Kyle Larson: Seattle Portrait Photographer

“A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.”
— Edward Steichen


For another interpretation of Edward Steichen’s quote above, “It takes two to tango.” Both photographer and subject must collaborate to achieve a truly memorable portrait.

Some photographers, and many artists, maintain that a portrait is “all about the face.” But dynamic portraiture is so much more than that!

It’s the goal of the photographer to shoot a series of carefully posed photographs, focusing on a person’s distinguishing facial features, while at the same time capturing the subject’s attitude, identity, and character, and making the entire result appear natural and unaffected.

Backgrounds, props, and other exterior factors merely set the scene. They ‘re not the focal point of Portrait Photography – the personal image is, as shaped by your own unique characteristics, distinctive traits and personality.

The major genre of portrait photography encompasses a number of different styles, or sub-genres. Kyle Larson, a veteran photographer in the Seattle area, encourages clients to consider different types and styles of portrait photography. Working together, you and Kyle can achieve better portraits – whether of you alone, with a loved one, or with family members or friends. A successful portrait will add interest and flair when exhibited in your home or office, and when shared with friends and relatives.

Here Are the Types of Portrait Photography You Should Know About to Plan Your Portrait Session

Too often, memories of people we love are relegated to school photos, casual snapshots, “selfies,” or inexpensive department store photo packages shot in markedly artificial and brightly lit settings. Better than nothing, these photos mark the passage of time and stages of growth, but only rarely do they produce a real treasure.

Every family can benefit from thoughtful and artistically composed portraits of family members, together and separately. Such photos are an investment in your memories, and will be treasured for years to come. To determine the best setting and portrait type for you or your family, Kyle will help you plan the photo session and choose an appropriate environment or a favorite locale for the shoot.

The first thing to understand are the different types (sub-genres) of Portrait Photography:

Traditional Photo Portraits
Traditional Photo Portraits usually depict a subject, carefully posed by the photographer to help them appear their best, looking directly into the camera.

These photos are most often taken in the studio, utilizing a choice of photography backdrops. The image is usually cropped at the shoulders.  A formal business portrait may show just one individual, or can be taken together with a business partner or associate, posed with one person standing and the other seated in an office or library setting.

The Traditional Portrait genre remains popular because, generally speaking, the pose and lighting are flattering. A posed “formal” Traditional Portrait differs from a “casual” one whenever the attire, poses, and studio backdrops are less relaxed, “proper” and restrictive.

Couple, Family and Group Portraits
Perhaps the most popular type of photographic portraiture depicts couples and families, siblings, family gatherings, and even business or social groups. Yes, even large group shots can be considered portraits! The key in Couple, Family, and Group Portraits is to bring out associations between  people and highlight the nature of their relationships.

Sometimes a special occasion is the reason behind the multi-subject portrait, like an anniversary, a special birthday, or graduation, Bat or Bar Mitzvah, first communion or confirmation.

Weddings are a special area of this genre, and require expertise that Kyle Larson Photography is noted for, along with his Travel and Portrait Photography. Virtually all genres of photography can be used to create stunning portraits to last a lifetime.

More challenging than photographing a single individual, Couple, Family and Group Portrait shoots mean there are more people to organize, to pose together attractively, and to elicit interactions between  group members. But this extra effort gives group shots a vitality that is sometimes difficult to capture with a solo portrait. Multi-subject portraiture may fall into any of the sub-genres that follow.

Lifestyle Portraits
Lifestyle portraiture is an extremely popular sub-genre for Couple, Family, or Group Portraits, and should be considered when planning this kind of photo event.

The complete opposite of Traditional portraiture, Lifestyle Portraits depict couples, groups or families in their customary environments, or interacting casually in an outdoor setting. Activities involve doing ordinary, everyday things together. When clients select a Lifestyle photography session, they seek touching memories that will forever recall familiar and important interactions between them.

Photographing subjects in a familiar environment, such as their home, permits this type of portraiture to be relatively unposed. Within the limited time frame of the portrait appointment, the subjects may suggest, or the photographer may otherwise guide them in simple interactions or activities that focus on capturing the relationships between them. Subtle direction is an effective tool to involve Lifestyle Portrait subjects with one another in a manner that helps them forget they’re being photographed.

Environmental Portraits:
The Environmental Portrait is a blend of both Traditional Portrait photography and Lifestyle portraiture. However, in Environmental Portrait Photography, the setting or environment shares billing with a person’s image. The location for this type of portrait is usually a place of significance to the particular individual, group or family. The chosen environment often gives clues as to the personalities and interests of those being photographed in that setting.
Unlike Lifestyle portraiture, Environmental Portraits afford the photographer far more creative opportunities, and encourage the use of relaxed posing techniques for maximum effect. Lighting, pose, personality and the chosen environment all work in unison to achieve a desired impact in an Environmental Portrait.

Candid and Street Portraits
By definition, a Candid Portrait is just that. Photographers on the move are often inspired to take pictures of complete strangers.

Candid Portraits appear serendipitous – unplanned and spontaneous. When a photograph is taken of people on the street, or those unaware of the presence of a camera, the image is generally free of any structured pose or direction given to those being photographed. Taken without setup or forethought, photographers are frequently inspired by the light, weather, environment, position or natural activity of those being photographed.

But portraits can also be arranged to appear spontaneous and candid, particularly when a photographer has the luxury of spending long periods of time with the subject as they go through normal activities of their day. Photos of this type often accompany extended interviews in a subject’s usual surroundings.

Aside from being its own genre of portrait photography, the fresh qualities of Candid Portraits can influence other sub-genres. In many instances, photographers can use a mix of posing, prompts, and suggestion to encourage candid moments, despite the presence of a camera.

After a time in the constant presence of a clicking shutter, with photos being taken frequently and without notice, folks generally becomes less self-conscious and become much less aware of the photographer’s presence as they go about their day. This provides an opportunity to achieve the similar degree of unmindfulness that a truly Candid Portrait would capture. The result is naturalness of expression, posture and attitude

Fine Art Portraits
Artists and photographers endlessly debate characteristics that classify an image or object as Fine Art. Most vaguely agree that what constitutes Fine Art is any object or image of a quality that would merit exhibition in an art gallery or museum – vastly different settings than that of a portrait hanging on a wall in your home, or occupying a corner of your desk or credenza at the office.

A Fine Art Portrait is often inspired by other forms of artwork, and may incorporate historic or mythological themes. Some Fine Art Portrait photographers. for example, will take inspiration from Flemish or Renaissance paintings. Others wax truly creative, using wardrobe and makeup, specific poses and photo editing to achieve the allegorical results they desire, while still others unleash their creativity by producing Fine Art Portraits that also encompass Conceptual and Surreal Portrait elements.

Glamour & Boudoir Portrait Photography
Glamor & Boudoir Portrait Photography has become quite popular in recent years, with small studios popping up in malls and popular shopping areas that exclusively produce this type of portrait.

These dedicated studios usually offer a package service, complete with use of lingerie and seductive or dramatic outfits, professional makeup artists and hair stylists onsite, along with Boudoir or Glamour settings and various props like (fake) champagne, extravagant costume jewelry, evening wear, and “fur” stoles.

A Glamour Portrait is intended to highlight the subject’s appearance, and uses costuming to achieve a sensual, fashion, or glamour theme. The focus, however, is on the person themselves. Both Glamour and Fashion photography share a similar approach and impact, and both heavily utilize poses and dress for effect and drama. Images are often full-length shots, photographed in a variety of poses and emphasizing the individual and the attire.

While similar to Glamour Portraits, the idea behind a Boudoir Portrait is to celebrate the subject’s sensuality. Boudoir Portraits seductively pose the person in lingerie, or even semi-nude, and incorporate suggestive or inviting facial expressions.  As the name suggests, Boudoir Portraits are usually taken in a luxury bedroom setting. Boudoir Portrait sessions are usually booked by women to create a sexy portrait as a gift to a spouse or significant other.

Conceptual Portraits
Conceptual Portraits are considered a type of Fine Art portraiture, intended to capture a specific idea or concept within the portrait image. The Conceptual Portrait is a photographic sub-genre that often uses props, extraordinary settings, costuming, and various photographic editing techniques to achieve a particular vision, or express an artistic, historical or philosophical concept.

With Conceptual Portrait photography, the possibilities are endless. Anything goes: Levitation, manipulation of perspectives, fantastical costuming, makeup or wardrobe tricks, plus Photoshop (and more) are all part of this freewheeling and unique genre

Surreal Portraits
Salvador Dali is perhaps the best-known surrealist, and his art symbolized that which defies reality. For this reason, the original image created by the camera in Surreal Portrait Photography must be extensively manipulated to create a vision that is dream-like and truly extraordinary.

Phenomenal special effects can be created with props, wardrobe, lighting, fog machines, multiple images and various other photo tricks. But since you cannot photograph things that simply don’t exist, Surreal Portrait work necessitates a good deal of sophisticated Photoshop intervention.

Surreal Portrait Photography can turn fantastic dreams into remarkable photos or portraits. It’s tough to do, and takes a great deal of post-session work by the photographer, so special fees may apply. But when done well, resulting Surreal Portraits can be stunning and unique.


A variety of portrait proofs by Kyle are included below. Recall what you have learned by using these portrait proofs to identify the nine types of photo portraiture just described.

Then decide which sub-genre best expresses your desired outcome. Which do you like best?



A final step before scheduling the date and time of your exclusive Portrait Photography Shoot with Kyle is to select a setting or environment as background. If you do not have a site in mind, here are a few of Kyle’s favorites:

Seattle Photography and Portrait Settings:

Pike Place Market
Street musicians, produce vendors, and boisterous fishmongers at Pike Place Market create a feast for the senses. It’s a top tourist spot, however, and gets very crowded later in the day. Plan your session in the early morning, to catch the gorgeous light of daybreak and take your portrait photographs while vendors set up their stalls. Or arrive in the evening, after crowds have dispersed for the day.

Seattle Center and the Space Needle
Ride the elevator to the top of Seattle’s Space Needle for a  panoramic view of the city. Crowds will make setting up a tripod rather tricky, so some hand-held shots would work nicely for a Candid Portrait. At the Space Needle’s base, you’ll also find The Experience Music Project, a wild looking building designed by Frank Gehry, and gorgeous Chihuly Gardens and Glass Center.

Seattle Waterfront
A number of spots along the Seattle waterfront offer some extraordinary city views, and on rainy days, great opportunities to capture a reflection portrait in one of the many puddles.

West Seattle
Another panoramic skyline view is available in West Seattle, across Elliot Bay from downtown. Take a water taxi to Seacrest Park – a perfect place to catch the sun rising behind the city or, at night, reflections of city lights on Elliot Bay.

Interested in a beach photo session? Continue down Harbor Avenue to laid-back Alki Beach, with its expansive view of Elliott Bay and the Olympic mountains.  In fall and winter you’ll often have the beach to yourself.

Jose Rizal Bridge
Another iconic spot to capture Seattle’s skyline in your portrait session is the Jose Rizal Bridge. Come for the sunset over Elliot Bay; stay to photograph a background of light trails from the freeway below, at nightfall.

Kerry Park & Queen Anne
With a perfect view of Seattle, the Space Needle front and center, and (on a clear day) Mt. Rainier visible in the background, Kerry Park is a magnificent setting. This park can be crowded, so it’s definitely worth getting there early.

Fremont, on the other side of Queen Anne, has a quirky, colorful, bohemian vibe; or  stroll along the Burke-Gilman trail that runs along the ship canal. Either provides great surroundings for Lifestyle or Environmental Portraits.

Ballard & Golden Gardens
Once a Scandinavian fishing community, Ballard is now a popular neighborhood. Walk along NW Market Street and Ballard Avenue, or catch the Farmers Market on Sunday. Nearby, Chittenden Locks connect Lake Washington to Puget Sound. You can capture images of wildlife such as blue herons, sea lions, or an occasional whale. Golden Gardens, which offers amazing views of Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains, is also nearby.

University of Washington & Gasworks Park
The University campus sits on the shores of Union and Portage Bays and is incredibly beautiful, with views of Mt. Rainier, plus the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges. Spring heralds extraordinary cherry blossoms, and fall colors are glorious. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can rent canoes or rowboats for an Environmental Portrait shoot.

West of the UW campus is Gas Works Park – a unique park where a renovated historic coal gasification plant dominates the landscape with vivid colors. At night the skyline view offers beautiful reflections on Lake Union, or Kyle can capture your portrait(s) in silhouette at the top of Kite Hill.

Columbia Tower Sky-View Observatory (Downtown)
Want 360-degree panoramic views and breath-taking portrait backgrounds? Plan your shoot at the Sky View Observatory on the 73rd floor of the tallest building in Seattle: Columbia Center. The view takes in Mt. Rainier, Bellevue, Mt. Baker, the Cascade Mountains, Elliot Bay, the Olympic Mountains, plus the Space Needle and the entire city of Seattle. Wow! Just wow!

Bainbridge Island
The Bainbridge Island Ferry offers an easy day trip to the island for a family photo shoot, and the ferry ride is a marvelous way to permanently experience Seattle’s stunning scenery as background. Winslow, the downtown area, is quite walkable, and may add atmosphere for group photos.


“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
— Aaron Siskind


“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.
— Robert Frank


“It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.”
— Paul Caponigro


“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.
—  Dorothea Lange