How to tell a story through portrait photography

What’s the difference between a headshot photo and a portrait? I think it all boils down to one thing: Does it tell a story? HOW do you tell a story through portrait photography?

When is a photo NOT a portrait?

Lerone Pieters on Unsplash ” class=”wp-image-174405″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/photofocus.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/lerone-pieters-6OOU-VK2bhU-unsplash.jpg?resize=493%2C740&ssl=1 493w, https://i0.wp.com/photofocus.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/lerone-pieters-6OOU-VK2bhU-unsplash.jpg?resize=333%2C500&ssl=1 333w, https://i0.wp.com/photofocus.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/lerone-pieters-6OOU-VK2bhU-unsplash.jpg?resize=100%2C150&ssl=1 100w, https://i0.wp.com/photofocus.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/lerone-pieters-6OOU-VK2bhU-unsplash.jpg?resize=1024%2C1536&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/photofocus.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/lerone-pieters-6OOU-VK2bhU-unsplash.jpg?w=1067&ssl=1 1067w” sizes=”(max-width: 493px) 100vw, 493px” data-mwl-img-id=”174405″ data-recalc-dims=”1″/>
Photo by Lerone Pieters on Unsplash

Anyone can take a photo these days, as practically everyone has a camera on their smartphone. Not to mention the infinite number of DSLR and mirrorless cameras out there. Street photography captures a moment in time, but that doesn’t necessarily tell you a story of WHO the person really is. Or does it? I think that in the right circumstances, a street photo could tell a story.

Personal branding and headshots are more often than not stylized and professional, even clinical. Yes, you may be able to discern a person’s profession from their headshot, but not always. But, is there a story there? When it comes to environmental portraits, that can become a whole new level of storytelling. It depends on the story being told.

If you can look at an image of a person but there is no message or no story there, is it a photo or a portrait?

Me by Yvette Petheridge

What is a portrait?

Portrait photography is all about trying to capture the personality, identity, soul, and even emotions of a person. Trying to tell a story about their life, their art, their passion. Generally, it is head and shoulders, but not always. If you want to add a story, try including something about that person, like a painter’s hand covered in paint holding a palette. Or a photographer holding their camera. These tell more of a story of their passion than a blank stare.

There are three main types of portraits: standard poses, candid and creative or conceptual. But there are also environmental portraits — surely, they can convey a story and passion about a person’s work? The story doesn’t have to be overly complicated. The composition, the lighting, hair and clothes can also elevate and help tell a story too.

So regardless of whether it’s a creative or candid portrait, an environmental or conceptual portrait, ask yourself, does it tell a story? Or does it make the viewer come up with their own story?

The Struggle to save oneself

I don’t have all the answers and honestly mostly this is just my opinion. But ask yourself, are you taking just a photo or is it a portrait with meaning and story? What can you add to the image to help tell the story? There is nothing wrong with taking a photo. Just look at the fashion industry. But I believe that if you are taking someone’s portrait, you need to make a connection, not just between you and your subject, or your camera and the subject. Is there a connection between your subject and the viewer as well?