11 Different Types of Portrait Photography You Should Know About

If you are looking to expand your image collection, or you just want to learn about the different types of portrait photography, this article is especially tailored for you.

Portraiture, or as you may also call it, portrait photography, involves a lot more than just capturing a person’s image. It is a widely known photographic style that focuses mainly on capturing people and their personalities, characteristics, and emotions.

Portraiture can be either commercial or purely fine art. They are usually needed for vast commercial purposes. Think about passports, security passes, or professional biography, to name a few. 

In addition, portraiture is also very popular when you look from the fine art perspective. Let me explain.

This highly adaptable photography niche allows for a more creative freedom for modern day artists. It enables artistic presentation by using backdrops, lighting, poses, including the background environment.

Portraiture or People Photography Explained

Portrait photography is one of the many photography styles that aims to capture the personality of people by using effective poses, lighting, and backdrops.

A portrait photo can be artistic or clinical. Oftentimes, they are commissioned for certain events, such as school activities, wedding venues, sports, fashion, etc. Portrait photos can be used in many ways, including:

  • On personal websites to give users a glimpse at your personality and character. 
  • Featuring them in your social media posts with accompanying texts, as a piece of inspiration.
  • Using them to promote or market a service that you or your company is providing.
  • And so on.

What Are The Portrait Photography Styles?

There are dozens of different styles and methods for portraiture. Usually, it is advisable to capture your subject’s face and eyes in sharp focus. And at the same time, you should also allow other less important components to be concluded or displayed in a soft focus.

Sometimes portrait images of individual features could be the focus of a composition like your subject’s eyes, hands, or even their torso. Also, other unique styles like headshot, for instance, have emerged from the portrait photography technique and has become a style on its own.  

History of Portrait Photography

Portraiture has been popular for many decades and has become even more in the modern day. The advancement of technology in the photography scope has brought about new trends in portrait photography and helped to change the way people look at themselves.

Even though you might associate today’s smartphone selfies with portraits, the truth is, this style of photography can be traced back to as far as the 1830s. 

If you’d like to find out why portrait photography was so important in early history, and who captured the very first portrait photo, then you might find it helpful to read a very brief history of portrait photography.

George Eastman in action portrait photography
George Eastman: The legendary photographer who introduced the first Kodak camera in 1888.

Meanwhile, in the early days of photography, a lot was done outdoors. This is because the earliest emulsions were not very sensitive to light, so the more light you had to work with the better. 

But even so, the cameras also seemed so big and bulky. And heavy too. And they were always placed on a firm support, such as a surveyor’s tripod! But, it wasn’t long until 1888 when George Eastman introduced us to Kodak; the first hand-holdable camera. 

George Eastman’s Kodak camera did have a shutter and could be held at hand. But even so, it still needed lots of light. Today, however, photography technology has improved only a lot. 

11 Common Types Of Portrait Photography

01. Creative Self-Portrait Photography

Self-portrait can be defined as an image of oneself. They are just like selfies, only there is a clear difference between them. Let me explain. 

Selfies are taken quickly (oftentimes with your smartphone camera) and can also be quickly deleted if they are less satisfying. Self-portraits on the other hand are usually well-thought-out and composed carefully to establish a solid impression.

Likewise, the primary purpose of taking selfies is usually to update our profile pictures or post them on social media networks to steal the spotlight or to demonstrate that we are actually there. 

It is OK to take quick smartphone selfies whenever you are out of profile photo ideas. But you will surely need to take a couple of creative self-portraits if you are looking to establish a serious and professionally looking imagery portfolio.

Here are some of the most celebrated self-portraits:

Robert Cornelius: Robert was the photographer who took the first ever self-portrait to be documented. This was back in 1839 when he was still an amateur chemist.

Cornelius captured his portrait by taking out the lens cap and running back to his original sitting position to pose and wait for the shot for a whole minute.

Vivian Maier: After her death back in 2009, Vivian became one of America’s most celebrated photographers when her collection of street photographs was finally discovered. Over 150,000 of her photographs document the daily life of Chicago.

There are also some of her self-portraits in windows and mirrors, which make for great profile photo ideas. The portraits show how Vivian wished to be portrayed rather than how she appeared or looked in her daily life.

Claude Cahun: Claude is the famous French photographer who experimented heavily with creative photography back in the 1920s. Her series of famous self-portraits include shots of herself disguised as an angel and some even as a vampire. 

02. Pet Portrait Photography

Pet portrait is currently the most popular type of photography. From different cat and dog breeds to more strange animals, such as reptiles, pet owners love to stock up professional photographs of their pet.

Moreover, pet portrait photography captures the animal’s personality, character, habits—including any other memorable moments.

Dog Portrait photograph

If you are a photographer who is thinking about venturing into pet portraits, just remember that taking photographs of other people’s pets could be just as challenging as it is fun. 

Pets don’t pose like people. Some of the things required for pet photography includes a camera kit, cleaning kit, pet toys, treats, off-camera flash, and a memory card, to name a few.

Camera and settings for pet photography

Cameras that have an autofocus system are often quite helpful when photographing pets. But be sure to use a camera with manual controls and disable the camera flash.

Camera settings for pet portrait photography depend upon several factors: the lighting conditions, location, climate, and the type of pet photographs you want to capture. 

Assuming that you’re using a shallow depth of field, then you should set a wide aperture and adjust the settings to perfect the shot. But you might need to modify your camera settings when shooting during sunrise or sunset; also known as the golden hour.

03. Fashion Portrait Photography

Fashion portrait photography simply focuses on capturing and displaying fashion clothing, such as new trends of designer clothes and items. 

It is very common in fashion magazines and advertising boards, with photography models or subjects wearing the display items. Equally, fashion portrait photography has been around for almost since the beginning of photography itself.

Pose in portrait photography

But it keeps changing with time. Understanding the current trends, creating new ones, and using the past as inspiration are all important techniques to master.

Fashion portrait photographers do not only make sure that the correct fashion portrait has been captured. They also often check the model’s clothing, hair, and even the make-up. 

Nevertheless, several fashion magazines, such as Marie Claire, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vanity Fair have set up a million-dollar budget to photograph in luxurious destinations.

04. Sports Portrait Photography

Sports photography involves capturing sports and games among other activities. The term “sports portrait photography”, however, encompasses a broad range of activities. 

For instance, professional sports portraits fall under photojournalism, while amateur sports portraits, such as pictures of kids participating in school activities, fall under vernacular photography.

Portrait in Sports photograph

Furthermore, the primary purpose of sports portraits is for editorial purposes. Dedicated sports portrait photographers often work for dedicated sports magazines or newspapers. 

Sports portrait, however, is also used for marketing purposes to establish a brand, and/or to promote a specific sport in a way that editorial means alone can’t accomplish.  

05. Children’s Portrait Photography

If you are like most parents, then you probably take photographs of your kids when you take them to see Santa each year. And talking about photographs, do you ever think of having a true classic portrait of your child?

Your kids may have school photographs. But just like most kids, their impression in those photographs is usually forced, confused, or cheesy as they were given only a split second before the shot happened.

A children in portrait photograph

But again, who really gets flattered by that blue background anyway? And not to mention how they often over smooth a child’s skin in such a way that it makes them look almost like plastic. 

Creative children’s portraits, on the other hand, are simple, classic portraits on a plain or black backdrop. And there are simply no fake poses or forced smiles. 

Instead, the kids have a relaxed experience, where they are guided through questions, leading to genuine reactions and smiles. Small details, such as their missing front teeth, those cute dimples, or the way they play with their zippers or buttons, are also captured in the shot.  

06. Outdoor Portrait Photography

Just as Charles Haacker, a retired famous pro still photographer, describes it; outdoor portrait photography is just what it says. It simply means taking photographs outdoors, as opposed to anything else, but certainly not indoors.

The light is certainly natural, but not necessarily sunny. You may add artificial light if you want. However, according to Haacker, he would prefer to shoot with the available natural light with little to zero modification.

Outdoor Portrait Photograph

Also, there is often that undeniable feeling of dynamism whenever you shoot your portraits outdoors. Outdoor portraiture can be spontaneous, producing outcomes that can even exceed the photographer’s expectations.

When you are outside, it’s like you have a blank canvas and every natural element adds a new color to your palette. Even though you may not be in full control of the short-term colors at your disposal, you will need to learn how to be quick on your feet and work with what you have.

“A studio portrait photography shoot is all about control. But an outdoor portrait session is more like catching the light in a bottle.” Nate Torres.

07. Street Portrait Photography

Street portrait photography is certainly the purest form of portraiture. This is because street portraits are often not planned. And it also doesn’t need any posing.

An example of Street portrait photography

Moreover, street photographers often take voluntary photographs of people they have run into on the streets. Similarly, street portraits usually don’t require any set up. 

Those who practice this type of portrait photography often get inspiration from the poses and styles of their subjects. They focus on capturing voluntary and distinctive moments, and as such, it is especially crucial to have both speed and great timing.

08. Environment Portrait Photography

Environmental portrait photography, also known as corporate portraits, focuses on capturing the subject in their meaningful environments. For instance, a chef in the kitchen, a judge at the court l, or a pilot inside the aircraft.

An example of Environmental portrait photograph

This portrait photography style provides the viewer an understanding of the subject’s personality. Both location and the posing techniques have significant impact in this type of portrait photography.

Environmental portraits, however, aren’t as informal as lifestyle portraits are. Generally, the photographer who is capturing the moment is the one that sets up both the pose and lighting in environmental portraits.

09. Couple or Group Portrait Photography

This portrait photography style focuses on capturing two or more people (usually couples, a family, or a group of people) in the same shot.

family, or group portrait photograph

Such images are often captured during holidays or important life events. Think of weddings for couple portraits, birthdays for friends and family portraits among other celebrations.

In couple or group portraits, it is very crucial to maintain a certain level of tendency and genuineness. Posing subjects should not look forced or unnatural. As a couple photographer, knowing the tricks of keeping the couples or group as calm and comfortable as possible is crucial to capturing a memorable moment.

10. Black and White Portrait Photography

Most people tend to relate color with emotion. However, some of the most compelling and vivid portraits are in black-and-white. Monochrome (or black & white) pictures have a special feeling that you don’t often find in colored pictures.

Whenever we talk about black-and-white or monochrome portraits, some of the questions we often ask ourselves is whether to shoot in black-and-white mode.

Although some photographers, especially beginners, might think that shooting in B W mode is what is needed for monochrome portraits, this isn’t always the case. Many digital cameras often include a black-and-white shooting mode, which is quite handy, of course. However, this shouldn’t be the only thing or tool you rely on. 

Black and white portrait photography

It often takes a little bit more time, but there is a solid argument about shooting in color mode and then using an image editing software to convert your pictures into monochrome later on. Not only does it push you to think outside the box, but it also helps you gain experience with various photo editing programs like Adobe Photoshop.

11. Artistic/Fine Art Portrait Photography

To better understand what artistic portraits are, let’s first see what it isn’t. Artistic portrait photography is NOT photojournalism. And it is not even about capturing a memory or an event without artistic inspiration.

In artistic portrait photography, the photographers themselves are the “artists”. Making an artistic statement is the primary purpose here and not the recording or capturing of the subject. The portraits are usually designed by the photographer (as an artist)—not just by taking pictures with a camera.

Artistic portraits, sometimes described as décor photography, are often designed and intended for wall art. This portrait photography style is very different from documentary-style photojournalism, where events and/or subjects are photographed to represent reality. 

Artistic/Fine Art Portrait Photograph

Likewise, artistic portraits provide maximum impact and portray emotion in a brilliant and distinguishing style. Fine art portraits are often timeless and record or capture the nature of the subject’s personality in a vision that is created by the photographer.

What are the Best Cameras for Portrait Photography?

I also agree with what many professional photographers say about this, “the best cameras for photographing people should be able to capture perfect facial perspective and attractive background blur.”

But what is the best camera for capturing people? Portrait specialists usually look for two crucial things in a camera:

  1. A focal length that provides the best shooting distance for complimentary facial features.
  2. A lens that can create attractive background blur.

Actually, there are still several smartphone cameras that can create artificial digital blur. But even so, if you really want to capture great and memorable portrait shots, then you will definitely need to buy the right camera and lenses.

Likewise, if you also enjoy taking photographs of pets and small kids, then you will also fall in love with the Canon EOS R5 mirrorless camera. Its 45-MP sensor provides pictures of spectacular detail. 

It has an autofocus system of 5940 AF for shooting pictures and 4500 AF for videos. And on top of that, it also has an eye-detecting AF feature, which is just perfect for portrait photography.

Canon EOS R5 full-frame mirrorless camera. Best camera for portrait photography.

The Nikon Z7 II full-frame mirrorless camera is also a great pick for portraits. It is true that it cannot match the Nikon Z9’s 8K video or continuous shooting speed.

But even so, it still provides the same super-high resolution and is also quite easy for sports shooting or video capability for daily use. And on top of that, the Nikon Z7 II also comes with a 45.7-MP full-frame sensor that delivers magnificent detail.

Nikon Z7 II full-frame mirrorless camera. Best budget camera for children’s portrait photography.

What About the Best Lenses for Portraits?

We all know that capturing great portraits is not only about the gear. It is also pretty much about having the right tools in place that make all the difference. So, now that we have an idea of the type of camera to buy for portrait photography, what about the lenses?

Well, a great lens for shooting portraits makes all the difference. You definitely want to buy a lens that is just as sharp as it is fast. A lens that you can hold in your hands in most portrait shooting scenarios.

The best lenses for shooting portraits, however, have wide apertures (f/1.8 or f/1.4) that allow for a shallow depth of field and bokeh. These lenses are also often fast, at least f/2.8. This is because they are designed to let in plenty of light, which is very essential for portrait photography.

The Best Lenses for Photographing Portraits

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM:

This is among the most popular and bestselling lenses on Amazon today. It is a relatively fast lens with a wide aperture (f/1.4) that makes it perfect for capturing remarkably beautiful portraits.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM :

Best budget lenses for portrait photography. 

Nikon Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S:

You would also agree that this lens was designed to serve as a general-purpose lens. It offers flawless utility for capturing large portraits as well as close-up poses. 

It means that you don’t necessarily need to swap between lenses when shooting different styles of portraits with this lens.

Nikon Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S:

Best lenses for fashion portrait photography.

For tight headshots, however, you will need to get a more capable lens, at least one with a focal range that is greater than 70mm. Learn more about the Nikkor Z 24-70mm from this review article to understand how you can use it for different photography styles.

Final Thoughts

Self-portraiture aims to capture people and their personalities. It has several different styles or sub-genres because every person or every situation is also different. The best way to learn and master different styles of portrait is only through practice.

Since you will be taking photographs of people, remember to take the time to get to know the person you are photographing. Seeing what they are like and knowing the shooting style that works best for them will help you capture great portraits that represent them perfectly and in the best light.