Six Types of Portrait Photography You Should Know


Unlike most photography genres, portrait photography centers around capturing the human spirit. It is a complex genre with several sub-genres.

6 types of portrait photography

Photographers often specialise in just one or two, opting to focus their skills. Here are six popular sub-genres of portrait photography you should know if you're interested in exploring this interesting and rewarding genre.

1. Fine Art Portraits

art portrait

If there's royalty in portrait photography, this is the queen! And, yet, it is rather tricky to define what it is, mostly because professional portrait photographers often don't agree on what makes a fine art portrait! Basically, fine art photography is something worthy of being hung in a nice art gallery. It's not a snapshot. It's not even a nice shot you take with high-end gear. It's a portrait in which you can see influences of the great oil masters displayed today in the world's best museums.

2. Traditional Portraits

traditional portrait

This might be the least popular of the sub-genre, particularly in the last decade or two. There is a sense of sober formality to these portraits with the subject looking straight at the camera looking somewhat posed. It's not a candid shot. It is a formal portrait, typically taken in a studio with a traditional or formal background, and generally is composed to include only the head and shoulders. One example of this type of portrait is a business or corporate headshot.

3. Lifestyle Portraits

lifestyle portrait

If you want to know what the opposite of a formal portrait is, look to lifestyle photography. These are also called candid portraits (even though there's usually a minimal level of positioning by the photographer), capturing people in a more relaxed composition. These are often shot in an environment that is personally relevant to the subject. Lifestyle portraits are rarely taken in the studio. An excellent example of the genre is a casual family portrait taken in someone's backyard.

4. Group Portraits

group portrait

Portrait photography isn't always about one subject. Group portraits, which can include other sub-genres like street photography and lifestyle, involve two or more subjects. Family photography is an example of group portraits. Group portraits tend to be carefully choreographed by the photographer as it can be challenging to work with multiple subjects simultaneously. However, you can capture some great candid pictures of the dynamic interactions between the group members.

5. Street Portraits

street protrait

Street portraits are often called street photography. These are candid portraits taken randomly on the street or another venue, typically of an unsuspecting subject, although sometimes you work with a model. The concept behind street portraits, though, is that they are spontaneous. True street photography doesn't involve advance planning. A very well-known example of street photography that has lasted decades is the iconic American portrait of a U.S. sailor kissing a woman in New York City's Time Square after hearing the announcement that World War II had ended. A good street photographer is nimble, clever, and can anticipate a good moment to capture.

6. Glamour Photography

glamour photography

Glamour photography isn't necessarily the same as fine art photography, although it can be. These are also known as beauty portraits, and boudoir photography can be considered a sub-genre. The concept of glamour photography is focused strictly on the subject, beauty, and glamour. They tend to have an element of sensuality. These portraits require careful planning, often involving professional make-up and wardrobe. These differ from fashion photography in that the focus is on the subject's beauty, not the fashion or clothes.

Portrait photography can be an extremely rewarding genre to practice. It's all about capturing the character or personality of your subject. If you're just starting out, experimenting with the various types of portraits can help you pick one or two you enjoy the most.