From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Portrait photography (also known as portraiture) is the capture by means of photography of the likeness of a person or a small group of people, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The objective is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person. Like other types of portraiture, the focus of the photograph is the person's face, although the entire body and the background may be included. A portrait is generally not a snapshot, but a composed image of a person in a still position. A portrait often shows a person looking directly at the camera.
Unlike many other styles of photography, the subjects of portrait photography are non-professional models. Many family portraits and photographs that commemorate special occasions, such as graduations or weddings, are professionally produced and hang in private homes. Most portraits are not intended for public exhibition.
Portrait photography has been around since the invention and popularization of the camera. It is a cheaper and often more accessible method than portrait painting, which has been used by distinguished figures before the popularity of the camera.
The relatively low cost of the daguerreotype in the middle of the 19th century led to its popularity for portraiture. Studios sprang up in cities around the world, some producing more than 500 plates a day. The style of these early works reflected the technical challenges associated with 30-second exposure times and the painterly aesthetic of the time. Subjects were generally seated against plain backgrounds and lit with the soft light of an overhead window and whatever else could be reflected with mirrors. As the equipment became more advanced, the ability to capture images with short exposure times gave photographers more creative freedom and thus created new styles of portrait photography.
As photographic techniques developed, photographers took their talents out of the studio and onto battlefields, across oceans and into remote wilderness. William Shew's Daguerreotype Saloon, Roger Fenton's Photographic Van and Mathew Brady's What-is-it? wagon set the standards for making portraits and other photographs in the field.