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What is your favorite type of portrait?

Updated: Feb 22

bridal portrait during sunset at crest center and pavilion

One could say that pictures come in all shapes and sizes. In fact, if we wanted to break it down into the super finites details we could likely come with up dozens of way to categorize types of portraits/pictures. Was it candid? Was it traditional? Was it editorial? Was is moody? Was it bright and airy? Was it dramatic? Was it whimsical? Was it natural? Our favorite way to define portraits is to break them into 3 main categories. Close ups, Full bodies, and Environmental portraits. Why we like to break it down into these 3 categories is because from here you can get more specific. These 3 are basically the root for which all of your other descriptions are going to arise. Some circles refer to these as tight, medium, and wide and while most professional photographers will know exactly what you mean, for the masses, that vague description can be a little confusing. We find it super helpful for couples planning for their vision board for their big day or engagement session. It gives them a starting point for what it is they love about photos they’ve seen or how they want you to focus on much of their session/wedding day, especially when it comes to portraits. For instance, in the past we’ve had clients try to describe environmental portraits and it usually comes out something like this: “Well, we really like those photos where, like, we’re there, but like we’re not the most prominent thing, I don’t know if that makes sense, like we are in the photos but we’re really small and it shows a lot of what’s around us, does that make sense?” Photographers reading this are likely laughing right now because this has probably happened to them, and couples reading this are likely thinking “Hey that’s what I like too.” How much easier would it just be to just describe these are environmental portraits? Our job as professional photographers is not to just show up and capture awesome images, but to educate. By teaching our clients some of the lingo and terminology it can go a long way towards bridging the communication gap and making sure our couples and families love their images! It can also cut down on any mis communications back and forth when it turns out you were likely on the same page all along. Our couples already know, we send out mood boards to help them better communicate their vision, but for those who haven’t started yet, and for couples out there trying to figure out how to best communicate with their photographers, we think these will be helpful visuals to get you started. Environmental Portraits Since we’ve already mentioned these above, we will go ahead and dive right in. Environmental portraits are portraits where you incorporate much of the surroundings or background. How I describe to a lot of our couples is think of it as a landscape photo with a couple in it. While it may be an engagement or wedding day, these style portraits are also about the scenery, the landscape, or city scape, and sometimes they may even be the main focus. Typically the couple will take up very little space the frame of the image. They may be very tiny or they may take up a quarter or third of the image depending on the overall composition and what the photographer is trying to capture. Living in a beautiful place like Asheville makes it so convenient to capture these kind of images. In fact photographers travel from far and wide just to capture sessions at one of the many options we have in this area. Something interesting we noticed is we get a lot of our couples requesting more environmental portraits for their engagement photos and then more full body to closeups on their wedding day. These are the images that usually make up large wall art prints or full to double page album spreads.

bride and groom dancing on a hill side
bride and groom holding hands and walking in front of a yellow tree
groom twirling bride
dramatic lighting portrait in the woods
couple dip kissing in front of the biltmore
engaged couple holding each other close on the edge of a cliff
couple looking at each other and smiling at the biltmore
bridal portrait in front of an old brick building
bride and groom holding each other close

Close up Portraits These are probably the easiest to describe. Close up portraits are going to be defined by being a bit more cropped/zoomed in. The couple is going to take up the majority of the image and something will be cropped off/out like your legs, or cropping at your waist. Close up portraits allow us to focus on one particular thing in an image, you, or maybe even closer up like capturing details of your attire. These are the images that we notice most often make up our couple’s profile pictures on social media and the 8x10 orders from their galleries. They can be candid in nature or more traditional, and they are definitely foundational for portrait photography.

Fully Body Portraits Now that you know what environmental portraits are and close ups, we’ll transition to full body portraits, or right in the middle. These are characterized by showing the subjects entire body but not being quite as wide angle as an environmental portrait, though these could still fall under the category of being considered environmental or close up, even though they are not quite as close up. For us, they are the best of both worlds. For most of our couples, these usually make up the wow images in their albums. They are usually balanced by having the couple take up a third of the image while the background or environment takes up the rest if they are landscape orientation. For portrait orientation images the couple usually takes up most of the frame. These are the most popular images for our couples in terms of print orders and social media ‘likes’.

couple holding hands and walking in the mountains
groom kissing bride on the temple
groom holding bride in front of a waterfall
bride licking the groom's ear as he laughs
man holding his pregnant wife
couple holding hands and walking at the biltmore
traditional portrait of a married couple in front of a waterfall
man holding his fiance from behind

As you read and scrolled through these you were probably thinking 'heck, I like a little bit of all of those,' and for different reasons. We believe this is true of most couples and certainly with the overwhelmingly majority of our clients the last 5 years. Most people want a balance of images when it comes to their sessions. We believe having that variety of close ups, full body, and environmental portraits will usually lead to a more well rounded album and greater client satisfaction. While it is true that some people will request a few more of one vs another, most people want a healthy mix of all three. For us, it’s also much more of a storytelling approach. I would have to say our favorite is constantly varying. Sometimes it’s an intimate close up, other times it’s a scenic environmental portrait but it’s constantly evolving with our work. As you start planning for your engagement and your wedding, keep these big 3 in mind when it comes to figuring out what it is you want out of your images and exactly how to describe them!

Joe and Jenny

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