The Art and Science of Portraits


  • Portraits are the mainstay of the professional photographer. Learning to take good portraits is a skill that will serve you for the rest of your life.

  • Light, background choice, and posing are the biggest keys to a successful portrait. In this assignment you will learn these fundamentals and you will have the chance to create portraits that you can be proud of.


  • The goal of this project is to acquire the knowledge necessary to master "available lighting" for portraits.
    1. Learn how to take great pictures without any electric lighting
    2. What are reflectors and how can they improve your portraits?
    3. Learn about backlighting, rimlighting, silhouettes, and frontal lighting
    4. Learn about headshots, group shots and full-length portraits
    5. Choosing a pose, using props, and using backgrounds
    6. Learn about colour theory and how colours affect our emotions


  • Download this form and copy/paste it to your Google Docs journal
  • Use the Internet to research portrait photography and answer the questions
  • Apply what you've learned to a series of available-light portraits with a partner
  • Get feedback from classmates
  • Re-shoot as necessary
  • Apply the Photoshop Workflow
  • Add a border
  • Save as JPEG, maximum quality
  • Hand-in photos for each of the skills assigned to "10 Portraits" folder

1) Content

You will be taking a lot of portraits for this assignment. The idea is to learn through practicing. The more pictures you take, the more you will start to feel confident creating portraits, choosing backgrounds, using light, using props, directing models, and choosing the best camera settings.

The idea isn't to take a perfect shot for each assigned skill. Instead, take the shots with the knowledge that you will get better and better with each shutter release.

Put your research to work at this stage. Apply the hints and tips that you read about. Experiment, be creative, and have fun.

You must hand-in one of each of the following shots per group of two. Use backgrounds and props at your discretion. You may only use available (non-electric) light.

Most portraits will be head and shoulders. The background should generally be pleasantly blurry. Make sure to choose attractive backgrounds (mostly nature). Each image you hand in should be unique. Go for a variety of models, outfits, and poses.

1. Fully facing the camera - evenly lit

2. Facing camera with shadows on one side of the face

3. 7/8 View (eyes to camera)

4. 2/3 View (eyes to camera)

5. Looking away from the camera

6. Profile (one side of face)

7. Full-length portrait, posed outdoors

8. Silhouette, posed outdoors - pure black subject

9. Posed couple - looking professional (look at samples)

10. Posed group (3 or more) - look at samples first!

2) Marking

Marks will be assigned as follows:

Internet Research - 50 marks

Completion of 10 framed portraits, demonstrating the required skills, with a reasonable effort at creativity - 100 marks

3) Professionalism

Professionalism is based on the attention paid to the accurate and careful presentation of the final project. Marks may be deducted for a lack of professionalism.

This project will be handed in as follows:

  • Partner submission - 10 properly named JPG photos submitted to the "Portraits - Outdoor" folder on the server
  • You must NOT over-manipulate the images
  • Add a frame with your name, a title, and the month, year
  • Hand in as a JPG
  • Put your 10 images in a folder and hand the folder in

Proper naming of partner portraits:

  • 1.jpg
  • 2.jpg
  • etc

4) Links

Portrait Gallery

Gallery #2

Gallery #3

Gallery #4

Great Portraits - Flickr Pool

Flickriver Portrait Gallery

Flickriver Senior Portraits

Flickriver More Portraits

Flickriver Portrait Pool