Happy New Year to everyone and welcome to the first “portrait tips and techniques” post for 2011.

Many photographers ask me how they can develop a style to help brand themselves or differentiate themselves from “the pack”. Firstly it’s not easy, it takes time and dedication to develop such a unique style that allows instant recognition or branding. You want people to view your images and say WOW this is different”, not say ” nice, but nothing special”.


This “Lifestyle Portrait” is based on the actual life activities of the subject…………………….

So how do you develop a style?

STEP 1…..Learn the basics of  lighting and composition so it is instinctive.  There are photographers who are naturally creatively gifted, but lack the technical expertise to reach their true potential. These photographers often think that learning too much technical stuff will stifle their creativity. I disagree. Knowing rules and techniques allows you to constructively critique and fine-tune your own work, and, when and why you should break or modify them for better artistic content.

Then there are the photographers (including myself) who have some creative and technical skills, but have to keep continually learning and fine-tuning their craft. I truly believe these photographers achieve great personal satisfaction. As the years pass, they can look back at their humble beginnings and be proud of their journey so far.

The parents of these children are Professional Golfers, the kids also play. To me it’s the perfect Lifestyle Portrait – it’s who they are……….

STEP 2…..While improving your knowledge,  you will want to take more images to test your new skills. This is part of “passion and desire” to being a better craftsman…….continual growth.

My style was developed by viewing the work of photographers and artists who inspired me. Images that I kept being continually drawn back to. I didn’t know why at the time, but those were the images that stuck and I had some emotional link to. Now I can look back and see why.

My technical knowledge has improved to the point that I can look at those early inspirational images and understand how the technical aspects of lighting, composition and printing all combine to give the mood and feel that appeals to me.  I truly believe our own unique style is more to do with our personalities.

TIPS…. I suggest you should expose yourself to all types of images – paintings and photographs in galleries, books and online. See what images continually grab your attention, do they “tug at the heart strings”, do they make you laugh, do they bring a tears to the eyes or do you simply say “wow”?  This will give you some idea as to what your style is. It is easier to develop a style based on your own personality than it is trying to be someone else.

Soccer is a big part of this teenager’s life. This style of  portrait has more meaning for he and his parents………….

STEP 3…… Once you feel you have found your style, go and practice and try different things. Use the ideas and inspirations from your research as benchmarks, there is nothing wrong with this.

We all need  catalysts or benchmarks to point us in the right direction. After a while you will start to move away from the original images that inspired you, this is the start of developing your own unique style.

As you progress you will notice that it is not one thing alone that builds your unique style – but the combination of  lighting, composition, facial analysis, posing, perspective, lens choice, time of day and more, that creates your uniqueness. But most important of all is what you see and the feeling or message you want to project.

TIPS……Lifestyle Portraits have been around since the beginning of photography and there are many interpretations of what a Lifestyle Portrait is. For me they are always images that relate to the actual activities within the family or individuals, particularly when they are long-term interests and not passing phases.

One way of improving your creativity and uniqueness is to create some new projects. A couple of popular examples would be music and sport. My advice is not to go to your usual portrait locations, but to find more interesting and challenging locations. This is part of the process of developing your unique style and standing out from the pack.

TECHNIQUE EXAMPLE…… The image of the BOXER came about through consultation with the young man’s mother. She told me her son had a home gym under the back balcony, so I thought why go to the local park, this was an opportunity to create something unique. Also a great way to motivate teenagers who don’t want to be photographed, is to incorporate their lifestyle, (cars, bikes, gym, music, sport etc.).

To make it more dramatic, I took a portable “beauty dish” light to create a more moody style of lighting. This was my first shoot with my “beauty dish” set up and I was  happy with the look, although I’ve since made some subtle changes. The main light is from the beauty dish and the fill is the ambient light. The background is an old piece of olive green tarpauline I have had for 35 years, his mother and sister held up the tarp to hide the sunny background that was distracting, therefore creating a stronger low key portrait.

With the Soccer Player I used the same  lighting set up, but I used the practice nets at his club for the background and I guess foreground also.

CONCLUSION…….Strive to improve your technical skills, then search for images that appeal to you and study their technical and emotional strengths. Ask yourself, “are these the style of images I would want of my family and would I display them on my walls FOREVER, AS A PIECE OF ART?”

This may be the way to finding your true style. If it is, take ownership of it and expand and improve it, but above all, make your images speak – “UNIQUELY YOU”.

Good luck and best wishes for 2011


portrait tips and techniques

2 Responses to “PORTRAIT STYLE”

  1. Hayley Says:

    Great advice as usual Wayne.Style is one thing that is a true mystery for me and I need to hone in on what I like and what I don’t like to try to determine my own unique style.
    Many thanks for sharing once again.

  2. Gaye Edwards Says:

    Meaningful advice on first steps to identifying a style. Well written, as usual, and constructively motivating. I shall quote you many times! Thanks again and best wishes for a satisfying and rewarding 2011.

Leave a Reply