Monday, 15 June 2015

If you look like your Passport Photo you're too ill to Travel

What is the difference between an Environmental Portrait and a Head and Shoulders (H & S) Portrait?

The H & S Portrait


Dale Neill © 2012 Margaret Halsmith
There's an old saying
'If you look like your passport photograph you are probably too ill to travel'

So many times I get to view and judge portrait images and they look remarkably similar to just a big version of passport images.  Some are so bland, if you add an ID number, they could pass as prisoner ID shots! 

Photos used for identification on Driver's Licences and Passports are almost always H & S portraits, albeit very unflattering ones. Typically, they have plain backgrounds and if there is any surrounding material it plays little or no role in the portrait. The person's head and shoulders occupies 70%-90% of the frame.


One would hope that your H & S portraits are of higher technical quality and aesthetic value than a passport image!

Here are three tips if you are choosing to do a H & S portrait:


  1. Show human emotion - sadness, happiness, tears and laughter. You may have to act liek a human yourself and really communicate with your subject on a one-to-one basis.
  2. Go for superb technical quality - full highlight and shadow detail, quality lighting, sharp eyes
  3. Special features - show the subject's freckles, sparkling eyes, weathered skin, bushy eyebrows, diamond stud, tattoo, scar or 'I'm not just a waitress' lipstick.


The Environmental Portrait

In an environmental portrait the person occupies a much smaller percentage of the frame (somewhere between 5% and 25%).  The rest of the frame is the narrative or the story-telling part of the portrait. It's a huge advantage to have the narrative parts of the image working in your favour. Every element should be helping to tell the story of your subject.  Here are three tips for completing an Environmental portrait.
Dale Neill © 2013 Potato farmer and his son Turkey


  1. make the narrative elements replace the title. eg place the farmer in a farm environment
  2. make sure your subject is still the 'hero' in your image
  3. use landscape format
For your chance to win AU$12,000 in cash and prizes for your best portrait visit the FiPP2015 website.

Learn more about photographing faces at a UWA Extension Photography Workshop.

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