Portrait photography needs no introduction. One of the best forms of photography, portraits are instrumental for any photography assignment, and the reason is simple. Most photographers love portraits, solo or group, it doesn’t matter. Portraits, by definition, are the art of capturing the personality of a person or a group of people in the right light. However, dramatic portraits make everything look just wonderful, more detailed, and deep. What sets dramatic portraits apart from different styles of portrait photography, is the aspect of narration. Dramatic portrait photography is centered around creating a mood and showing emotion through the subject, lightning, and surroundings.

Although as wedding photographers “creating drama” as you think of the timeline is probably your last thought. Wedding photographers, in general, try to avoid creating drama, courtesy of multiple people, excitement, and different personalities. However, you can also take dramatic portraits of the couple! Today, we’re here to help you understand the beauty of dramatic photography and how it can help you to capture amazing moments shared between two people in love!

This blog will be in two sections so that you can get the gist of adding drama to your engagement photo shoot and wedding photo shoots, for you cannot truly adopt a style without knowing what it is; then we’ll list down some easy-to-follow photography tips for dramatic portraits.

Dramatic Portraits: The Basics 

To begin with, the crucial point to remember is that dramatic portraits run in the same vein as portraits. As portraits capture the subject or subjects in their perfect “state.” However, the dramatic style of portrait photography adds an extra layer, of dimension, if you will, to the photos. Apart from capturing the subject in their best light, dramatic portraits capture the essence of the emotion at the moment the portrait is taken and shows the subject in the manner they feel as if the moment is unfolding in the subject’s “present.” As complex as that sounds, it is quite simple. It simply means to capture the emotions that may go through the subjects, instead of merely putting their best face forward.

For engagement and wedding photography, dramatic photos can easily help you tell your client’s emotions into photos. After all, engagements and weddings are a day of many dreams coming to life, many emotions, and at last, the start of a journey. Adding drama to the portrait photo shoots will give you the opportunity to capture the electric excitement and a million emotions in a timeless photo.

Lastly, dramatic portraits are significantly different from your regular portraits, despite sharing some key characteristics. The difference lies in the delivery of the photos. Dramatic portraits are a product of extreme control of lights and shadows. The next section will help you find ideas to add drama to your photos, and how to control light as well as shadows.

Dramatic Portrait Essentials: The Tips that Will Transform Your Photography Skills 

If adding an irresistible charm to your photos is the goal, then knowing how to take the photos that you want is imperative. Before we dive into the tips that will absolutely change how your photos look and the emotion your photos portray, there are a few things to remember. Dramatic photography is all about mood and lightning. All the tips listed below are directed towards helping you do that, be it with lightning or by changing the pose of your subject. Always remember, the goal of dramatic photography is all about convey the feelings and personality of the subject in harmony. Also, when it comes to adopting a new style of photography skill, bear in mind that it will come with practice. So, make sure that you practice with these tips during the off-season! So, without further ado, let’s dive in:

  1. Let Go of the Misconceptions: It is About the Narration

Dramatic photography, as per the general notion, is considered to be dark or sad. While that is true in some cases, it is not always true. Think of it as the component of your portrait or composition. You see, a dramatic portrait will not be possible without the use of darkness and shadow. But expressions, the set-up, and how you use the lighting available, or through different means, will set the tone of the “mood.” Another thing to remember is that dramatic photography is not just about shooting in only black and white. The photo can be colorful, and yet dramatic. This is important to remember your dramatic portrait does not have to conform to these preconceived notions.

  1. Using Natural Light: Do What You Want With What You Have 

A common misconception photographers harbor is that if they do not have the right photography gear, they cannot take dramatic photos. However, that couldn’t be far from the truth. Golden hour is perfect for every form of photography, and it is true for dramatic portraits as well. However, that’s not all. Although the golden hour can give you plenty of opportunities to take dramatic portraits, some tips can help you get the most out of natural light portrait photography. Here is how you can use only natural light to take dramatic portraits:

  • One of the best dramatic photography portrait tips is to find a dark background for your subjects. Even if you do not have a portable screen, you can use the surroundings to find the perfect spot.
  • Give importance to the “chiaroscuro effect,” which is the combination of dark and light. As you position your subject or subjects in front of a dark background, ensure that you place them in “directional light.” This will help you to separate the subject from the dark background.
  • Lastly, using the camera’s settings to tweak the contrast, aperture, and ISO, along with the shutter speed will help you attain the ideal exposure level. Remember, you’ll have to test out different numbers for each of the settings to find the ideal setting for your photography.
  1. Subject Brighter than the Ambient Lighting: Marrying Dramatic Touches with Cinematic Touches 

Dramatic portraits will always depend on the lighting and the contrasts you create. You can use this as a great tip or one of the best dramatic portrait photography ideas. One of the best ways to incorporate the perfect lighting is to use shadows to highlight the subject or subjects. Think of it as creating dark aesthetic photos, or trying to envision something like silhouette photography, just with a little more light. This can be easily attained, even if you do not have an external light source for your photography assignment. All you need to do is find an area where you can balance the lighting. For example, when the bride is getting ready, you can position the bride in front of a window, pulling the drapes just enough to let the light pour in and using minimal light in the room. The result will have the bride’s silhouette brighter than the other details in the photo.

  1. Ambient LightingControlling the Light For Perfection

Just like the tip above, let’s discuss how to control the lighting, especially ambient lighting. Ambient lighting can be anything that comes in through the windows, open doorways, and ceiling windows. Additionally, light from other sources like lamps, ceiling lights, wall sconces, neon lights, lights from mirrors, and fluorescent lights also fall under the same. Now, as much as these forms of lighting are perfect for dramatic photos, these forms of lighting can also bleed into your photo composition.

So, the key dramatic portrait photography lighting tip is to scout the location and ensure you know the light sources. This will help you to compose the ideas you’d want to try. What’s more, once you take note of the pockets of light flowing through the rooms or the area, it will give you a general idea of when to shoot. Make it a point to take note of the surroundings, and the time. For example, if you’re taking photos in the afternoon, then the ceiling windows can give you the perfect lighting to add drama to your photo. However, that would mean, you’ll have to shut off other light sources. In other words, for the ceiling light to be perfect for your portraits, you’ll need to draw the drapes and cover other windows, and shut the doors so that the only light you have is the ceiling light.

Another idea to help you capture the essence of this tip is using the ambient lighting of fireplaces or wall sconces. For example, if you want to take dramatic portraits of a newlywed couple, but the moon is already out, then you can use lights from wall sconces for fireplaces to add the perfect touch of dramatic lighting! However, bear in mind that this does not mean that you may not have to manipulate the lighting with the use of external lighting. You may still have to use an external flash, modifiers, spotlights, or even a strobe light.

  1. Experimenting With Lightning: Do Not Be Afraid To Take Charge 

By taking charge here, we do not mean calling the shots. What we mean is quite simple – take control of the light! For dramatic lighting, the best portrait photography tip is to control your light. You can use the hard light technique, which means that there’s a little transition between the bright and dark areas of the photo. Hard light highlights the areas of transition, meaning highlights the areas of shadows. Another impressive way to take dramatic portraits is to use focused or patterned light! You can create patterns for your camera lenses on cardboard or use a stencil in front of the light source to add the details. This will create areas of darkness and other areas of “light.” Lastly, you can also use full contrast, meaning dramatic black-and-white photos. However, for colorful photos, you can compose the photo with dark and light or opposing colors in the composition.

The Bottom Line

Photography, especially portrait photography, demands precise decisions and lightning. Although proper lighting is important, the lack of lightning in the traditional way can pave the way for dramatic photos. However, to use the lack of light in your favor, you need some help, which is where the above-mentioned points will help you out. Before you start off with your camera, lenses, and gear, remember, as long as you remember the key component of dramatic photography is to capture the emotion of the moment. And for dramatic portrait photography, you understand how shadows and light dance to create the perfect illumination of the moment and the subjects will help you to capture “drama” in your photos.

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