Mastering the Art of Portrait Photography

Portrait photography… Do we shoot portraits in portrait or landscape configuration? There is an art to creating a good portrait through a lens either on a smartphone or a full camera system. This article will …

Club 4X4 Insurance
Jan 26 2023

Portrait photography… Do we shoot portraits in portrait or landscape configuration?

There is an art to creating a good portrait through a lens either on a smartphone or a full camera system. This article will not be dealing into every aspect of portraiture but will assist as a great starting point for you the photographer to launch from and expand your style.

It can be extremely rewarding to capture an individual’s personality in a single image, both for you as the photographer, for the person photographed and for their friends and family. This essentially is a way of preserving history, as every image you capture of other people can be referred to in the future.

You will know when you have captured a great image of another person. I must admit, sometimes it is one of the most rewarding things you could do for both the individual and their loved ones.

We have photographed an event called Tuff Truck many times over the years, and in between the action, I make a point of photographing as many people in the crowd as I possibly can. Sometimes the shots are candid and sometimes the people are fully aware that I am photographing them.

I will always show the image captured from a candid shot to ensure they are ok with it, but after the event, we will post the action shots from over 60 competition vehicles doing crazy thinks and also the people shots. It has always surprised me at how many views the people images receive compared to the action shots. The people images are viewed more than all the vehicle shots combined.

Just what does this actually mean?

I believe that people love seeing images of themselves and their friends at an official event like this. Something almost like a souvenir.

But at the end of the day, the most successful images at an event like Tuff Truck with over 10,000 people turning up to watch the action, are the photos of the people who have turned up to see the action.

As a side note… I had a family member of a guy who passed away, request from me an image I captured at Tuff Truck many years ago to use at his funeral. The family said it was the best image they have of him which showed his beautiful smile. This gives us some idea of the impact an image captured of an individual can have sometime in the future.

The traditional portrait.

Now I must admit, although I am a fan of traditional photography, I enjoy taking things to another level and doing things a little different. Obviously, this depends on the situation, but sometimes its important to step it up and create a different look. This is the best thing about being the photographer as you can do whatever you like to create an image in your own style.

A slight rotation of the lens to be “out of level” will provide a different look.

Or maybe even a little bit more to include or feature an object like the gecko in the subjects hand.

But there are many misconceptions around portraiture and how to do it to create the best results.

So, lets dive deeper … What exactly is a portrait?

It can be quite confusing, as typical to the English language, a single word can have multiple meanings.

If you look it up in the dictionary, the word portrait will have multiple meanings.

As a noun a portrait relates to a photograph, artwork or sculpture, a pictorial representation of a person usually showing the face.

As an adjective, it relates to the orientation of an image capture being of longer vertical dimensions than that of its horizontal dimensions.

In photography, this could become quite confusing. When instructing a photographer to create a portrait capture of a person. This could mean that you are after a photograph traditionally known as a portrait… a photograph of a person in portrait orientation consisting of mainly their head and shoulders… It could also mean that you are after a full body shot captured in portrait orientation.

Now if you ask most photographers what to expect from a portrait shot, this is the kind of image you should expect, it would be a shot much like this… a portrait in a portrait orientation.

Now I am not saying that there is anything wrong with an image like this at all, but I believe people should try to experience other options and explore a different style of portraiture.

There is such a strong belief that a portrait should be captured in portrait orientation and an art to creating a good portrait through a lens. But there are also many misconceptions around how to do it to create great results. Yes, sometimes it’s important to shoot in a vertical orientation.

However, there are other times you can create a much better image to “tell a story” by shooting a portrait in a landscape configuration.

There is absolutely no set rule, you will need to figure this out for yourself, but it is in my opinion that many times, a story of a person in a location can be better told with this landscape configuration. This will include a background providing the viewer more of an insight to what environment the subject is in with potentially the out of focus background becoming a wash of colour and light ensuring the viewer looks at what is important in the scene, the subject in focus. This is where we utilise the bigger apertures creating a shorter depth of field. But more about that in another article as I don’t want to lose to many people here.

Again, it doesn’t matter whether you you’re using a smart phone or a full camera setup as the same rules apply. A quick tip. If you are using an iPhone, look into the features of Portrait mode in the camera set-up as you can create some amazing looks.

Something important to consider.

Your lens is extremely important. When photographing people, ensure that you’re not shooting close-ups of people with the wide-angle lens as the following results can be quite unflattering.

Whilst the wide-angle lens is fantastic for landscape, photography, it should be rarely used when taking close-up portraits. Unfortunately, the use of a wide angle lens will create characteristics of people, including, a larger nose, puffy cheeks, or potentially a distorted head. I have actually seen an image on a corporate billboard where the photographer had used a wide angled lens and unfortunately, the subject now forever has puffy facial features for all the world to see.

So, when you’re using a smart phone keep it at the 1X or 2X lenses and when close to the individual, never go wide. When using a camera setup with a choice of lenses, something with a magnification equal to around 50 mm or greater, will have a better desired effect, resulting in a more realistic look of the subject. You might even like to try what I say is incorrect so that you can see it for yourself.


Composition is extremely important to portrait photography.

The rule of thirds can often be applied to assist in creating space in the portrait. This is extremely important when shooting in a landscape format.

In the following example, here you can see the individual is in the scene with a flood of colour in the background. You may notice a continuing theme throughout all the images in this article. The subject is usually always facing back into the image.

In other words, there is space in front of the persons face. I personally feel that this is a better look as it gives a better position when the individual is facing into the image, and into the scene. These two examples, following show how much better it looks when the individual is looking into the image and not out of the image area altogether.

The rule of thirds can be better applied in portrait photography, with landscape orientation than that of portrait orientation, as it enables the photographer to create more space in front of the subject giving a little more breathing room.

Help your kids understand this one as it will help them enjoy photography much more.

I hope all this makes sense, and I would love to hear your feedback.

So, next time you have an opportunity to explore portrait photography, give the landscape configurations a try.

I really hope that you enjoy this approach.


-Michael Ellem

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