Portraits and Photography
The history of portraits, from painted portraits, cameras and digital photography.
The purpose of a portrait is to capture the likeness, personality and mood of the subject and often to make a statement about the person’s lifestyle, career or interests at the same time. Therefore, the picture is usually carefully set up, with a certain amount of forethought about its composition, and with the subject or subjects looking directly at the artist or the camera.
History of Portraits
The earliest known portraits were created in ancient Egyptian times for kings or emperors; funeral portraits painted on wood or linen have been discovered in Egyptian tombs. In some of these, the subjects are depicted wearing Roman clothing or hairstyles. However, the most common portraiture that survived Roman times was sculpture, in statues of leaders or national heroes.
By the fourth century, portraits had become less accurate and more flattering; artists were expected to make their subjects look better or younger than in real life. This trend died out by the late Middle Ages, and the true purpose of portraiture re-emerged. Those wealthy enough to commission a painted portrait were often required to be painted in a familiar pose. For example, on horseback, wearing clothing associated with their lifestyle, such as a uniform. These painted portraits included their medals, regalia and, in the case of women, jewelry. Also, they used accessories such as a sword or the tools of their trade.
Typically portraits included the subject’s family or pets, where several styles could be used. Subjects could sit, stand or recline. The portrait could be of the head and shoulders only, with or without the hands or a full-length image of the subject in a familiar background such as their home or garden. The choice of materials ranged from oil paints, watercolors or pastels to charcoal or pencil.
Depending on the price the subject was able to pay, the finished portrait could be anything from life-size down to the miniature paintings or ‘likenesses’ that could be carried in the pocket and often accompanied soldiers into battle or were mailed to loved ones far away.
Artists in the 16th to 18th centuries could make a good living by turning out these tiny portraits, often no bigger than 4 cm by 3 cm, painted on bone, ivory or enamel. The cheapest types of portraits were silhouettes, which were simply a shape of the subject’s head cut out of black paper and attached to a lighter background, and were more affordable for the majority of the working-class people.
Arrival of Camera Photography
Demand for all types of painted portraits declined with the arrival of photography, which brought portraiture within reach of everyone. The need for hours spent sitting still while a painter worked disappeared, as even the earliest cameras required only a 30-second exposure time to create an image.
The typical Victorian family group portrait was unnaturally formal, as any movement resulted in a blurred image, and the picture was not in full color at first. However, it was cheaper to employ a photographer than an artist, and so portrait painters, once again, became associated with heads of state, military leaders and the very rich. Even so, artists found a use for photography in their work. Taking photographs of their subject from every angle before beginning a painting can take away the necessity to sit still for long periods.
As camera photography improved, it became possible to take many pictures of the subject and select the most natural or flattering printing result. Photographic portraits of important family events such as weddings, christenings, or graduations have to be posed just as carefully as in the days of painted portraits, but modern methods bring with them the ability to take a more informal, relaxed, and therefore more lifelike picture of the subject.
In-studio conditions, photographers can control the lighting conditions, and they too have the choice of creating a close-up or full-length portrait with a plain or themed background.
The history of digital photography began in the early 1950s. The first digital signals were saved to a magnetic tape via the first videotape recorder in 1951. Then, in 1957, Russel Kirsch produced the first digital image, and it was of his son.
In the late 1990s, the first consumer digital cameras were marketed, and professional photographers started to use them. It was easier to meet the demands of clients with a faster turn-around time and the ability to provide these clients with digital files. Point and shoot cameras grew in popularity among the general public.
In the early 2000s, digital cameras started to be incorporated into cell phones while social media was exploding.
Digital photography makes it possible to add lighting effects or remove blemishes from a picture after it has been taken, giving the photographer the amount of control over the finished work that the portrait artist has always enjoyed.
If you are looking to schedule a portrait session where the newest photography techniques are used, contact Vivid Photography by Karima. Feel free to browse our photo gallery to see our work. We can schedule an in-studio photoshoot as well as go to the location of your choice. We specialize in maternity, newborn, family and headshot photography.
We are looking forward to doing your next photoshoot.