What Is a Formal Portrait?

Written by john london
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What Is a Formal Portrait?
Formal photography portraits often resemble a painting. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

A formal portrait is a posed picture of a person or a group of people. It focuses on clearly showing facial features and may be designed to highlight a certain characteristic of the subject, such as occupation or personality. Formal portraits are different from informal ones, which show the subject in casual poses, possibly looking away or engaged in some activity. It is a long-standing method to capture professional-looking images.

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Early Painted Portraits

Before the age of photography, people sat and had their pictures painted as a way to preserve their likeness. Drawings and paintings were the only visual record they had, so portraits were highly prized. In fact, only the wealthy could afford to pay an artist to paint their portrait. As the middle-class population began to wish for their own pictures, the miniature-portrait was born. Silhouettes also became very popular.

Contemporary Painted Portraits

It is still possible to get your portrait painted or drawn. Some people prefer the old-fashioned medium, and there are always artists ready to accommodate them. If you choose to have your portrait done this way, you will have to sit for a few hours while the artist makes sketches and takes pictures. The work will be finished with the help of pictures, but you must go back for a final touch-up before it is ready.

Early Photograph Portraits

In the early days of photography, cameras were difficult and even dangerous to operate. No one took pictures except trained professionals, and they made their living by charging for portraits. Most sessions took place in a studio under controlled conditions, but a few photographers travelled around the country taking portraits of farmers and small town folks. Photographs were originally very expensive, but became affordable by the 1840s.

Contemporary Photograph Portraits

Photography studios are where you go to take posed pictures. If you go to have a portrait done, you will be in front of a lighted backdrop, with two or more lights aimed at your face. The photographer may ask you to assume several different poses and will take multiple pictures of each. Afterward, you can look at the pictures and select the ones you like best. Or if you can afford it, consider hiring a private photographer who will travel to the location of your choice.

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