Portraits can vary greatly in style, content, and emotion depending on the end goals for the use of the photographs. I’ve put together this checklist with descriptions and examples to help identify which style preferences is right for you – environmental, action, beauty, character, attitude, or group.
Environmental portraits are most commonly used in editorial publications. The content of these photos tell a story – the background, props, or action is inexorably intertwined with the subject. Context is key, and the caption of the photos is usually the first thing read and most remembered. This is the type of portraiture I most enjoy; with my educational background at Northwestern journalism school and over 15 years of working with publications I’ve photographed hundreds of environmental portraits for magazine covers and feature stories. Capturing unique sense of place portraits can also be one of the most challenging styles – creating an engaging story in one photo takes more time and consideration than capturing a portrait with a generic background. However it can be the most valuable for exposure – with editorial space shrinking there may only be space for a single image to tell your story vs a series of photos. And a portrait with a lot of information included is more likely to run large so the reader can view the details, and lead a story if there’s room for type over part of the image.
Environmental portraits also give insight to a more authentic side of the subjects personality. People tend to be most comfortable in their natural environment, and this energy reflects back to the camera. Effectively using natural and portable studio lights on location, determining the the most flattering angle for the face & body, and finding or creating the most engaging scene are all equally important.
Celebrity portraiture can often be highly stylized in controlled studio settings, however overly retouched photos can be unbelievable and make the subject seem unapproachable. Once the portrait is captured minor retouching is ok, but the strength of the image is captured in the camera. While filters and highly processed retouching effects maybe fine and fun for instagram or personal prints, most non-fashion style publications want the personality of the subject make the strongest impact, not the style of the photographer or retoucher’s effects.
Actor Kyle MacLachlan has been beautifully photographed by the most famous portrait photographers and stylists in the world, and can can easily take on any character or personality. So we decided on a more natural approach to differentiate his Pursued by Bear wine label in magazine articles; it was important to show Kyle’s connection to the vineyard and relationship with winemaker Dan Wampfler with a sense of place photo. For his own Pursed by Bear label, we could be a bit more playful and include the product – who wouldn’t want to join Kyle with the second glass of wine?
Former quarterback player Drew Bledsoe stands at 6′ 5″, and renowned winemaker Chris Figgins is a fit but compact 5’8 – so to capture a portrait of them together minimizing this height difference I chose this angle of the vineyard, giving Drew a pole to lean against and Chris a rock to place one leg on – the angle of the clouds further complement the subjects and creates a dynamic background. And sometimes portraits are non traditional, without the subject looking at the camera – this lifestyle scene focuses on emotion and intimacy, and has been widely used in promotional publications for the Washington wine industry.