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Capturing Personality in Portraiture

Portraiture-Personality.jpgThe following guest post on capturing personality in portraiture was submitted by Christina Dickson, a portrait photographer and photography instructor from Portland, Oregon. Her work can be seen at: www.christinanicholephotography.com.

Question: What’s the difference between the generic “take your pictures in 20 minutes” portrait studio’s in every mall, and the portrait artists who make hundreds of dollars on a single portrait session?


The end goal of many generic portrait studios is to make a sale.

For successful portrait artists, capturing personality is the end goal.

Great portraitists know how to capture personality, and that is how they make their money.

Capturing personality is an exciting challenge, but it is not impossible. All it takes is attention to detail, and genuine care about your subject as an individual.

First, Investigate

Spend some time getting to know your subject

Portraiture-Personality-Nicole.jpgBefore every shoot, ask questions with sincere interest. Is your client dramatic, or laid back? Do they like quiet moments, or bold statements? Are they more likely to be found surfing a wave, or sitting in a library? Imagine how unprofitable it would be for you to take portraits of a book-worm in the middle of a skate park! You won’t find out about these details unless you inquire.

When I met up with Nicole (pictured left), we spent some time scoping out the location of our shoot at the Dallas Arboretum. As we walked, we talked about her interests, and her pursuits. I found out that while she was a very chic and adventuresome girl, she also had a really soft feminine side that could be captured perfectly in a garden setting. I also noticed that she had a tendency to brush back her side-swept bangs when she was feeling shy. Though this motion seems to be spontaneous in the portrait, it is actually very signature to her personality.

Second, Observe

Watch your subject as you interact with them

Find out their little tendencies. Do they favor one side of their face more than another? Do they blink a lot? Do they like a serious expression more than a smile? If you can find these hidden “signatures”, you will be empowered to capture your client’s personality like no one else.

Third, Engage

If you truly want to highlight your clients’ personality, you will draw them out of their skin.

Portraiture-Personality-Caleb.jpgWhile you are shooting, guide them through the emotions you want to capture with your conversation. Talk to them. Laugh with them. Entertain them. People are most readily themselves with someone they can be comfortable with. Endeavor to be that person.

Unbeknownst to me, Caleb (pictured right) was an aspiring filmmaker who liked very few portraits of himself. As I shot, I chatted with him as friend-to-friend, catching smiles and glances that really defined who he was as an every day person. When Caleb received the prints, he told me that this was his favorite portrait ever taken, because it reminded him of a portrait of his icon, and role model, film maker Mel Gibson.

If you want to be a successful, high income, portrait photographer, remember that your job is to show people the way they see themselves … their personality – and in the most flattering way possible. If you capture the personality of your subjects well, they will tell their friends about you and will continue coming back to you again and again.

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Christina N Dickson
Christina N Dickson

is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

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