Task 11: Portrait Photography

We are looking at Portrait Photography with the aim of having our own study to then work from for our next artwork.

Photography is a crucial tool in the development of an art and design student, as it provides the originality and personal control over your art.


In art, there is no need for colour; I see only light and shade. Give me a crayon, and I will paint your portrait.

Francisco Goya


So let’s look at portraiture and get some ideas so you can start taking your shots.


Definition: Portrait photography or portraiture in photography is a photograph of a person or group of people that captures the personality of the subject by using effective lighting, backdrops, and poses.

Selfies are undoubtedly the most popular form of portrait photography today. However, portrait photography has a long and interesting history, full of new technology and iconic images.


I do not paint a portrait to look like the subject, rather does the person grow to look like his portrait.

Salvador Dali


There are many tips and technical manipulations you could do with a fancy DSLR camera, but here are some that anyone can do with any camera, from the disposable to the Smart Phone.



Don’t be lazy with your compositions. Too often photographers stand back, thinking it’s best to include all, or at least the top half, of their subject.

Zoom in instead to fill the frame for a more inspired photo composition. Positioning your subject to one side of the frame, with ‘space to look into’, is a great technique to master.



How your subject stands, poses and looks will have a dramatic effect on your results. A slight change in facial expression – such as whether they smile or not – can radically change the entire feeling of the photograph.

You could consider setting up portrait shots where your subject looks off-camera, up or down, or to one side. Play around and see what works.

When shooting, try and capture a range of expressions so you can pick which you prefer when editing them back home on the computer. This is a portrait and, as we’ve discussed before, you can add meaning and purpose to your work with a little thought. What story are you trying to tell? What would you like viewers to see when they look at your art? Making a purpose gives your art a personal touch…and makes it more fun!



Framing gives an image depth and draws the eye to a point of interest in the image.

You could do it by placing your subject in a window or doorway, have them look through a small gap or even use their hands around their face.

Also, framing can extend to shooting with a wide angle lens. This can help create some memorable shots when you’re doing portrait photography.

At very wide focal lengths you can create some wonderful distortion. Using these focal lengths will enlarge parts of the face or body that are on the edge of the frame more than what is in the centre.

It can also give a wide open and dramatic impact when your subject is in an impressive setting.


Horizontal and Vertical framings are not the only options when it comes to shooting portraits. While getting your images straight can be important in when shooting in these formats, holding your camera on a more diagonal angle can also inject a little fun into your images.

This type of framing can add a sense of fun and energy into your shots. Just don’t ‘slightly’ do it or you’ll have people asking themselves if you might have mistakenly held your camera crooked.



The person in your portrait is the main point of interest – however sometimes when you place them into different contexts with different backgrounds you can dramatically alter the mood in a shot.

Sometimes you want your background to be as minimalistic as possible.

While other times a dramatic or colourful background can help your subject really stand out.




Not only does the quality of light affect shadows, the distance of the light source to the object casting the shadow will change its characteristics, as well as the distance of the object casting the shadow to the object the shadow falls upon. As you can see, working with shadows opens up an almost infinite window of opportunity.

A shadow can be twisted and manipulated by changing the shape of the object casting the shadow. A shadow can be almost translucent. A shadow can be coloured! You can do a lot of cool things with a shadow.

When photographers, (or all artists for that matter), think of modelling a three dimensional object onto a two dimensional medium, they think of highlights and shadows. It’s these two elements, which are created by light, that help us to see in three dimensions. You have to keep this in mind for this task as you will be painting your most successful photo next.

Photography is about expressing yourself in an artistic medium. Applying that to shadows could mean hunting down interesting shadows that already exist. It could mean creating shadows that weren’t there. It could even mean you manipulating existing shadows to satisfy your creative vision!


Have fun with your photography task!


Join our Facebook Group for LIVE lessons and friendly art community – see you there 🙂

Why not have a go at this and post your artwork for me to see. Maybe I or the community can offer support, encouragement and helpful feedback.  – share your work on TWITTER and INSTAGRAM – POST  using our hashtag #ONLINECOLLEGEART





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