What's Your Portrait Style?

There are a number of styles of portrait photography, each with a few variations, and this article aims to give you a little insight into 3 of the most common, so you can choose the approach that's right for you.

Studio portrait of boy in suit

Traditional, studio

Location portrait of child riding on parent's shoulders

Documentary, location

Lifestyle portrait of teenage girl with phone

Lifestyle, home

Traditional

The traditional style of portrait has its roots in the early days of photography where camera shutter speeds were measured in seconds and film was so expensive that every shot counted. In this context, the photographer needed control over everything possible to ensure a perfect shot every time and the subject had to stay very still to get a crisp portrait!

This style has evolved over the years with the advent of each new technology in lighting, cameras and media to produce the beautiful, clean portraits you get today from a studio photoshoot, where your photographer can control every aspect of the shot, including your pose, to ensure you will look your very best! Of course, you can have traditional portraits taken away from the studio - on location, indoors and outdoors - but the aim of controlling the lighting, camera angle, pose etc remains the same.

While traditional portraits can be amazing, and are especially great for formal, framed portraits to hang on the wall, they don't suit everyone, particularly if you aren't keen on posing or if you want something less formal that looks substantially different from a typical studio portrait.

Documentary

Towards the other end of the spectrum lies journalistic, reportage or documentary photography. In its purest form, the photographer doesn't control the situation, lighting or pose of their subject at all, but rather seeks to capture an image that tells a story. The only things the photographer controls are the camera angle and when to press the shutter.

In reality, of course, the photographer influences the scene just by being there, but the result should be a powerful, natural looking image or series of images that make the viewer feel they were there too!

Documentary photography stems from journalism and is often used at events such as weddings to tell the story of the bride and groom getting married without interrupting the flow of the day. In order to best tell the story, documentary photos are typically presented either as a group of images on a wall or as pages in an album or photo book.

Lifestyle

An increasingly popular style of portrait photography is 'lifestyle' photography. This approach sits somewhere between traditional and documentary photography in the sense that the photographer aims to take control of the scene, while making it appear natural. So, rather than posing the subject, the photographer will engage the subject in an activity that reflects their interests and lifestyle while giving some direction, but without formally posing them.

Lifestyle portraits will normally be taken either at home, at work or on location at a place with special significance to the subject in order to best reflect their lifestyle. The result is a more relaxed, natural style of image that is unique to the subject at that particular moment in their life. 

Some lifestyle portraits can actually look as if they were taken in the studio with careful choice of background, lighting, camera angle and depth of field - so if you want great, natural looking portraits to hang on the wall, but without the formality of a studio photoshoot, then a lifestyle shoot may be the way to go!