Personalize Your Portraits

Have you ever looked at someone’s portrait and thought, “it’s a nice photo, but it doesn’t express who they are?” Well, I have, and it took me some time before I realized why it was off. I figured out that the portrait photograph didn’t translate the personality of the subject. The goal for a good photo like this should be to make it personal, and not sterile like some department store photograph.

blog image one - 03 May 17


Let me explain exactly what I mean.

Did you ever go to an amusement park and they had an artist there who could draw a caricature of you? I have. I distinctly remember the guy asking me a few questions about what sort of hobbies I had, or what I liked to do in my free time. I told him that I liked to skateboard, and so he drew me riding a skateboard.


(Image: Author’s)

The reason I have kept this so long (35+ years?!), is that it is personalized, and it draws me back to something I enjoyed in my youth. Your portrait (or your subject’s portrait), should be the same. Take a look at some photos I think drive this point home.

blog image two- 03 May 17


Even though the subject here is dressed down, and posed very casually, you can tell that the photo tells you everything you need to know about him, and I think that is fantastic! This is a photo that he can look back on several years down the road and smile, because it conveys who he is.

blog image three - 03 May 17


Another great portrait, showcasing this person’s talent/interest. Simple pose, simple lighting, but add in the cello and you have an excellent portrayal of who this person is.

So, whether you are the photographer or the subject, think outside of the normal “hand on chin… tilt your head” poses with fake backgrounds. Use props from your life, and make the photo personal and endearing.

Steve Holsonback
Instructional Media Design Specialist
Center for Academic & Professional Excellence
Ext. 3425


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