What Makes a Photograph a Potrait

If not all photographs of people are Portraits, what makes a photograph a portrait? This series of articles will define what constitutes a Portrait, and what needs to be done regarding the photography and then to the photograph in order for a photograph to qualify as a proper portrait.

Are All Photographs of People Portraits? ...or...

My name is Stan Cox II. I am a graduate of the New York Institute of Photography, and have been a professional Portrait Photographer for over 30 years. In this and in the next few short articles I’ll be sharing with you the essential elements of what makes a photograph a Portrait.

Let’s start with a couple definitions. There are a number of terms used to refer to photographs, such as: PHOTO; SNAPSHOT; PICTURE…A PHOTOGRAPH is simply any recording of light and
shadow. Derived from the Greek Phos, meaning light, and Graphe, meaning a representation by means of lines, PHOTOGRAPH thus means “drawing with light”, or the recording of light.

PORTRAIT has a different definition…A Painting, a Sculpture, or a PHOTOGRAPH may be a Portrait.

A PORTRAIT is an Artistic representation of a Person, or People in which the facial expression ispredominant, and in the case of 3/4 or full length portraits, also the body language. The ArtisticIntent being to capture and express the Personality and Mood of the Subject as well as theLikeness.

Artistry and Intent play an important part in the making of a Portrait. So then, a Photograph certainly may be a Portrait, but not all photographs of people are Portraits! Next I’ll delve into the subject of INTENT as it relates to PORTRAITURE.

How does INTENT play into the process of creating Portraits?

As I stated earlier, the Artistic INTENT of Portraiture includes the creation of a Representation of the subject, this representation should show the Likeness of the subject, and also thePersonality and even the Mood.

There are numerous ways in which these elements may be depicted in a PHOTOGRAPH. To do so requires the portrait artist to become at least acquainted with the subject. Then come up with a PLAN.

With each additional person included in the portrait, this task becomes more involved, but remains the same: i.e. Show the LIKENESS, in other words, the Portrait should LOOK like the person or people
and it should Display the PERSONALITY; and depict the MOOD of the subjects.

Generally speaking, a PORTRAIT should also be COMPLIMENTARY to the subject. This is particularly true in the case where one is Hired to create PORTRAITS!

In the famous Painting, “Luncheon of the Boating Party”, which is actually a Group Portrait,Renoir chose to use the Location, Theme, (a Boating party), and Costume to portray the general Mood as well as contribute clues to individual Personalities. Further hints to individual Personality are given in the Body Language and Facial Expressions depicted of each person.

Part of the Artistic Creation Process of making a Portrait is the PLANNING of the Elements that will be used in portraying the personality of the subject.

In the next articleScience Articles, I’ll talk about just that: PLANNING and PREPARATION as it relates to PORTRAITURE.

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What Makes a Photograph a Potrait