Playing with Partial Portraits

Portraiture is a popular style in visual arts, not just in painting, sculpture, and illustration but also in photography. People have been depicting or recording likenesses of each other or themselves as far back as ancient times. Centuries have passed and we still are drawn to viewing and/or creating portraits.

When creating portraits, the aim is to convey the likeness, mood, and personality of a person (or persons). The focus is often on the person’s face as it can be extremely expressive but other body features can also be quite effective. One type of portrait photography is partial portraiture, where only a portion of a person’s face or body is framed in the photo. The slope of the shoulders, the curve of hands, the stance of the legs, etc. are the main interest instead of the usual full face shot.

Sound track
Photo by Daniela Vladimirova

 

Consider these when making partial portraits:

Be strategic when framing your subject – It would be easy to just crop out half the person’s face in the image frame and call it a partial portrait. But consider that a partial portrait is still a portrait and should not give the impression of a snapshot. It should be well composed and adequately lighted, and the subject/s framed in an interesting manner. Otherwise, the photo may come off looking awkward and unattractive.

Faceless Bunny and Kitty
Photo by Helga Weber

Be mindful of the basic composition techniques and elements – when composing your shot, be very aware of the Rule of Thirds, leading lines, perspective, patterns, contrast, texture, etc., and how they are used in the composition. Since a partial portrait style is already veering away from the standard and familiar, any jarring visual element may be more prominent.

alina's eye
Photo by Irina Patrascu

Focus on the eyes – it is often said that the eyes are the windows of the soul. A partial portrait focusing on just the person’s eyes can be evocative and powerful. The eyes can convey a variety of emotions and mood – from anger to joy, from sleepiness to excitement.

Experiment with poses – unlike portraits where the person’s face is generally fully visible to offer expression, partial portraits pose more of a challenge to capture the same. The pose of the body part/s in the photo becomes essential in presenting the subject’s demeanor. For example, a photo of tightly clenched hands would have a visual impact entirely different from a photo of hands that appear relaxed.

Partial Portraits
Photo by Andrea Rinaldi

Play with props – you can also use props and costumes to add context and highlight the message you want your photo to convey. Just remember these are supplementary objects to support your main interest, and should not distract the viewer’s attention.

Get closer – Many partial portraits are close ups, which gives focus directly to the body feature and lessens clutter and distracting elements. With close ups, fine details become more visible and you can take advantage of this in your photo. Present textures using side lighting, and try a black and white treatment to show off tonal contrast.

Partial Portraits
Photo by Daniela Vladimirova

About Kristine Hojilla

Kristine is an avid amateur photographer from the tropical Philippine islands. She always tries to capture the extraordinary in mundane objects and scenes. Feel free to visit her profile here to see more of her works

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