Are You a Portrait Photographer

April 30, 2019

Well… are you a portrait photographer? Most people that take pictures of other people would say yes I imagine. I mean, a photograph of a person is a portrait, right? Wrong!

I should be honest and say that I ask this question to be deliberately provocative. Almost from a standpoint of frustration on my part.

You see, in recent years, photography has become more and more accessible to a much wider group of people. The smartphone has put seriously high-end photography capabilities into the hands of almost every consumer. Combine that with the falling cost of entry level, and even pro grade photography gear (you can get a brand new, full frame camera and lens for less than £900 on Amazon), and we have an abundance of photographers.

While most people understand what a Landscape or Wedding is, people seem to use the term “Portrait Photographer” very loosely. Although this might sound snobby, or even arrogant, I think that being a portrait photographer requires a very different skill set to that of a Fashion, Street, or Editorial Photographer. Just because you have a person in the frame, it doesn’t mean it’s a portrait!

Any clearer? Are you a portrait photographer? I imagine you’re more confused than when you started reading this article. So let’s break it down, what exactly is a portrait photographer?

What is portrait photography?

In its simplest form, a portrait is about the subject and the story of that subject. The moment the portrait is about the clothing, the environment, how the image was taken etc. It stops being a portrait and it becomes something else.

An image that aims to show off, or highlight the jacket that a person is wearing isn’t a portrait. It’s a Fashion Photo. A photograph that captures the moment someone gets down on one knee to propose isn’t a portrait. It’s an Editorial or Documentary Image.

Are you a portrait photographer if you capturing who someone is, their emotions and story in a single frame? Yes, you are!

Who cares?

You would be forgiven for thinking I say this with the belief that Portrait Photographers are somehow superior to Fashion, Editorial, Street or any other kind of photographer. You couldn’t be farther from the truth!

I am not a very good Editorial Photographer. That’s why I don’t call myself one. You see, each one of these styles of photography requires a very different skill set. You need a great technical understanding of photography to be good at any of them. But to really excel requires skill and passion for that art form.

It’s worth thinking about your style, the kind of photographer you are or want to be. Think about the clients you want to attract before you answer that question.

Just to be clear, no one is saying you can only be one type of photographer! I refer to myself as a Portrait, Fashion and Commercial Photographer. If you have the skills to turn your hand to a few different styles, go for it. But don’t cause yourself the pain of branding yourself as something that your not.