Thoughts About Developing a Portrait Style

by | Sep 3, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

In my book Studio Lighting Anywhere I quote Richard Avedon who once said, “I think all art is about control—the encounter between control and the uncontrollable.” That’s what a dedicated studio, no matter what size it may be or where it may be located, can offer a photographer.

You own shooting space becomes a safe haven from the real world where, to paraphrase the Outer Limits voice, you can control the lighting, the background and subject. Even my small 11×15-foot in-home studio, where many of my current portrait and glamour images, including today’s were made, is a retreat for creativity and, I think, the best place to develop a portrait style.

When working in this environment, I control everything from the subject’s pose, clothing choices and make-up with the resulting photographs tending to be as much a portrait of myself as they are of my subjects. Or as my friend Rick Sammon likes to say, “the camera points both ways.” And what often emerges from that control is a style.



How I made this shoot: I photographed Madi Wilde while she was still in high school. (He mom attended the session.) The setup I used was a (no longer available) Westcott D5 fluorescent lighting head with all bulbs illuminated, that’s since been replaced by their uLite LED 2-Light Collapsible Softbox Kit that I do not currently own.

The light was placed directly behind a Savage Translum background and aimed toward the subject, while a second D5 and softbox was placed at camera right with three lamps turned on. Final exposure required a higher than normal ISO (800) plus two stops of exposure compensation. For the portrait of Kat Wilde in red against the Translum backdrop, I used a Panasonic Lumix GH4 with Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 lens with an exposure of 1/125 sec at f/2.8 and ISO 800

Having a personal photographic style is not something that I’m conscious about when shooting portraits but the truth is that over time we all develop a signature way of shooting. The danger, of course, is that we keep shooting that same way or different versions of the same shot for the rest of our lives so any style you develop must grow and change as you learn to make better portraits.

If you’re interested in learning how I shoot portraits and use cameras, lenses and lighting in my in-home studio and on location, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere that’s available new from for $29.66 or starting at $22.96 used, as I write this. The Kindle version is $19.99 for those preferring a digital format.

Here’s a special offer: The next reader who signs up for a Supporter or VIP membership account on my Patreon will receive a free, signed copy of my book Posing for Portrait & Glamour Photography.