What is a portrait? - part 1 of 1 2 3

by Rick Friedman Published 01/12/2016


Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) speaks to delegates at the Federation of State and Provincial Fire Fighters Association Bi-Annual Meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire May 11, 2007.

I’m not sure I am qualified to give the definitive answer, but I can share what a portrait is to me. A portrait is a single frame that tells a story. It can be in a studio or on location. It can be lit by the photographer, be available light or a mixture of both.

It can be set up or a moment in time. For a portrait to succeed there needs to be a connection between the photographer and the subject. There also needs to be a connection between viewer and the subject. Was the photographer able to capture a feeling, emotion, or insight into his or her subject? Does the photograph convey those feelings to the viewer? The photograph has to be striking and pull the viewer in. Portraits are a brief connection, whetherplanned or not.


Very much in keeping with the astrophotography feature in this issue of Imagemaker, Professor John Kovac of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics at Clay Telescope at the Harvard University Science Center in Cambridge, MA on March 24, 2014.

As a photojournalist, magazine photographer and movie photographer, I have many assignments that do not originate as portrait assignments but the result is often a portrait. When I am out covering presidential politics, my job is to cover the story and making a portrait is often part of the coverage. If I am out shooting a business story, science story, or an education story, portraits become a major part of the spread. While working on long-term reportage projects, portraits of certain individuals became an important part of the story.

The photograph may not be a set up portrait, it may just be a moment in time and yet the photograph of that moment is a portrait. A portrait can draw the readers into an article often like no other photographs can.

I like photographing my subjects in their environment, although I don’t always get to work that way. The placement of the subject with their environment gives the viewer more of a connection to the person in the photograph.

Preparation for your shoots starts before you leave the studio.

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1st Published 01/12/2016
last update 07/04/2022 09:16:02

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