Portrait photography has come a long way since photography’s inception. Today’s current trend of lifestyle portraiture is very popular because it’s more natural and spontaneous than fine art portraiture, which is typically a more formal genre. Both types can easily be achieved with some basic understanding.
Traditional fine art portraits tend to be about the individual. Shaped by the photographer’s creative vision, these are often either tightly cropped headshots—with very few distracting elements–or ‘full body’ images, with the subject posed against a simple backdrop or open space. Lighting is usually even and flattering with no harsh shadows or dark, moody and dramatic.
I prefer natural, even lighting when creating a traditional fine art portrait and like to pose my subject facing a window with indirect sunlight, or have him or her stand in open shade. In the first image above, I placed my son in front of my dining room window, moved in close to crop out the distracting table and chairs, and photographed him at eye level. Post processing was very minimal because the lighting was so perfect and even.
Lifestyle/editorial portraiture focuses on the individual and his or her environment, allowing both to play an important role in telling the subject’s story. In fine art portraiture, the photographer takes a directorial approach—whereas an editorial/lifestyle shooter is more a ‘fly on the wall’ observer. The face-painting image above is a classic editorial/lifestyle shot. It’s framed and ‘layered’ by the other people within, which lead the viewer into the frame. This creates a more compelling image than simply zooming in on the subject.
Creative portrait opportunities are all around us. In the first image above, I caught my son goofing around in his cape and toy glasses in our living room. I directed him to stand in the middle of the room, in front of a large window. In order to crop out all distractions of the living room, I stood towering over him to have only the cream carpet as my backdrop. I wanted the focus to be his eyes, glasses, face and hood. In the second image, our family was out looking for a Christmas tree and I wanted to take some pictures of the kids together. I happened to snap the picture just as my son bowed his head. These images are definitely blurred between fine art and lifestyle, they truly are both.
Lifestyle Compositional Elements
One of the most enjoyable aspects of lifestyle photography is catching that perfect ‘photo op’. Shoot for composition and the moment first. When lighting is terrible, mid-day sun and harsh shadows, focus on composition and having fun, everything else can be fixed in post processing for the most part.
Layering or stacking with background and foreground
As with the ‘face-painting’ image, be aware of the foreground and background. Use it as a supporting role to create a more interesting and compelling image. It can also be blurred to some degree in Instagram, Snapseed or your favorite photo app.
‘Less is more’, texture and lines
These elements can pack a lot of interesting detail into an image without cluttering it up. Texture can simultaneously add visual interest and give a subject space. Lines create movement within an image, draw the eye to a focal point and add texture.
Physical movement within an image and movement blur
If your subject is moving, tilt the camera to accentuate the movement. A little bit of movement blur adds extra character too.
Perspective…photograph at eye level, unless…
Almost always shoot adults at eye level, it’s the most flattering and empowering angle. Kids, especially young, can be shot at any perspective.
Shoot with the sun behind your subject
This is really helpful if it is sunny and bright out. It also adds a sense of natural wonder. Your image will most likely be underexposed(dark), so you’ll have to brighten it in post processing.
Balance = rule of 1/3’s, dead center or asymmetry
I prefer to shoot in square format with the Hipstamatic for all the reasons I’ve listed in my previous post, ‘I Heart Hipstamatic’. You can easily achieve the same balance in 4:6 or 5:7 ratios as well.
All of these techniques I’ve shared can be used for both adults and children. Most of my imagery is of my children because that is whom I spend a majority of my free time with. No matter who you photograph, have fun and play around with it. It’s all the same tools and techniques.