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Portrait photography or portraiture is a photography of a person or group of people that displays the expression, personality, and mood of the subject. Like other types of portraiture, the focus of the photograph is usually the person’s face, although the entire body and the background may be included.
Portrait photography has been around since the invention and popularization of the camera. The relatively low cost of the daguerreotype in the middle of the 19th century led to its popularity for portraiture. The style of these early works reflected the technical challenges associated with long exposure times and the painterly aesthetic of the time. Subjects were generally seated against plain backgrounds and lit with the soft light of an overhead window and whatever else could be reflected with mirrors. Advances in photographic equipment and techniques developed, gave photographers the ability to capture images with shorter exposure times and allowed photographers to take portrait outside of a studio.
 Lighting for portraiture
Winter portrait of a 10-month old baby girl
When portrait photographs are composed and captured in a studio, the professional photographer has control over the lighting of the composition of the subject and can adjust direction and intensity. There are many ways to light a subject’s face, but there are several common lighting plans which are easy enough to describe.
 Three-Point Lighting
One of the most basic lighting plans is called three-point lighting. This plan uses three (and sometimes four) lights to fully model (bring out details and the three-dimensionality of) the subject’s features. The three main lights used in this light plan are as follows:
 The Key light
Also called a main light, the key light is usually placed to one side of the subject’s face, between 30 and 60 degrees off center and a bit higher than eye level. The key light is the brightest light in the lighting plan.
 The Fill light
Placed opposite the key light, the fill light fills in or softens the shadows on the opposite side of the face. The brightness of the fill light is usually between 1/3 and 1/4 that of the key light. This is expressed as a ratio as in 3:1 or 4:1. When the ratio is 3:1 this is sometimes called Kodak lighting since this was the ratio suggested by Kodak in the instructional booklets accompanying the company’s early cameras.
The purpose of these two lights is to mimic the natural light created by placing a subject in a room near a window. The daylight falling on the subject through the window is the Key light and the Fill light is reflected light coming from the walls of the room. This type of lighting can be found in the works of hundreds of classical painters and early photographers and is often called Rembrandt lighting.
 The Back light
Also called a rim light or hair light, the rim light (the third main light in the three-point lighting plan) is placed behind the subject, out of the picture frame, and often rather higher than the Key light or Fill. The point of the rim light is to provide separation from the background by highlighting the subject’s shoulders and hair. The rim light should be just bright enough to provide separation from the background, but not as bright as the key light.
Sometimes the rim light is set just off to the side, on the fill light side. This can add edge detail to the shadowed side of your model’s face. This can add the effect of having a kicker light using only the three basis lights of three point lighting.
 The Kicker
The "fourth light" in three point lighting, a kicker is a small light, often heavily gobo-ed, snooted or barn doored to limit its coverage, that adds a bright edge light on the fill light side of your model’s face. The placement and brightness of a kicker is a matter of taste and technique. A kicker can also a light used to kick start another light.
 Butterfly lighting
Butterfly lighting uses only two lights. The Key light is placed directly in front of the subject, often above the camera or slightly to one side, and a bit higher than is common for a three-point lighting plan. The second light is a rim light. Often a reflector is placed below the subject’s face to provide fill light and soften shadows.
This lighting can be recognized by the strong light falling on the forehead, the bridge of the nose and the upper cheeks, and by the distinct shadow below the nose which often looks rather like a butterfly and thus provides the name for this lighting plan. Butterfly lighting was a favourite of famed Hollywood portraitist George Hurrell which is why this style of lighting is often called Paramount lighting.
 Accessory lights
These lights can be added to basic lighting plans to provide additional highlights or add background definition.
 The Kicker
A kicker is a small light, often made directional through the use of a snoot, umbrella, or softbox. The kicker is designed to add highlights to the off side of the subject’s face, usually just enough to establish the jaw line or edge of an ear. The kicker should thus be a bit brighter than the fill light, but not so bright it over fills the off side of the face. Many portraitists choose not to use a kicker and settle for the three main lights of the standard plans.
 Background lights
Not so much a part of the portrait lighting plan, but rather designed to provide illumination for the background behind the subject, background lights can pick out details in the background, provide a halo effect by illuminating a portion of a backdrop behind the subject’s head, or turn the background pure white by filling it with light.
 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
Window light used to create soft light to the portrait
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. 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.
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 came out of the portraiture technique and had become a style on its own.
 Approaches to Portraiture
There are essentially four approaches that can be taken in photographic portraiture — the constructionist, environmental, candid and creative approaches. Each approach has been used over time for different reasons be they technical, artistic or cultural. The constructionist approach is when the photographer in their portraiture constructs an idea around the portrait — happy family, romantic couple, trustworthy executive. 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 be that a work, leisure, social or family one. They are often shown as doing something, a teacher in a classroom, an artist in a studio, a child in a playground. With the environmental approach more is revealed about the subject. Environmental pictures can have good historical and social significance as primary sources of information. The candid approach is where people are photographed without their knowledge going about their daily business. Whilst this approach taken by the paparazzi is criticized and frowned upon for obvious reasons, less invasive and exploitative candid photography has given the world superb and important images of people in various situations and places over the last century. The images of Parisians by Doisneau and Cartier-Bresson to name but two, demonstrate this. As with environmental photography, candid photography is important as a historical source of information about people. The Creative Approach is where digital manipulation (and formerly darkroom manipulation) is brought to bear to produce wonderful pictures of people. It is becoming a major form of portraiture as these techniques become more widely understood and used.
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 150mm, and a fast f-number in the f/3.3-3.7 range.
Classic focal length is in the range 80–135mm on 135 film format and about 150-400mm on large format, which historically is first in photography. Such a field of view provides a flattering 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. 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. 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. Thus, f/1.8 or f/2 is usually the maximum aperture used; f/1.2 or f/1.4 may be used, but the resulting defocus may be considered a special effect – the eyes will be sharp, but the ears and nose will be soft.
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.
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.
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 (50mm), 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.
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