Photographing Character

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Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

Character photography refers to basically two main genres in photography. One is to photograph actors or regular people in costumes which symbolize a known comic, movie,or television fictional character. This style is mostly referred to as cosplay.

The other genre, which is the one about which we will be referring to here, is capturing a subject's personality or character through photography based on facial expression and body posturing as well as taking cues from the person's work into consideration.

Don't immediately assume that all of your subjects will be limited to people, animals can show character and most have their own distinct personality. Still life subjects can also be used to showcase character. To start, here is the most common definition of character: "A phenotypic trait is an obvious and observable trait; it is the expression of genes in an observable way." wikipedia

With people and animals as your subjects your focus should be in recording facial expressions which appear to denote a particular mood such as a bad mood, a good mood, someone who is definitely arrogant, demure or completely confident.

Even if you find yourself using models, friends, relatives, acquaintances, you should not try to have them "model" a behavior or assume a character, an astute audience and most photographers can tell when something is being feigned.

For planned shoots, engage your subjects in casual conversation and let them be themselves while you record their images at various points; the models should not even be told of the theme and avoid being too noticeable as you are involved in the process of taking a photo. This sounds difficult but is a practical approach if you want to successfully accomplish the goal of this project.

A variation in technique is to record an image right at the moment when the subject becomes aware of your presence and looks directly at you while your subject has been previously engaged.

Pay attention to facial details, gestures, choice of makeup, hair styles, clothing, body postures and hand position, also worth noting is the particular work in which your subjects are involved. These can prove to be invaluable tools that aids you in deciphering character traits. Your subject matter needs not be static, moving ones work as well.

The majority of animals and especially your pets can often demonstrate certain traits that denotes character. However, your pets make better subjects since you have come to know them well and have learned to recognize habits. Having them be aware of your presence is not as crucial as with people, but often the best results are obtained if they are recorded when they are not fully aware of your presence; while playing with a particular toy, eating, resting or just frolicking around.

Wild life also disseminates certain character traits which they have most often learned from their parents. Use a long lens to hide your presence since they will be focused on you once they get wind of your presence. The key is to record them while they are relaxed and being themselves. Pay attention to interactions between family and clan members and parent and offspring. Hunting scenarios, feeding and at rest. Again, the focus should be in the facial features and expressions.

Special focus should be given to species in which there is a dominant male or a female per clan or an Alpha and Omega pair such as in wolf packs. Pay close attention to raised ears, raised or lowered tails, their gaze and physical stance.



For inanimate objects, choose items that are socially connected with a certain degree of expectation. Beers and wines are sometimes referred to as having "character", certain foods also have characteristics attached to them such as Mexican food having "a spicy character".

Buildings such as churches, houses, stores can also be described as having an appeal that gives them a character, as do many works of art ,statues and sculptures.

Choose things carefully, because representing a character in an object is quite difficult and not everyone has a knack for it. If not done properly your images are just photos of a meal, a drink, a house, a store and so on. If you however decide on photographing an object's character, then go with your instincts instead of what you've been told or have read.

As with any photo technique or theme worth pursuing, the photographer must be creative, innovative and to always add that little personal touch that distinguishes ones images from those of others.

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CC BY-ND 3.0) | Source

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Comments 8 comments

Lynn S. Murphy 5 years ago

That's where my long lens comes in handy. I have a great one of my SIL that reminds me of Lauren Bacall-total style and attitude. Its one of my all time favs. I didn't realize there was a name for it.UP UP and away.


Carmen H profile image

Carmen H 5 years ago

Photographing character is indeed an interesting technique, something that one can not be bored of.


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

Lynn; Thank you


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

Carmen H: Thank you


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 5 years ago from Jamaica

Hey Luis, this project is fun. I can take photos of people when they least expect it...lol


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

Cardisa: thank you, you mischievous little girl...


Credence2 profile image

Credence2 5 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

Cats have got to be the most interesting subjects to photograph if you catch that at just the right moment.


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

Credence: thank you and yes they can be very unpredictable and interesting at the same time

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