Books on Portraiture (2021 update)

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 14 books for the portrait game alone. The books are selected to be stand-alone, not part of an (expensive?) education system. 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 Complete Portrait Manual
by Popular Photography Weldon Owen 2015 208 pages
Digital Portrait Photography and Lighting
by Catherine Jamieson and Sean McCormick Wiley 2006 347 pages
The Enthusiast’s Guide to Portraiture
by Jerod Foster Rocky Nook 2016 219 pages
Focus On Digital Portrait Photography
by Jenni Bidner Pixiq 2011 141 pages
Foundation Course Portrait Photography the Essential Beginner’s Guide
by Sarah Plater & Hannah MacGregor Ammonite Press 2014 175 pages
The Luminous Portrait
by Elizabeth Messina Amphoto 2012 176 pages
Mastering Portrait Photography
by Paul Wilkinson and Sarah Plater Ammonite Press 2015 175 pages
The Natural Light Portrait Book
by Scott Kelby rockynook 2020 191 pages
The Portrait
by Glenn Rand and Tim Meyer Brooks Institute 2010 187 pages
Portrait and Candid Photography Photo Workshop
by Erin Manning Wiley 2012 284 pages
Portrait Photography – Art and Technique
by Saraya Cortaville Crowood 2013 144 pages
The Portrait Photography Course
by Mark Jenkinson Peachpit Press 2012 217 pages
Portrait Photography From Snapshots to Great Shots
by Erik Valind Peachpit Press 2014 249 pages
Posing, Composition, and Cropping
by Christopher Grey Amherst Media 2013 153 pages

As with the basic books survey, 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.This section will be tips for more specific situations.

Cameras and lenses
Most of the books skip talking about cameras, these three do get into cameras. So they could substitute for a general beginner’s book. If you are interested only in photographing people.
Foundation – PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse
Portrait lenses in particular
I thought it a little odd that only two books tackled this by name, “NaturalLight” and “PhotographyCourse”. The other books listed at least go into the selection of a portrait lens to a degree.
PortraitManual – DigitalPortrait – Enthusiasts – NaturalLight – PhotographyCourse – GreatShots
Flash units and studio gear
The gear itself, not how to apply it. “PhotographyCourse” is somewhat stronger than the others. But for in-depth knowledge you are likely better off with a book dedicated to flash photography than with any of these.
DigitalPortrait – ThePortrait – PhotoWorkshop – ArtTechnique – PhotographyCourse – GreatShots
Metering light and setting exposure
Another topic that overlaps material you would expect in a general beginner’s book.
Foundation – Mastering – ThePortrait – PhotoWorkshop – GreatShots
Light – Direction and shadows
Each book touches on this in a scattershot manner, these were more focused.
DigitalPortrait – Enthusiasts – ThePortrait – PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse – GreatShots
Light – Understanding Sunlight
Another one of those general beginner’s topics. Later topics give tips on dealing with sunlight, this topic is just about the nature of the light. “Mastering” and “ArtTechinque” make this information especially accessible, no need for index hunts.
PortraitManual – DigitalPortrait – Enthusiasts – Foundation – Mastering – PhotoWorkshop – ArtTechnique
Light – Backlighting and silhouettes
Each book had a few examples of this. These had the most discussion.
PortraitManual – DigitalPortrait – Enthusiasts – FocusOnDigital – NaturalLight – ArtTechnique
Light – Fill for Sunlight
Using flash or reflectors outdoors. Each of the books had an example shot (or more) for this technique. These expanded the most on the topic.
DigitalPortrait – Enthusiasts – NaturalLight – PhotoWorkshop – ArtTechnique – PhotographyCourse – GreatShots
Light – Working with open shade.
The obvious refuge from a harsh sun. “NaturalLight” gets into this more than the others.
DigitalPortrait – FocusOnDigital – Luminous – Mastering – NaturalLight – PhotoWorkshop – GreatShots
Light – Color management
Everybody talks about basic White Balance. Three books tried to dig a little deeper.
Enthusiasts – NaturalLight – PhotographyCourse
Location shoots – Background choices
The book ThePortrait has a great deal to say about studio backgrounds, plus a little more about location backgrounds.
DigitalPortrait – Enthusiasts – FocusOnDigital – Foundation – Mastering – ThePortrait – PhotoWorkshop
Location shoots – Scouting for a location
Only four books bothered to mention that you may need to arrange permission for a location. (sigh)
PortraitManual – DigitalPortrait – PhotographyCourse – GreatShots
Location shoots – Featuring window lighting
Each of the books mentions widow lighting. Just a few really dig into the topic. “Luminous” has many, many examples, but the info is scattered thoughout the book, not treated as its own topic. “NaturalLight” devotes 28 pages to using window light !!!
Enthusiasts – Luminous – Mastering – NaturalLight – GreatShots
Concept, Planning, and Visualization
Some folks need a lot of preparation, some want to wing it. This is for the planners. Sometimes tucked away under “storytelling”.
DigitalPortrait – Enthusiasts – Foundation – PhotoWorkshop – ArtTechnique – GreatShots – 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 – DigitalPortrait – FocusOnDigital – PhotoWorkshop
Directing / Managing a session
Keeping everybody on track. “PhotoWorkshop” and “PhotographyCourse” are the standouts here. In “PhotographyCourse” this is labeled “Posing and psychology”.
PortraitManual – NaturalLight – PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse – GreatShots
Rapport with the subject(s)
Most of the books state the importance of making the subject comfortable. These just dug a little deeper.
PortraitManual – Enthusiasts – Luminous – Mastering – ThePortrait – PhotoWorkshop – GreatShots
Posing – Expression
“Say cheese” may not be all there is to this. Only a few books get into detailed examples.
PortraitManual – DigitalPortrait – Mastering – ThePortrait – PosingComposition
Posing – Body balance and shape.
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. The book PortraitManual did provide examples. While ArtTechnique went into a discussion on body dynamics. The next topic better reflects how posing is broken down today.
PortraitManual – ArtTechnique
Posing – Body area tips – lite
The prevailing approach for posing is to break it down by body area. Hands, head tilt, shoulders, etc. First up will be the books with a lite treatment for this topic.
FocusOnDigital – Foundation – Luminous – PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse – GreatShots
Posing – Body area tips – expansive
Following up with the more thorough treatments. The DigitalPortrait and ThePortrait books had a great deal of text on posing, I wish they had more illustrations.
DigitalPortrait – Enthusiasts – Mastering – NaturalLight – ThePortrait
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!
FocusOnDigital – Foundation – Mastering – GreatShots
Composition – Fill the frame
“Fill the frame” is frequent composition advice for beginners. Some books use the term “cropping” instead. Just five books dug into this.
PortraitManual – Enthusiasts – FocusOnDigital – Foundation – NaturalLight
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”. “PortraitManual” and “NaturalLight” do have this, just in a rather abbreviated manner. Both “Enthusiasts” and “ThePortrait” get into this, but in terms of visual balance instead of the simpler geometric patterns.
DigitalPortrait – Enthusiasts – FocusOnDigital – Foundation – Mastering – ThePortrait – PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse – GreatShots – 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. Sometimes called “cinematic” portraits.
DigitalPortrait – Enthusiasts – ThePortrait – PhotoWorkshop – ArtTechnique – PhotographyCourse – GreatShots

This section will be tips for more specific situations.
Or as they are more politely known, self-portraits. Given how huge this is on social media, I was surprised that so few books even mentioned it.
PortraitManual – DigitalPortrait – PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse
Portraits of Couples
Each of the books had nice examples of shots of couples. These tried to explain tips better. If you are simply looking for inspiration, both Foundation and Luminous often used couple shots for a range of different topics.
PortraitManual – DigitalPortrait – Enthusiasts – Foundation – Luminous – GreatShots – PosingComposition
Shooting Groups
Each of the books had something to say about groups, these had nice examples.
Enthusiasts – Luminous – Mastering – PhotoWorkshop – GreatShots
Pets too?
Just three books included pets. Equestrian photography can be a good niche for photographers in wealthy areas with proud horse owners. Alas all of the books ignored that.
PortraitManual – DigitalPortrait – FocusOnDigital
Family Groups
Obviously a subset of group photography. But take into account big height differences and the theme for these can go in a fun direction.
FocusOnDigital – Foundation – Luminous – PhotoWorkshop – GreatShots
The books by female authors were easily the most thorough for this specialty. (Oh duh)
Foundation – Luminous – Mastering – PhotoWorkshop – ArtTechnique
In some cases this gets lumped under “candid” photography. Foundation and ArtTechnique are really strong on children.
PortraitManual – DigitalPortrait – FocusOnDigital – Foundation – Luminous – Mastering – PhotoWorkshop – ArtTechnique
The book GreatShots gets into setting up those formal, tightly posed, team shots. The other two cover shooting people practicing their sport.
PortraitManual – PhotoWorkshop – GreatShots
Brides and Weddings
Wedding photography can be very complex. These books just scratch the surface.
PortraitManual – Luminous – NaturalLight – 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. “NaturalLight” has more examples of this than the others.
Enthusiasts – Mastering – NaturalLight – PhotoWorkshop – PhotographyCourse – GreatShots
Using Hotshoe Flash
Most of the books wanted to talk about off-camera studio style flash. Hotshoe flash can be very useful for events, so I was a little disappointed that only five books took this seriously.
DigitalPortrait – FocusOnDigital – Foundation – Mastering – GreatShots
Using Multiple Lights
In other words, studio lighting. Although hard workers can bring lights along for location shoots too.
PortraitManual – DigitalPortrait – Foundation – ThePortrait – ArtTechnique – PhotographyCourse – GreatShots
Lighting for Mood and Style – Classic painterly.
Lighting setup is key to style. The traditional syle, like a Rembrandt painting, dominated the 20th Century and is still prevalent for business head shots.
DigitalPortrait – Enthusiasts – FocusOnDigital – Mastering – NaturalLight – ThePortrait – ArtTechnique – PhotographyCourse
Lighting for Atmosphere and Mood – That dreamy look.
The very soft lighting look has been around from the start, but is now taking off as a mainstream style. Popularity for family and lifestyle portraits seems to be soaring.
Finessing Lighting for All Styles.
These books are more even handed with examples of various styles for creative lighting.
PortraitManual – Foundation – NaturalLight – PhotoWorkshop – GreatShots
Post Processing – Lite
Just the basics for post processing for beginners. Becoming a zen master at PP is a good thing, but not an essential thing. Really disappointed that GreatShots had nothing to say about PP (except cropping).
Enthusiasts – Foundation – PhotoWorkshop – ArtTechnique
Post Processing – Advanced
These books gave lots of good info on the classic Adobe editors, Elements, 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.
DigitalPortrait – Mastering – NaturalLight – PhotographyCourse
Creating a Portfolio
Of course this topic is mainly for aspiring pros, not hobby folk.
DigitalPortrait – Luminous – PhotographyCourse
Advertising, Catalog, and Fashion Photography
Most of the books had lots of scattered tips for fashion shoots that are very good, but only “PortraitManual” made this accessible with a section devoted to Fashion. While “NaturalLight” hardly ever uses the word “fashion”, a great many shots have the commercial look, so it got included here. Curiously, the “GreatShots” book has little to say about fashion, and yet many of its examples for lighting a model look like fashion shoots. Also, some of the examples for full length shots of women in “Mastering” and “PosingComposition” have a fashion vibe to them.
PortraitManual – NaturalLight
Boudoir and Glamour
Includes some nude studies. “Luminous” has a whole section on this. “DigitalPortrait”, “Mastering”, and “GreatShots” provide some of the nuts-and-bolts for this. But never tie it together in one topic.
PortraitManual – Luminous – PosingComposition
Business Head Shots
There is fairly reliable need for this, I was surprised most of the books did not deal with it better.
DigitalPortrait – GreatShots – PosingComposition
Editorial and Location Portraits
Sometimes known as environmental portraits. “Luminous” showed many gorgeous examples, did not treat this as a subject, but those examples were too good to leave out. “PhotographyCourse” took this a whole lot more seriously than the others. “DigitalPortrait” touches on the various nuts-and-bolts, but is weak on the composition challenges.
Enthusiasts – Luminous – NaturalLight – ThePortrait – PhotographyCourse – GreatShots
Book styles.
My preferences
So these are the books that I got the most enjoyment out of, in the long run. Feel perfectly free to ignore this, as each of us sees the photography game, and book editing, differently.
PortraitManual – Foundation – Mastering – PhotoWorkshop – GreatShots


The books “Luminous”, “ThePortrait”, and “PosingComposition” were borderline too advanced for this survey. But for those who want to dive that deep, here they are.