Portrait Photography In Australia

Your Guide To Portrait Photography

This article will over various aspects of portrait photography including the history, equipment used, styles and different types of portraits.

Portrait Photography Australian Guide

Portrait photography also known as portraiture is photography that displays the expression, mood and personality of the subject i.e. a person or a group of people. The focus of portrait photography is usually on the face although the photography may sometimes capture the entire body and background. Although portraiture is widespread worldwide, our focus in this article will be on Australia. Let’s first take a closer look into the history of portrait photography in Australia before discussing other important aspects of this style of photography.


Portrait photography in Australia and the world at large dates back to the invention of the camera. Although portrait photography had been there for a long time, it wasn’t until mid 19th century that the photography became more popular than painted portraiture. This was attributed to the reduced sitting time for subjects as well as the availability of cheap daguerreotype.

The First Camera In The World

The style of portraiture in the early days reflected technical challenges associated with prolonged exposure times as well as painterly aesthetics of the time. Subjects sat on plain backgrounds lit using soft light from an overhead window or anything else that could be reflected with mirrors. With time, advancements were made allowing photographers to capture images using shorter exposure times as well as make portraits outside studios.

The first ever photograph to be taken in Australia dates back to 1841. Although the photograph is now lost, it was taken by a naval captain called Augustin Lucas. The photograph featured the bridge street. The earliest surviving portrait photography taken in Australia is a daguerreotype portrait of William Bland. The portrait photograph was taken by George Baron Goodman in 1845.

Portrait Of Dr William Bland 1845

The mid-20th century paved way for modern photography in Australia. This period saw a major influx of people from Europe including Helmut Newton, Wolfgang Sievers and Henry Talbot. They all settled in Melbourne bringing with them modern photography aesthetics as well as new skills in photography from their applied arts training from influential schools such as Berlin’s Contempora and Reimann schools. A very vibrant and creative photography culture emerged prompting many photographers to set up commercial studios around Collins Street which was a thriving arts precinct.

After the war, Helmut Newton and Wolfgang Sievers set up studios in Flinders Lane and Collins Street respectively. Other influential photographers who followed suite include; Norman Ikin and Athol Shmith. Today, Australia’s entire photography industry including portrait photography is highly competitive. Today there are between 350 and 500 small photo studios in every major city in Australia.

Different styles of portraits

There are a range of techniques and styles for creating portrait photography. In most cases, photographers concentrate on capturing a sharp focus on the area of the face and eyes and using a softer focus on the background areas of the subject. It is however important to note that other individual features can be the main focus of portrait photography i.e. the hands or part of the torso. Let’s now turn out focus to one of the most important aspects of portrait photography i.e. lighting.

Lighting for portraiture

Lighting For Portraiture

Portrait photographs captured in studio’s give the photographer control over lighting i.e. the photographer can adjust the intensity as well as the direction of light to ensure the subject is captured perfectly. There are very many ways to light a subject in portrait photography. The most commonly used lights/lighting include; three-point lighting, key light, fill light, accent light, kicker light, butterfly lighting, accessory lighting and background lights.

It’s important to note that most modern photography utilises some sort of flash. Portrait photography lighting is usually diffused by bouncing it using a soft box or umbrella. A soft box is simply a fabric box made using translucent fabric which offers softer light which is more appealing than harsh light.


Camera Lenses

Camera Lenses For Portraits

Portrait photography utilises cameras with superior lenses. It’s important to note that the type of camera isn’t really relevant if the lens isn’t suitable for portrait photography. Lenses which are suitable for portraits should be medium telephoto lenses which are classically fast. Since there are very many camera models today which are specifically made for portraiture, it shouldn’t be a problem getting a camera with a lens that fits different artistic purposes.

There are however a few recommendations to consider.

Focal Length

The most popular classic focal length for portrait photography ranges from 80 to 135 mm on 135 film format & 150 to 400 mm on large format. This kind of field of view is perfect for flattening perspective distortion especially when the subject of a portrait is framed to include the head and shoulders.

Wider angle lenses i.e. lenses with shorter focal length require photographs to be taken from close distance. Wide angle lenses or fish-eye lenses should be used to get an artistic effect i.e. when producing a grotesque image. Longer focal length should be used for greater flattening since they are used from far away. This obviously results in communication challenges. This explains why loudspeakers among other communication devices are necessary when taking photography using long focal length settings.


In regards to speed, fast lenses are the best for portrait photos since they allow a shallow depth of field i.e. they blur the background isolating the subject from everything including the background. This is extremely useful when photos is being taken in the absence of a back drop behind a subject or when the background is low quality or distracting.

Many camera models i.e. Nikon allow photographers to have control over this aspect popularly known as defocus control. Wide apertures are rarely used because of their shallow field of depth. The maximum aperture should therefore be f/2 or f/1.8 for sharp eyes but a soft nose and ears.


In regards to cost, portrait lenses are usually cheaper since they can be built simply and are used close to normal range. Normal lenses (50 mm) are the cheapest kinds of portrait lenses and can start from $50 upwards. These types of lenses are usually used on cropped sensors. A good example is the Canon EF50 mm f/1.8 II. This lens is the cheapest but one of the best Canon lens in the market for taking portrait photographs it starts at around $100.


Types of portrait photographs

There are many types of portraits. The most common types include;

  • Newborn
  • Family
  • Pet
  • Children
  • Corporate headshots


Newborn portraits

Newborn Portrait Photography

As the name suggests, these are portraits for newborn babies. The importance and popularity of newborn portrait photography has grown as parents want to capture these moments as babies grow extremely fast. Newborn portraits are also among the most cherished types of portraits for obvious reasons. Although there are professional photographers who specialise in newborn portraits, it is possible for anyone with a good camera to take good newborn portrait photographs. You just need to be equipped with some tips.

Below are some important tips to consider when you want to take good newborn portraits.

1. Determine the purpose:

This is one of the most important tips to consider when taking newborn portraits. Newborn portraits are usually taken for many purposes some of the most common being; for documenting or announcing purposes. Newborn portraits taken for documenting purposes can be taken using any style, anytime and anywhere. For announcing purposes, newborn portraits need some planning since such portraits may be used professionally i.e. in baby magazines.

2. Focus on the details:

This is another important tip to consider. The best newborn portraits are those that capture the slightest details from the tinny hands and toes of a newborn to the bald head and small eyes. The best way to capture the slightest details is using a sharp focus. The closer you are to the subject the better.

3. Stop worrying:

It’s normal to be worried when taking newborn portraits for obvious reasons i.e. because newborns are fragile. You shouldn’t however let worrying compromise your end result. You should focus on ensuring the baby is comfortable before you begin the shoot. It’s also important to allow free movement since this is where the magic lies.

Family portraits

Family Portrait Photography

Family portraits are portraits featuring relatives. Like newborn portraits, family portraits also present their own unique challenges. It’s important to note that owning a good camera doesn’t translate to taking good family portraits. One of the most unique challenges of family portraits lies in capturing everyone. Other challenges revolve around coordinating clothing and background settings. Below are some of the most important tips to consider when you want to take exemplary family portraits.

1. Squish people together:

Family portraits are simply portraits of people and their families. Since the portraits are supposed to capture many people together, you must consider getting everyone close enough to each other. This tip is essential for creating warmth as well as ensuring everyone is captured clearly within the frame.

2. Coordinate clothing:

It is also important to ensure that clothing is coordinated in family portraits. Family portraits must therefore be planned in advance to avoid overlapping color schemes as well as eliminating any extreme colours, logos and prints on clothing. Contrary to popular belief, coordinating clothing goes along way.

3. Make it fun:

Family portraits should be fun featuring genuine smiles. You must therefore remember to encourage your subjects to smile. Families are all about happiness. A family portrait with smiling faces will always come out better than one without. As a photographer, you should go as far as making jokes just to capture genuine smiles.

4. Remember to blur the background:

A large aperture setting is the best for family portraits since it shifts all the focus to the subjects and not the background. You can use the zoom and preview screen button to ensure everyone looks good before proceeding to other adjustments i.e. aperture.

Pet portraits

Pet Portraits

Pet portraits are simply portraits featuring pets. Pet portraits are usually challenging because of the nature of pets i.e. they are uneasy. Unlike humans, you can’t tell a pet what to do. Pets don’t pose for cameras. It’s also hard to predict their next move. This poses a great challenge. It’s however possible to take good pet portraits by following some simple tips below.

1. Use natural light:

When taking pet portraits avoid using flashes at all costs since flash bursts can frighten pets and cause the red-eye effect. You should try to take pet portraits outside or near a window that brings in plenty of natural light.

2. Focus on the eyes:

Although it is possible to take exemplary pet portraits by focusing on other aspects of a pet, the best pet portraits are those that capture the eyes. Pets are usually very expressive. You should therefore focus on their eyes to get the best outcome.

3. Make your pet feel comfortable:

This is another important tip to consider when taking pet portraits. Instead of forcing your pet to come to you or pose in a certain manner, it’s better to make your pet feel as comfortable as possible. This explains why it is important to seek the assistance of the pet owner and ensure the pet is well fed before you attempt to take any photos.

4. Be patient:

As mentioned above, pets can’t take directions. It is therefore important to be very patient. You should take as much time as possible to get the perfect shots because pets take time to relax.

Corporate headshots

Corporate Headshots

A corporate headshot can be defined as a personal portrait taken for marketing purposes. Corporate headshots are usually used by employees and business people on professional platforms such as business websites, networking sites such as LinkedIn, business cards etc. Corporate headshots are important because your prospective employers or clients usually do background research before they decide to contact you.

Professionally done corporate headshots for company websites, LinkedIn etc. can easily inspire people to contact you because they feature smart outfits and clear images. It’s important to note that your image matters a lot when you get employed or win business. People are usually turned off by poor images & pictures for obvious reasons. This explains why you should consider seeking the services of professional corporate headshot photographers.

When going for a corporate headshot, you must ensure you dress your best. Although there are different kinds of corporate headshots depending on factors such as your line of work, the best corporate headshots should feature formal clothing. Corporate headshots should also make the subject look as trustworthy, professional and approachable as possible.


Final Thoughts

The above article summarises everything you need to know about portrait photography from the history to the types and important tips to consider. We hope you enjoyed reading, please feel free to share it. There is more to portrait photography than what is discussed above. It is therefore advisable to use this article as a basis for further research.


1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photography_in_Australia

2. http://www.iportraitphotography.com.au/

3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_photography

4. http://photo.net/learn/portraits/intro

5. http://digital-photography-school.com/portrait-photography-tips/

6. http://acmssearch.sl.nsw.gov.au/s/search.html?collection=slnsw

7. http://www.digitaltrends.com/photography/a-crash-course-in-interchangeable-camera-lenses/