(Last Updated On: June 16, 2019)

What Makes a Portrait Special?

When shooting a portrait, it is more than pointing and shooting so that your subject is in the right part of the picture.  You want to create a portrait that goes beyond a picture.  What would make you stop in front of portrait of a complete stranger and study it beyond a mere perusal?  The Mona Lisa is a famous portrait that continues to draw people to it in order to try and glean its secrets.  There needs to be something deeper, something that pulls a viewer to the picture and captivates them, an ambiance that can be felt rather than just seen.  You want people to stop in front of the portrait and contemplate the story exuding from the subject and the background.

A great way to delve further into a portrait than the surface is to look at how you can reveal the personality of the individual you are shooting.  Whether you are showcasing an endearing quirk or telling a story that shaped their life, it needs to shine through. Every part of your portrait, including the background and ‘props’, take a role in telling that story. This does not mean you should be stuffing your background and foreground with props.  Use an artistic eye to figure out what could enhance and accentuate what you are wanting to be seen from that individual. That means you can always change where you place your props so that you know you got the best shot possible.

As the photographer you are the one creating the portrait.  It falls to you to look beyond the smile and posture to look deeper and draw out what treasures and unique qualities your subject has.  This may require you to have a conversation or two with them before you start the photo shoot.  Get to know the person you are taking portraits of.  Ask them random questions, see what makes them laugh, what makes them cry, what causes them to get that far off look in their eyes.  The more you know about them the better able you will be to establish a meaningful shot.

Questions You Might Ask:

  • What do you like to do when you are bored?
  • What do people compliment you the most on?
  • What’s an embarrassing story you like to tell others?
  • What’s your favorite color?
  • Who is your hero and why?
  • If married, How did you meet?
  • What do you do for work?
  • What hobbies do you have?
  • What’s your favorite thing to do in your spare time?
  • Favorite music, food, place to go, vacation, etc?
  • What would you like me to capture?
  • What’s your best funny face? (Capture it and then the true smile that comes afterwards)
  • What one word would you use to describe yourself?

Do not be afraid to evoke emotions through a funny joke or an honest truth to capture and bring to life the feelings you want to present. You shouldn’t settle for a fake smile or tears, because true emotions can change their entire face into a beauty you don’t want to miss.  If you’ve taken the time to lay your groundwork you will know what needs to be done to catch the image you are wanting to convey.  If successful, you can portray more than just a good picture with a pretty person being showcased.

Create a visual story instead of picture. Show more than a reflected image on paper. Shoot a portrait worth keeping, cherishing, and displaying.



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