental portraits, the goal is to capture the person they consider to be their natural environment.
Environmental portraits are a mix between traditional portrait photography and lifestyle portrait photography. In ecological portrait photography, the environment is as essential to the image as the person.
This type of portrait photography shoot takes place in a location that means something to that person. This is to give the viewer clues to that person’s personality. That location could be a home, an office, or an artist’s studio, to name a few.
While the area is essential, unlike lifestyle photography, environmental portraits can still use posing techniques.
While the environment is necessary, the photographer works similarly to a traditional portrait setting up a pose and lighting. The carriage, lighting, person, and background all work together in an environmental portrait.
Candid portraits are portraits that are not posed. They are unplanned. An example of a candid portrait would be the street photography images that capture people.
With this type of photography, there’s usually no posing and no direction on the part of the photographer. And, generally, the subject is not looking at, or at least not acknowledging the photographer.
Candid portraits are unplanned. This is often the case with street photography featuring people. Photographers don’t have to photograph strangers to take an honest picture.
But the genre doesn’t use the planning and forethought that goes into an image. By definition, candid portrait photography doesn’t use any direction or posing from the photographer.
Street photographers often take candid portraits of the people they meet. There’s usually no set-up. But the photographer is inspired by the position the person is naturally taking, the light, the environment or any number of other factors.
Along with being a genre of portrait photography, qualities of candid photography can influence different genres. Some photographers, for example, use a mix of posing and prompts to encourage candid moments.
Glamour and Boudoir Portraits
Glamour photography is also often referred to as beauty photography.
It’s usually designed to be sensual and highlight the person rather than their clothes or environment, though those elements are an essential part of the photograph. Glamour photography often involves the use of makeup artists and a well-planned wardrobe.
A glamour portrait can also be called a beauty portrait. Glamour places emphasis on the beauty of the subject. This often involves planning the wardrobe and using professional makeup artists.
Glamour photography is also sensual. It’s designed to highlight a woman’s beauty, sometimes in lingerie and occasionally nude. Glamour and fashion photography often has a similar feel and similar posing. But glamour still emphasizes the person, not what they are wearing.
Boudoir is a similar but not identical type of portrait photography. Glamour photography is often shot in a variety of different locations, including outdoors, boudoir.
As the name suggests, it is also shot in a bedroom or home. Boudoir celebrates sensuality. Women often book a boudoir session to give the photos to their significant other. Boudoir isn’t about sexual poses and lingerie. Many say a boudoir session can help boost a woman’s confidence.
Surreal portraits are a refined art style of portraiture. A surreal portrait turns dreams into images; it emphasizes alternate realities and an interpretation of the subject’s subconscious mind.
Surreal portraits often involve photo tricks and editing, as seen with this double exposure portrait of a young woman.
As with any refined art style, it often involves props and often elaborate wardrobe, photo tricks, and photo editing. For example, this type of portraiture frequently involves images taken underwater. It creates a very surrealistic feel, and when done well, the results are stunning.
Surrealism is an artistic style that feels dream-like. That style can apply to portrait photography as well. You can’t photograph something that doesn’t exist, so surreal portrait work often involves Photoshop.
You can also create some with props, wardrobe, and other photo tricks. A surreal portrait turns dreams into real photos. That’s tough to do, but when done well, the results are often stunning. For inspiration, look at photographers like Brooke Shaden.
This type of portrait photography involves more of a refined art style than a representational style.
Its purpose is not to realistically represent the subject but rather to create a work of art. It often involves digital manipulation, and this is one genre where you can break many of the photography rules you’re accustomed to following.
This type of photography allows you to express your ideas or emotions without being realistic, and it’s an excellent opportunity to unleash your creativity.
You might, for example, shoot the portrait of your subject through a rainy window or in motion so that the image is blurred. You might also get in close on one feature of their face, like one of their eyes.
Abstract portrait photography is one type of portrait photography where you can use your creativity and think outside of the box. Whatever the case, you can throw away the rule book here and allow yourself to think outside of the box.
This is probably the most personal of the different portrait photography categories. It involves getting in close, and for your model, it can either be liberating or nerve-wracking.
It might help to talk to the model about the kinds of things they love to do. That will help relax them, and it results in great facial expressions.
For this kind of portraiture, you want to highlight your model’s best facial features and hide any flaws. To do that, you can ask them to tilt their head one way or another, but regardless of how they are posed, it helps to keep focused on their eyes.
A person’s eyes are usually their most striking feature, and as the ‘windows to the soul,’ most people want to see them in a portrait.
Fine Art Portraits
The fine art genre is an often contested one. Artists debate exactly what classifies something as fine art. Many agree that fine art is something that would hang in an art gallery.
That’s different from the typical placement of a portrait that depends on the walls of a family home. Other types of artwork often inspire fine art photography.
Some fine art photographers, for example, model their portrait photography after Renaissance paintings. Others get creative with wardrobe and makeup, posing, and photo editing. Fine art photography also often encompasses conceptual portraits and surreal portraits.
Quick, smartphone selfies give the self-portrait a bad rap. When done well, self-portraits can be stunning images. Photographers tend to bestow the more elaborate term self-portrait on a profound portrait that took planning and insight.
A selfie is a quick snapshot. Taking a photo of yourself beyond holding a smartphone out at arm’s length can be tricky. Most use a tripod to get rid of that selfie look and extended arms.
Focusing and composing when you’re in front of the camera instead of behind can also be tricky. Try using a remote release or a smartphone with a WiFi-enabled camera. Then get creative.
Tips to Engage, Have Fun and Capture Their True Self
- Ask lots of questions, let them know it’s okay to answer and talk back to you.
- Practice breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.
- Shake it off! Get the sillies out, wiggle your hips and roll back your shoulders.
Sometimes just asking them to be silly and wiggle their bodies gives me that genuine smile I’m looking for. Asking questions and telling them to answer back will instantly get them to relax.
They feel like a camera is pointed at them, so they better look and smile. But I’m looking for more than that!
If you find it challenging to get a toddler to look directly into the camera, ask them if they can see you through the lens. Ask them to watch when you wink at them, or maybe the colour of your eyes might change.
Focusing on the eyes, you should be able to capture a mirror image of you behind the camera in their eyes. They think this is a super cool trick!
An uncomplicated frame where the subject’s gaze draws you in. There are many types of images to explore.
Including or excluding elements within the frame can change the way you feel when looking at a portrait. Aperture choice, lens choice and subject placement are also factors to consider. It’s fun to explore and try new things.
Portraits capture people and personalities. Just like every person is different, the genre encompasses many different styles. By understanding the different types of portrait photography, you’ll capture better portraits representing the subject in the best light.