Portrait photography

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Natural light portraiture
Portrait, Whitby Gothic Weekend, 2013.jpg
Portrait of a girl in costume in the natural environment of a gothic festival.

Portrait photography, or portraiture, is a type of photography aimed toward capturing the personality of a person or group of people by using effective lighting, backdrops, and poses. [1] A portrait photograph may be artistic or clinical. [1] Frequently, portraits are commissioned for special occasions, such as weddings, school events, or commercial purposes. [1] Portraits can serve many purposes, ranging from usage on a personal web site to display in the lobby of a business. [1]

Contents

History

In the 19th century and early 20th century, photographs didn't often depict smiling people in accordance to cultural conventions of Victorian and Edwardian culture. In contrast, the photograph Eating Rice, China reflects differing cultural attitudes of the time, depicting a smiling Chinese man. Eating rice, China - collected by Berthold Laufer.jpg
In the 19th century and early 20th century, photographs didn't often depict smiling people in accordance to cultural conventions of Victorian and Edwardian culture. In contrast, the photograph Eating Rice, China reflects differing cultural attitudes of the time, depicting a smiling Chinese man.

The relatively low cost of the daguerreotype in the middle of the 19th century and the reduced sitting time for the subject, though still much longer than now, led to a general rise in the popularity of portrait photography over painted portraiture. [3] The style of these early works reflected the technical challenges associated with long exposure times and the painterly aesthetic of the time. [4] Hidden mother photography, in which portrait photographs featured young children's mothers hidden in the frame to calm them and keep them still, arose from this difficulty. [5] Subjects were generally seated against plain backgrounds, lit with the soft light of an overhead window, and whatever else could be reflected with mirrors.

Advances in photographic technology since the daguerreotype spawned more advanced techniques, allowed photographers to capture images with shorter exposure times, and work outside a studio environment.

Lighting for portraiture

There are many techniques available to light a subject's face.

Three-point lighting

Three-point lighting is one of the most common lighting setups. It is traditionally used in a studio, but photographers may use it on-location in combination with ambient light. This setup uses three lights, the key light, fill light, and back light, to fully bring out details and the three-dimensionality of the subject's features.

Key light

The key light, also known as the main light, is placed either to the left, right, or above the subject's face, typically 30 to 60 degrees from the camera. The purpose of the key light is to give shape to and emphasize particular features of the subject. The distance of the key light from the camera controls the falloff of the light and profoundness of shadows.

Fill light

The fill light, also known as the secondary main light, is typically placed opposite the key light. For example, if the key light is placed 30 degrees camera-left, the fill light will be placed 30 degrees camera-right. The purpose of a fill light is to combat strong shadows created by the main light. Intensity of the fill light may be equal to the main light to eliminate shadows completely, or less intense to simply lessen shadows. Sometimes, the purpose of a fill light may be served by a reflector rather than an actual light.

Back light

The back light, also known as a hair light, helps separate a subject from its background and emphasize hair. In some cases, photographers may use a hair light to create lens flare or other artistic effects.

High-key and low-key lighting

High-key

High-key lighting is a technique used to result in an image that is mostly free of shadows and has a background brighter than the subject. High-key lighting typically involves use of all three lights (or more) in the three-point lighting setup.

Low-key

Low-key portrait. Low-key photography - portrait of a young man.jpg
Low-key portrait.

Low-key lighting is a technique used to result in an image where only part of the subject is lit, has dark shadows, and a background darker than the subject. Low-key lighting typically involves use of just light in the three-point lighting setup (although sometimes two).

Director Josef von Sternberg used butterfly lighting to enhance Marlene Dietrich's features in this iconic shot, from Shanghai Express, Paramount 1932 Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express (1932) by Don English.png
Director Josef von Sternberg used butterfly lighting to enhance Marlene Dietrich's features in this iconic shot, from Shanghai Express, Paramount 1932

Butterfly lighting

Butterfly lighting uses only two lights. The key light is placed directly in front of the subject above the camera (or slightly to one side), and a bit higher than the key light in a three-point lighting setup. The second light (more often a reflector rather than an actual light) is placed as a fill directly below the camera (or slightly to the opposite side).

This lighting may be recognized by the strong light falling on the forehead, the bridge of the nose, the upper cheeks, and by the distinct shadow below the nose that often looks rather like a butterfly and thus, provides the name for this lighting technique.

Butterfly lighting was a favourite of famed Hollywood portraitist George Hurrell, which is why this style of lighting is often called Paramount lighting.

Other lighting equipment

Most lights used in modern photography are a flash of some sort. The lighting for portraiture is typically diffused by bouncing it from the inside of an umbrella, or by using a soft box. A soft box is a fabric box, encasing a photo strobe head, one side of which is made of translucent fabric. This provides a softer lighting for portrait work and is often considered more appealing than the harsh light often cast by open strobes. Hair and background lights are usually not diffused. It is more important to control light spillage to other areas of the subject. Snoots, barn doors and flags or gobos help focus the lights exactly where the photographer wants them. Background lights are sometimes used with color gels placed in front of the light to create coloured backgrounds.

Windowlight portraiture

Portrait with window light by Italian photographer Paolo Monti, 1955 Paolo Monti - Servizio fotografico - BEIC 6341416.jpg
Portrait with window light by Italian photographer Paolo Monti, 1955

Windows as a source of light for portraits have been used for decades before artificial sources of light were discovered. According to Arthur Hammond, amateur and professional photographers need only two things to light a portrait: a window and a reflector. [7] Although window light limits options in portrait photography compared to artificial lights it gives ample room for experimentation for amateur photographers. A white reflector placed to reflect light into the darker side of the subject's face, will even the contrast. Shutter speeds may be slower than normal, requiring the use of a tripod, but the lighting will be beautifully soft and rich. [8]

The best time to take window light portrait is considered to be early hours of the day and late hours of afternoon when light is more intense on the window. Curtains, reflectors, and intensity reducing shields are used to give soft light. While mirrors and glasses can be used for high key lighting. At times colored glasses, filters and reflecting objects can be used to give the portrait desired color effects. The composition of shadows and soft light gives window light portraits a distinct effect different from portraits made from artificial lights.

While using window light, the positioning of the camera can be changed to give the desired effects. Such as positioning the camera behind the subject can produce a silhouette of the individual while being adjacent to the subject give a combination of shadows and soft light. And facing the subject from the same point of light source will produce high key effects with least shadows.

Styles of portraiture

There are many different techniques for portrait photography. Often it is desirable to capture the subject's eyes and face in sharp focus while allowing other less important elements to be rendered in a soft focus. At other times, portraits of individual features might be the focus of a composition such as the hands, eyes or part of the subject's torso.

Additionally another style such as head shot has come out of the portraiture technique and has become a style on its own.

Approaches to portraiture

Environmental portrait of guitar luthier Guitar Luthier in Workshop.jpg
Environmental portrait of guitar luthier

There are essentially four approaches that can be taken in photographic portraiture—the constructionist, environmental, candid, and creative approach. Each has been used over time for different reasons be they technical, artistic or cultural. The constructionist approach is when the photographer constructs an idea around the subject. It is the approach used in most studio and social photography. It is also used extensively in advertising and marketing when an idea has to be put across. The environmental approach depicts the subject in their environment. They are often shown as doing something which relates directly to the subject . The candid approach is where people are photographed without their knowledge going about their daily business. Whilst this approach taken by the paparazzi has been criticized, less invasive and exploitative candid photography has given the world important images of people in various situations and places over the last century. The images of Parisians by Doisneau and Cartier-Bresson demonstrate this approach. As with environmental photography, candid photography is important as a historical source of information about people. The Creative Approach is where manipulation of the image is used to change the final output.

Lenses

Portrait taken with an 18mm wide-angle lens with an aperture of f/4.5, resulting in fairly large depth of field Young Woman in Red Dress.jpg
Portrait taken with an 18mm wide-angle lens with an aperture of ƒ/4.5, resulting in fairly large depth of field
Portrait of a man with bokeh effect. Taken with 50 mm lens with an aperture of f/1.4 , resulting in shallow depth of field Portrait of a handsome man with bokeh and shallow depth of field.jpg
Portrait of a man with bokeh effect. Taken with 50 mm lens with an aperture of ƒ/1.4 , resulting in shallow depth of field

Lenses used in portrait photography are classically fast, medium telephoto lenses, though any lens may be used, depending on artistic purposes. See Canon EF Portrait Lenses for Canon lenses in this style; other manufacturers feature similar ranges. The first dedicated portrait lens was the Petzval lens developed in 1840 by Joseph Petzval. It had a relatively narrow field of view of 30 degrees, a focal length of 150 mm, and a fast f-number in the ƒ/3.3-3.7 range.

Classic focal length is in the range 80–135 mm on 135 film format and about 150-400mm on large format, which historically is first in photography. Such a field of view provides a flattening perspective distortion when the subject is framed to include their head and shoulders. Wider angle lenses (shorter focal length) require that the portrait be taken from closer (for an equivalent field size), and the resulting perspective distortion yields a relatively larger nose and smaller ears, which is considered unflattering and imp-like. Wide-angle lenses – or even fisheye lenses  – may be used for artistic effect, especially to produce a grotesque image. Conversely, longer focal lengths yield greater flattening because they are used from further away. This makes communication difficult and reduces rapport. They may be used, however, particularly in fashion photography, but longer lengths require a loudspeaker or walkie-talkie to communicate with the model or assistants. [9] In this range, the difference in perspective distortion between 85mm and 135mm is rather subtle; see ( Castleman 2007 ) for examples and analysis.

Speed-wise, fast lenses (wide aperture) are preferred, as these allow shallow depth of field (blurring the background), which helps isolate the subject from the background and focus attention on them. This is particularly useful in the field, where one does not have a back drop behind the subject, and the background may be distracting. The details of bokeh in the resulting blur are accordingly also a consideration; some lenses, in particular the "DC" (Defocus Control) types by Nikon, are designed to give the photographer control over this aspect, by providing an additional ring acting only on the quality of the bokeh, without influencing the foreground (hence, these are not soft-focus lenses). However, extremely wide apertures are less frequently used, because they have a very shallow depth of field and thus the subject's face will not be completely in focus. [10]

Conversely, in environmental portraits, where the subject is shown in their environment, rather than isolated from it, background blur is less desirable and may be undesirable, and wider angle lenses may be used to show more context. [11]

Finally, soft focus (spherical aberration) is sometimes a desired effect, particularly in glamour photography where the "gauzy" look may be considered flattering. The Canon EF 135mm f/2.8 with Softfocus is an example of a lens designed with a controllable amount of soft focus.

Most often a prime lens will be used, both because the zoom is not necessary for posed shots (and primes are lighter, cheaper, faster, and higher quality), and because zoom lenses can introduce highly unflattering geometric distortion (barrel distortion or pincushion distortion). However, zoom lenses may be used, particularly in candid shots or to encourage creative framing. [12]

Portrait lenses are often relatively inexpensive, because they can be built simply, and are close to the normal range. The cheapest portrait lenses are normal lenses (50 mm), used on a cropped sensor. For example, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is the least expensive Canon lens, but when used on a 1.6× cropped sensor yields an 80mm equivalent focal length, which is at the wide end of portrait lenses.

Mobile portraiture

The documentary I Am Chicago was an experiment in mobile full-body portraiture, using natural light and a moving truck as a studio.

Senior portraits

Senior portrait c. 1920 R-dunahee-grad.jpg
Senior portrait c. 1920
Contemporary highschool senior portrait (2014) "Senior Portrait Headshot" 3963.jpg
Contemporary highschool senior portrait (2014)

In North America, senior portraits are formal portraits taken of students near the end of their senior year of high school. Senior portraits are often included in graduation announcements or are given to friends and family. They are also used in yearbooks and are usually rendered larger than their underclassmen counterparts and are often featured in color, even if the rest of the yearbook is mostly reproduced in black and white. In some schools the requirements are strict regarding the choice of photographer or in the style of portraiture, with only traditional-style portraits being acceptable. Many schools choose to contract one photographer for their yearbook portraits, while other schools allow many different photographers to submit yearbook portraits.

Traditional

Formal senior portraits, in and of themselves, date back at least to the 1880s in America. Some traditional senior portrait sittings include a cap and gown and other changes of clothing, portrait styles and poses. In recent decades, the convention has been to feature male students in tuxedo jackets and female students in a silk or fur drape and a pearl necklace which is meant to simulate the appearance of a formal gown.[ citation needed ]

In some schools a portrait studio is invited to the school to ensure all senior portraits (for the yearbook) are similar in pose and style, and so that students who cannot afford to purchase these portraits on their own or choose not to purchase portraits will appear in the yearbook the same as other students. Other schools allow students to choose a studio and submit portraits on their own.

Modern

Modern senior portraits may include virtually any pose or clothing choice, within the limits of good taste. Students often appear with pets, student athletes of both sexes pose in letterman jackets or their playing uniforms, while many men choose glamour photography. Outdoor "location" photos continue to increase in popularity, as well as locations that are of specific importance to the senior, both replacing studio portraits. Picture proofs are usually available to view online the next day which are lower quality, unedited and often with a watermark of the studio.

See also

Related Research Articles

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In photography, shutter speed or exposure time is the length of time when the film or digital sensor inside the camera is exposed to light, also when a camera's shutter is open when taking a photograph. The amount of light that reaches the film or image sensor is proportional to the exposure time. ​1500 of a second will let half as much light in as ​1250.

Camera lens

A camera lens is an optical lens or assembly of lenses used in conjunction with a camera body and mechanism to make images of objects either on photographic film or on other media capable of storing an image chemically or electronically.

Perspective distortion (photography)

In photography and cinematography, perspective distortion is a warping or transformation of an object and its surrounding area that differs significantly from what the object would look like with a normal focal length, due to the relative scale of nearby and distant features. Perspective distortion is determined by the relative distances at which the image is captured and viewed, and is due to the angle of view of the image being either wider or narrower than the angle of view at which the image is viewed, hence the apparent relative distances differing from what is expected. Related to this concept is axial magnification -- the perceived depth of objects at a given magnification.

Macro photography photography genre and techniques of extreme close-up pictures

Macro photography is extreme close-up photography, usually of very small subjects and living organisms like insects, in which the size of the subject in the photograph is greater than life size . By the original definition, a macro photograph is one in which the size of the subject on the negative or image sensor is life size or greater. In some senses, however, it refers to a finished photograph of a subject that is greater than life size.

Three-point lighting Lightning technique

Three-point lighting is a standard method used in visual media such as theatre, video, film, still photography and computer-generated imagery. By using three separate positions, the photographer can illuminate the shot's subject however desired, while also controlling the shading and shadows produced by direct lighting.

Candid photography Photograph captured without creating a posed appearance

A candid photograph is a photograph captured without creating a posed appearance. The candid nature of a photograph is unrelated to the subject's knowledge about or consent to the fact that photographs are being taken, and are unrelated to the subject's permission for further usage and distribution. The crucial factor is the actual absence of posing. However, if the subject is absolutely unaware of being photographed and does not even expect it, then such photography is secret photography, which is a special case of candid photography.

Fill light

In television, film, stage, or photographic lighting, a fill light may be used to reduce the contrast of a scene to match the dynamic range of the recording media and record the same amount of detail typically seen by eye in average lighting and considered normal. From that baseline of normality using more or less fill will make shadows seem lighter or darker than normal which will cause the viewer to react differently, by inferring both environmental and mood clues from the tone of the shadows.

In optics, a diffuser is any material that diffuses or scatters light in some manner to transmit soft light. Diffused light can be easily obtained by reflecting light from a white surface, while more compact diffusers may use translucent material, including ground glass, teflon, opal glass, and greyed glass.

Canon EF 85mm lens series of camera lenses manufactured by Canon

The EF 85mm lenses are a group of medium telephoto prime lenses made by Canon Inc. that share the same focal length. These lenses have an EF type mount that fits the Canon EOS line of cameras.

Canon EF portrait lenses

Canon makes several lenses for the EF lens mount and EF-S lens mount that are well-suited for portrait photography. These lenses may also be used for other purposes, often being suited for indoor sports photography as well, due to suitable focal length and wide aperture, though autofocus speed is an issue in sports photography that is less important in portraiture.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to photography:

Sports photography Photography genre

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Reflector (photography) reflective surface used to redirect light towards a given subject or scene, used in photography

In photography and cinematography, a reflector is an improvised or specialised reflective surface used to redirect light towards a given subject or scene.

Monte Zucker M.Photog.Cr., Hon.M.Photog., API, F-ASP was an American photographer. He specialized in wedding photography, entering it as a profession in 1947. In the 1970s he operated a studio in Silver Spring, Maryland. Later he lived in Florida.

Ultra wide angle lens

An ultra wide-angle lens is a lens whose focal length is shorter than the short side of film or sensor.

Photographic lighting illumination of scenes to be photographed

Photographic lighting is the illumination of scenes to be photographed. A photograph simply records patterns of light, color, and shade; lighting is all-important in controlling the image. In many cases even illumination is desired to give an accurate rendition of the scene. In other cases the direction, brightness, and color of light are manipulated for effect. Lighting is particularly important for monochrome photography, where there is no color information, only the interplay of highlights and shadows. Lighting and exposure are used to create effects such as low-key and high-key.

Beauty dish

A beauty dish is a photographic lighting device that uses a parabolic reflector to distribute light towards a focal point. The light created is between that of a direct flash and a softbox, giving the image a wrapped, contrasted look, which adds a more dramatic effect.

In photography, a long-focus lens is a camera lens which has a focal length that is longer than the diagonal measure of the film or sensor that receives its image. It is used to make distant objects appear magnified with magnification increasing as longer focal length lenses are used. A long-focus lens is one of three basic photographic lens types classified by relative focal length, the other two being a normal lens and a wide-angle lens. As with other types of camera lenses, the focal length is usually expressed in a millimeter value written on the lens, for example: a 500 mm lens. The most common type of long-focus lens is the telephoto lens, which incorporate a special lens group known as a telephoto group to make the physical length of the lens shorter than the focal length.

Low-key photography photography genre

Low-key photography is a genre of photography consisting of shooting dark-colored scenes, and emphasizing natural or artificial light only on specific areas in the frame. This photographic style is usually used to create a mysterious atmosphere, that only suggests various shapes, often graphic, letting the viewer experience the photograph through subjective interpretation and often implies painting objects or the human body with black non-toxic dyes or pigments.

References

  1. 1 2 3 4 Francis, Kathleen (2007). The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography. Focal Press. p. 341. ISBN   978-0240807409.
  2. Edwards, Phil (7 October 2016). "Why people never smiled in old photographs". Vox.
  3. Clark, Gary. "History of 19th Century Photography". www.phototree.com. Retrieved 2017-11-06.
  4. Duggan, Bob. "How Photography Changed Painting (and Vice Versa)". Big Think. Retrieved 2017-11-06.
  5. Bathurst, Bella (2 December 2013). "The lady vanishes: Victorian photography's hidden mothers". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  6. "Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express by Don English (Paramount, 1932)". Auction Results Archives. Heritage Capital Corporation. Retrieved 5 January 2013. With direction and lighting by genius Josef von Sternberg, photographer Don English took what would become the most iconic image of Marlene Dietrich.
  7. Hammond, Arthur. "Pictorial Composition in Photography"
  8. Keating, Patrick. "From the Portrait to the Close-Up: Gender and Technology in Still Photography and Hollywood Cinematography", page 91, Cinema Journal 45, No. 3, Spring 2006, trinity.edu
  9. Greenspun, p. 2 Archived 2010-06-08 at the Wayback Machine
  10. Canon EF 85/1.2L II USM Lens Review Archived 2010-08-01 at the Wayback Machine , by Philip Greenspun
  11. Greenspun, p. 3 Archived 2010-07-01 at the Wayback Machine
  12. Greenspun, p. 4 Archived 2010-07-01 at the Wayback Machine