Assignment 4: Portraits/Light

While candid, documentary photography is always the preferred approach in photojournalism, sometimes portraits are a valid and necessary approach under certain conditions. Portraits can describe much more than what a person looks like. As with all photojournalism, storytelling is the focus of a journalistic portrait. Also, our understanding about the characteristics of light is key to visual storytelling. Our use of light can help shape the perception of our photographs. 

DUE 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 7!

The Assignment:

Create TWO journalistic portraits that go beyond simple snapshots and capture a unique aspect of a subject’s character and personality, and make light part of your storytelling.


  1. Shoot one environmental portrait – incorporate your subject’s environment into your image to facilitate understanding.
  2. Shoot one close-up portrait – concentrate on your subject’s face, giving us a sense your subject’s personality or create a mood or feeling that is appropriate for telling your subject’s story.
  3. One portrait must demonstrate the use of a HARD light source – explore how hard light creates interplay between light and shadow, emphasizing texture, form, and detail and creating dramatic contrast.
  4. The other portrait must demonstrate the use of a SOFT light source – explore how diffused light softens features and opens up shadows to reveal details.
  5. Both portraits must be accompanied by AP Style captions that describe why your subject(s) might be interesting or newsworthy.

Other considerations

  • Your portraits may both be of the same person, or you may select two different people. Select one or two subjects you think others ought to know about. Your choices can be based on personal interests, or simply someone you think is interesting. You must be able to show us and tell us why they might be interesting. Remember to SHOW us first!
  • Use the various characteristics of light to help tell your subject’s story and make your portraits interesting. Is hard light or soft light best? Can the direction of the light help create a mood or visual interest? Is warm light or cool light appropriate for the mood you want to create? You need to think about all these things and incorporate them into your portraits.
  • Again, your photo must be accompanied by a full AP Style caption. Captions are extremely important for portraits to help your audience understand why someone might be noteworthy. A great portrait should be eye-catching, but you need to explain in your caption WHY your subject might be interesting or newsworthy to your audience. This is a good opportunity to add context that might not be included in your portrait and/or use a quote by or about your subject. Two or three sentences should do it.

Upload your two portraits, with captions, in a post on the website no later than 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 7.

Portrait Assignment TIPS 


With posed portraits, YOU are in control of nearly everything. You choose the location. The time. How you want your subject to pose. Whether or not to use props. You are in control of everything in your frame – front to back, corner to corner.

Be methodical – THINK your way through this assignment!

Because you have the opportunity to control everything, take advantage. Slow down. Be methodical.

Technical excellence

Shoot test frames to make sure your exposure is correct and your pictures are in-focus and sharp. There’s no excuse for technical problems with these portraits because you have the time to make corrections.

What’s your subject’s story? 

Be clear about what you are trying to communicate about your subject. Why do you think this person is interesting or notable?

You might want to draw out your subject’s personality, but personality alone usually doesn’t make a person newsworthy. What else is unique and interesting about your subject? If your subject’s personality is connected to their notable activities, show us that personality, then explain (in your caption) how it’s relevant to who they are or what they do.

Remember to SHOW us first, then tell us.

Read the light

Start using your knowledge of light to help you create a more compelling photograph. You may want to scout locations before you set up any portrait sessions.

Light is especially important with your close-up portrait. Even if your subject is not particularly expressive, dramatic light can help make your portrait eye-stopping and memorable.

Make note of the light quality, direction, and color cast. Think about the characteristics of light and think about how those characteristics can help you tell your subject’s story. Maybe walk around your subject on the scene and see if the light interacts differently with your subject when you change positions or perspective. And think about how those changes affect your photograph.

What tone or atmosphere do you want to set? Bold and dramatic? Light and airy? Open and relaxed? Dark and mysterious? The type of light you choose can make a big difference in your results.


Composition is extremely important  with environmental portraits.

Carefully evaluate the environment you photograph your subject in. What’s in the foreground? The background? Where are you going to place your subject in relation to his or her environment? What angle are you going to choose? What lens focal length will be best to use? How much depth-of-field do you need? That’s the basic stuff. Can you be more creative and surprise us?

Using the Shooter’s Mantra will help you. Create a focal point, control your background, fill the frame, then wait for the moment!

Composition with your close-up portrait is a little less crucial – you should essentially fill the frame with your subject’s face. You can shoot even tighter, featuring one aspect of your subject’s face – the eyes, for example. You can leave some creative compositional space in your frame if you like, but your subject’s face needs to be the clear focus in your close-up portrait.

Make your subject comfortable

You can give some direction about how you want your subject to pose, but try to draw out your subject’s natural personality. Facial expressions, gestures, and body language should honestly reflect your subject’s personality. This is especially key with your close-up portrait.

Talk to your subjects. Ask them questions about themselves to make them comfortable and to learn more about them. Their answers can help you decide what to shoot and how to shoot it, as well as give you additional information to include in your caption.

While light may drive your choice of location, try to photograph them in an environment that’s familiar to them. That can make them more comfortable and give you more options in how you photograph them. See if you can make the environment a meaningful part of your portraits.


Comment on this

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: