Books on Portraiture

Notice – titles and author names on this page are reserved by their companies.

In the earlier survey of books for basic photography, each book had quite a bit to say about taking portraits.  But that instruction was geared mostly toward candid photos.  Many of us do attempt a more formal portrait, at least once in a while.  And those general books were inadequate for that.  So, now I have checked into 5 books for the portrait game alone. My typing fingers are lazy, for the survey I will abbreviate the titles of the books. The name shown at the bottom of each description in quote marks is my abbreviation. The order for these descriptions is the same as in the opening photograph. Thus the book seen in the top left is at the top of this list –

The Complete Portrait Manual
by Popular Photography Weldon Owen 2015 208 pages
Focus On Digital Portrait Photography
by Jenni Bidner Pixiq 2011 141 pages
Portrait and Candid Photography Photo Workshop
by Erin Manning Wiley 2012 284 pages
The Portrait Photography Course
by Mark Jenkinson Peachpit Press 2012 217 pages
Posing, Composition, and Cropping
by Christopher Grey Amherst Media 2013 153 pages

As with the basic books, I will not be reviewing each book one-by-one, instead show short lists of my recommendations for each topic in portraiture. The order within each list is arbitrary, matches the order of the descriptions. The first section is general topics. Followed by a section braking down portraiture by subject area.

Cameras and lenses
Most of the books skip talking about cameras, these two do get into cameras. So they could substitute for a general beginner’s book. If you are interested only in photographing people.
PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse
Portrait lenses in particular
I thought it a little odd that only one book tackled this.
Flash units and studio gear
The gear itself, not how to apply it.
PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse
Metering light and setting exposure
Another topic that overlaps material you would expect in a general beginner’s book.
PortraitManual – PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse
Light – Direction and shadows
Each book touches on this in a scattershot manner, these two were more focused.
PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse
Light – Understanding Sunlight
Another one of those general beginner’s topics.
PortraitManual – PhotoWorkshop – PosingComposition
Light – Backlighting and silhouettes
Each book had a few examples of this. These two had the most discussion.
PortraitManual – FocusOnDigital
Light – Fill for Sunlight
Using flash or reflectors outdoors.
FocusOnDigital – PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse
Light – Working with open shade
The obvious refuge from a harsh sun.
FocusOnDigital – PhotoWorkshop
Light – Color management
Everybody talks about White Balance. Only one book tried to dig a little deeper.
Location shoots – Background choices
Ok, I was astonished that only two books dealt with this directly! (PS – both books are by lady photographers)
FocusOnDigital – PhotoWorkshop
Location shoots – Scouting for a location
Only two books bothered to mention that you may need to arrange permission for a location. (sigh)
PortraitManual – PhotographyCourse
Planning and Visualization
Some folks need a lot of preparation, some want to wing it. This is for the planners.
PhotoWorkshop – PosingComposition
Candid shots
The simplest portraits. Some pundits do not consider candids to be portraits at all. Taken very seriously, the candid game morphs into photojournalism.
PortraitManual – FocusOnDigital – PhotoWorkshop
Directing / Managing a session
Keeping everybody on track.
PortraitManual – PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse
Rapport with the subject(s)
Most of the books state the importance of making the subject comfortable. These two just dug a little deeper.
PortraitManual – PhotoWorkshop
Posing – Expression
“Say cheese” may not be all there is to this. One book does have plenty of examples, but they are scattered, not grouped as a topic.
Posing – Standing, seated, etc.
With zero education in portraiture, I thought posing “templates” by the subject’s situation would be natural. Of course I got that all wrong. Except for group shots, most of the books just did not take this approach. One book did provide a refuge with these templates. The next topic better reflects how posing is broken down today.
Posing – Body area tips
The prevailing approach for posing is to break it down by body area. Hands, head tilt, shoulders, etc. Which means these tips will likely be scattered all over the book.
FocusOnDigital – PhotoWorkshop
Posing – Encyclopedic
So “Posing, Composition, and Cropping” has “posing” right there in the title. And it delivers, goes into the posing topic much more than the other books, with many more examples. For anybody really only interested in candids and the lifestyle stuff, this is overkill. For those wanting to make a career out of formal studio portraits, this or some other book just on posing is a must-have.
Composition – Horizontal or vertical
Cameras are designed to be held horizontal, smartphones vertical (portrait orientation). With either device, the photographer needs to consider the alternative framing. Most of the books seemed to regard this topic as too rudimentary to even mention!
Composition – Fill the frame
“Fill the frame” is frequent composition advice for beginners. But just two books treated this as a topic.
PortraitManual – FocusOnDigital
Composition – Off center
There will be plenty of times when “fill the frame” is not optimum. One such case is placing the subject off a ways from the center of the frame. Which automatically means an expanded frame. Often discussed as “The Rule Of Thirds”. “Complete Portrait Manual” does have this, just in a rather abbreviated manner.
FocusOnDigital – PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse – PosingComposition
Composition – Including layers, shapes, and textures
Another time when an expanded frame is in order is to embellish a portrait with a more elaborate setting than a simple backdrop. This occurs most often when shooting on location, but you can also put together an artistic set in a studio.
PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse

This section will be tips for more specific situations.
Or as they are more politely known, self-portraits
PortraitManual – PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse
Portraits of Couples
Each of the books had many nice examples of shots of couples. These two made those tips more accessible.
PortraitManual – PosingComposition
Shooting Groups
Each of the books had something to say about groups, but Manning’s was easily the most thorough.
Pets too?
Just two books included pets. Equestrian photography can be a good niche for photographers in wealthy areas with proud horse owners. But all of the books ignored that.
PortraitManual – FocusOnDigital
Family Groups
Obviously a subset of group photography. But taking into account big height differences and the theme for these can take a fun direction.
FocusOnDigital – PhotoWorkshop
Once again, Manning’s book was easily the most thorough for this speciality.
In some cases this gets lumped under “candid” photography.
PortraitManual – FocusOnDigital – PhotoWorkshop
Shooting people practicing their sport.
PortraitManual – PhotoWorkshop
Brides and Weddings
Wedding photography can be very complex. These books just scratch the surface.
PortraitManual – PhotographyCourse
Using Diffusers and Reflectors
Also called “silks”. These are the least expensive and easiest to use of all light modifiers. It can be handy to have an assistant to help with these.
PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse
Using Hotshoe Flash
Most of the books wanted to talk about off-camera studio style flash. Bidner’s book did give some attention to the simpler on-camera case.
Using Multiple Lights
In other words, studio lighting. Although hard workers can bring lights along for location shoots too.
PortraitManual – PhotographyCourse
Finessing Lighting for Atmosphere and Mood.
The more advanced books all had stunning examples of creative lighting. I felt that Manning’s book was the best at laying out the principles.
Post Processing – Lite
A gentle treatment on post processing for beginners. Becoming a zen master at PP is a good thing, but not an essential thing.
Post Processing – Advanced
Jenkinson gave lots of good info on the classic Adobe editors, Lightroom and Photoshop. While these programs still dominate the professional field, there are now several nice competing programs for enthusiasts to consider. Programs that do not require a Cloud subscription.
Creating a Portfolio
Of course this topic is mainly for aspiring pros, not hobby folk.
Advertising, Catalog, and Fashion Photography
Bidner’s book didn’t really venture into commercial work at all. The others had lots of scattered tips for fashion shoots that are very good, but only one made this accessible with a section devoted to Fashion.
Boudoir and Glamour
Includes some nude studies.
PortraitManual – PosingComposition
Business Head Shots
There is fairly reliable need for this, I was surprised most of the books did not deal with it better.
Editorial and Location Portraits
Jenkinson’s book just took this a whole lot more seriously than the others.