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What does a Portrait Photographer do?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Feb 07, 2024
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A portrait photographer takes professional photographs of individuals, groups and families. He or she owns a studio or works for a photography company. A portrait photographer discusses photo options with clients before taking photographs either in the studio or on location.

Many portrait photographers travel to events such as weddings or picture days at schools. Portrait photographers must keep organized in their bookings and have all of the photography equipment they need to produce good quality finished portraits. Customers are paying for the end result of the portrait and not the time the photographer must take to get the finished picture, so photographers must use their time wisely. For example, a portrait photographer may choose to develop his or her own film or send it out for developing depending on which option costs less and results in a better finished portrait.

A portrait photographer may start as an assistant to other portrait photographers to learn on the job before starting a photography business. Larger photography companies may hire several photography school graduates to train as assistants, so this can provide aspiring portrait photographers the opportunity to learn the day-to-day details of the job. An important aspect of portrait photography is being able to get everyone in the picture looking his or her best so that the photograph as a whole looks good. For instance, if everyone isn't facing the same way with similar expressions on their faces, the picture can look too casual to be considered a portrait. A portrait is a photograph that is meant to be kept for many years and may be given as gifts to family and friends.

Family portraits can be especially challenging for the photographer as it's often difficult for children to stay still and be photographed. For this reason, part of a portrait photographer's job is to solve the problem so that portraits aren't ruined and his or her work time isn't wasted. A photographer's assistant may distract children with a puppet while the photographer takes the pictures.

Other than taking photographs, a portrait photographer has many other responsibilities — especially if he or she is running a business. Marketing and advertising must be done to keep customers ordering portraits or the business can't stay profitable. The prices must be competitive with other photographers in the area and the finished portraits must be top quality. Portrait photographers also have to keep up with trends and have attractive backdrops available in the studio such as a beach or Christmas scene depending on the season.

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Discussion Comments
By anon284832 — On Aug 12, 2012

I have tried this studio business myself. When I ask churches, schools and other local businesses about photography work, they said, "We are so sorry. We have our employees doing this type of work." I answered, "Does that employee have a license?" They said, "Nope, sorry. You can no longer shoot photos in my store." What am I doing wrong?

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