Photo Portrait Styles
Updated: May 13, 2020
Early human-like sculptures have been found to date back to between about 9000 and 6000 BC. Early paintings of rulers date as far back as 2144 BC help give us an idea about what those rulers could have looked like, but because of creative license, stylization of art, and wanting to appease the subject of the painting, we are not sure how accurate of a representation these are. The first successful portrait of an American human was of Robert Cornelius in 1839! (However, it is reported that he may have been preceded by Hippolyte Bayard of France some months prior.)
Earlier portraits were very expensive and took a long time to get the exposure needed. Therefore it is common to see elaborate or fancy clothing and flat expressions. In the 1880s to 1900s, cameras started becoming available to the general public and were accessible to more walks of life. We start to see more portraits of people in their profession or portraits of indigenous people in their native attire; the rise of photo-journalism. While everyone still seemed to try to look their best for their portraits, fashion and sultry glamour shots seem to appear more around the 1920s.
Since then, photography has come a long way. Some fads you might still see remnants of around your grandparent's houses are the 70’s double exposures, 80’s neon backgrounds and 90's Glamour Shots dreamy vignettes and flashy clothing. The methods and styles have changed and expanded over the years especially since professional grade cameras are more affordable for amateurs. Take a look at some of the examples below.
Depending on your profession you’ll likely need some sort of identification portrait, and also may get a portrait taken for your business. This is especially noticeable in certain recognizable professions, like government workers. These are flattering, posed photos with focus on the person and a subtle, single-color backdrop, but may incorporate an item or two pertaining to the job. (Government portraits may have the country or state flag included, for example.)
In today’s world we need ID photos for several things. We all are familiar with our license portraits for drinking and (separately of course) driving, getting into movies, or using our credit cards. We also need a license or passport for getting flying or renting a car. Government jobs may also require additional ID beyond the publicity photos of the staff. To enter certain government buildings in the US you’ll need an ID specific to the government body running the space, and to shop at certain stores, live on a military base, etc, you may be expected to have a military ID proving your rank or involvement. These tend to be focused on realism with a plain background.
Sometimes in a studio, sometimes made from another image, these photos are often busts or half-body shots taken to display at funerals, wakes, or memorials. A common style throughout several generations is adding a vignette--the faded border in black, white, or fading to background--around the edge to draw focus to the person. High contrast and sharpening can also help to make a headstone engraving more clear.
Image courtesy of MemorialPhotoCanvas.com
Used especially in entertainment jobs, headshots typically convey more than just identification. They’re used by casting directors to recognize the person, but also to see if they fit the vision of the character. Because of this there are more than one type of headshot depending on the person and the types of jobs or projects they’re involved with. Actors, for instance, may have a commercial (for commercial, tv, and film work), a theatrical (for live theater jobs), and possibly a comedic headshot as well. While most entertainment headshots focus on the actor’s face and “look” some incorporate other things for specific roles. A clown or mime headshot might be a bit wider and have them in full makeup with some of their props.
It’s picture day! Most of us have experienced the excitement (or stress) of school picture day. Depending on the area your school may include extra-curricular activity items, such as a baseball bat or glove, and usually have a simple studio backdrop. Some schools require a uniform or a semi-formal look and usually have a pose requirement for consistency.
Another school photo type is the Senior Photo. While the popularity of this tradition seems to ebb and flow in most of America, you can still find professional photographers offering the service, often on par with engagement photos. These photos end up in the yearbook and passed out by proud parents of the graduating class, incorporating hobbies, activities, and scholastic success. A great way to show off and celebrate one more time before moving on to college.
Those of us who played club or school sports likely experienced team picture day. Depending on how much your parents cared about you or your athletic career the photographers had different tiers of photograph packages. The default, lowest tier package almost always had a team photo and a one-shot portrait to commemorate your sports season. It’s fun to look back on a team photo and see how many kids you remember and see if any of them continued playing over the years.
Candid Sometimes the best portraits are candid shots. When we at our most natural and relaxed state, this can often highlight our best features. If you have a photo you would love to make a portrait, we can help recreate backgrounds, remove other people or objects in the image, or simply restore an original portrait to its best quality!
The selfie is much more prevalent now with social media as we are always connected and sharing our current state of being or doing. The camera phone is really what launched this portrait style into popularity and with technology becoming more and more advanced, we are getting much better quality photos of ourselves. These have very similar poses or faces that are common to selfies like the "duck face" or the "kissy face". Throw on a smile and you can keep snapping away until you take one that you like.
US military portraits have stayed quite consistent over the years. Keeping the general style, structure, and aesthetic isn’t something we often see with things like photography, but it makes sense with the military. We’ve all seen these. A medium close-up of the service member in their full uniform often with their country's flag or the flag of their military branch behind them. These are usually taken during boot camp, and may not be taken again for many years or until a rank advancement, if at all.
Whatever your portrait style, do whatever you can to pass it on to the next generation to enjoy! If your photo is in need of any photo restoration, retouching, or even recreating, our professional service is available for one flat rate price photo editing.
For professional assistance with any photo restoration, retouching, or recreation, please visit us at www.PhotoRepairPro.com