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What is Portrait Photography?

Portraits are about people whether singly or in groups, formal or casual, inside or outside. Generally, portrait photographers divide portraiture into the following categories:

Environmental Portraits

Environmental portraits are about people, what they do, and who they are. They are about the kind of house a person lives in, their job, and what they choose to include in their lives physically and emotionally. One of the benefits of environmental portraits is that people tend to relax and look comfortable when photographed in familiar surroundings doing what they enjoy.

Casual Portraits

Many casual portraits are shot candidly – the subject has little or no idea that a picture has been taken. The photographer is looking for those moments when a person's character shines though. With casual photos, the photographer must always be on the lookout for the telling moment. Every person has a story, and every casual picture taken should tell part of that story. Casual portraits show the subject in informal poses, possibly looking away or engaged in some activity.

Studio (Formal) Portraits

A studio portrait, also called a formal portrait, is a posed picture of a person or a group of people that focuses on clearly showing facial features. It may be designed to highlight a certain characteristic of the subject(s), such as personality or occupation. Studio portraits are taken in photography studios, hence the name. They are posed pictures, set in front of a backdrop, with two or more lights aimed at the individual’s face. The photographer has the subject(s) assume several different poses and takes multiple pictures of each.

Group Portraits

Group portraits of teams, families, and business associates are hard to do and the larger the group, the harder they are. It takes an experienced photographer to get a family or ball team to pose for a picture, arranged so you can see their faces, with everyone looking good—no one's eyes closed and no grimacing or squinting. Group portraits take a photographer with imagination, patience, and diplomacy. In addition, the group must be related to the location chosen for the picture in a way that expresses something about what kind of group they are.

by Peter Prato
Peter Prato

Tips for Portrait Photography


Decide what to wear

Talk to your photographer about what you plan to wear. As a professional, they can make suggestions about colors, styles, and fabrics that provide the best pictures. Generally, you want clothing that is relatively plain to allow the focus to remain upon you. If other people will be in the portrait, choose coordinating or contrasting colors.


Tell the photographer the planned uses for your portraits

A portrait for a business card is different from one for LinkedIn or Facebook, and a family portrait is vastly different from one for a boys’ baseball team.


Talk to the photographer about using props

Find out if you should provide your own or if the photographer will do so. Let the photographer know if there are props you want in your pictures.


Ask the photographer if they have a stylist for hair, wardrobe, and makeup

Details in portraiture make all the difference, and if your photographer has a stylist, it will help. You can also ask your photographer to recommend a stylist who helped with portfolio photographs you like.


Decide on a location for your portrait session

Ask if the photographer will scout locations or suggest places to shoot. A professional photographer with experience will be able to recommend good locations or be willing to offer their time and expertise to select locations specific to your needs.

by Alexis Arnold

How much does Portrait Photography Cost?

Decide what you can afford before contacting a photographer. Have in mind the number of edited portraits you want. You should also ask if editing is included.

Most portrait photographers charge for the session and for prints. You can review the websites of several photographers in your area to find the average charge for a session and how long the sessions usually run. Some photographers may offer a full-length (usually two-hour) session and a mini session of less than one hour. Others may charge by the hour. The length of the session is frequently dependent on location – inside, outside, or both; the time of day and season of the year; and how many final pictures you want.

After you look at a photographer’s previous work, find out if they have a studio, and verify their professional status, you need to decide how much you are willing to pay. Remember that along with talent comes a correlating price. When it comes to quality, you get what you pay for. A portrait photographer with a studio has overhead to consider. One working out of his home or without any studio at all may cost less. If you are looking for bottom dollar, then you may need to be willing to sacrifice on quality and creativity. An excellent portrait is an investment, so plan ahead, pick the right photographer for your needs, and the price more than likely will match what you planned to spend.

Hiring a Portrait Photographer

Generally, the more experience a portrait photographer has, the more able they will be to provide what you desire. Therefore, experience and a commitment to excellence are important. Look for membership in a professional association, certifications, or a degree in photography. Also, check references and ask to see a portfolio. When you view previously taken portraits, note the type of picture and whether they are similar to what you have in mind. If you are looking for a portrait for your business card, you don’t want a portrait photographer that specializes in unique outdoor shots.

The photographer should offer a contract detailing a refund policy, and should be willing to redo your session without additional charge if you are not pleased with the portraits. Large portrait studios may have more than one photographer and you want to make sure you meet the one you will be working with before the session and view his previous work. Make sure you explain your expectations clearly before the actual session. It is important to be comfortable with your photographer and able to communicate clearly. A good portrait photographer will want to know about you, your family, and your favorite activities, so they can capture your personality and tell your unique story in the portraits they take. You will want to find out if they have a studio and a bit about their choice of lighting and equipment. You are not looking for specifics, but you can tell a great deal about a photographer from how professionally they communicate about their experience. You want to find someone you are comfortable with because if you are uncomfortable or unhappy, it will show in your pictures.

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An example project

15 high end Portrait Photos needed

An affordable Portrait shoot will include 10 - 20 images that you can use for print and promotion. Be sure to include information about the number of people, location(s) and desired time of day for the shoot. Be sure to talk about what you would like to see and add appropriate examples where possible.

Suggested Price: $400

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