An Introduction To Creative Human Photography

Headshot Nikki

Headshot Nikki

by Shelley Harvey

Creative portrait photography is all about what inspires you.


It is your interpretation of a concept, creating a piece of work which evokes emotion and inspires a viewer to want to keep looking at it and hopefully hang it on a wall in their home.

I have been creating fine art portraiture for eight years, and all the while, my work has been an intuitive, evolutionary process. I am forever learning new techniques and finding new ideas to try. We should never stop trying to learn and move forward in our craft as trying something new, something which is challenging and perhaps uncomfortable, is never time wasted. Even if our best-laid plans fail, we will have at least learnt from the process.

When we speak of portraiture, we often think of client sessions and family photos – fine art portraiture differs, as it is a work, a creation, we do for ourselves. We create the scene, create an emotion, and turn it into art. We have full creative licence to do as we please (always with the model’s consent, of course!)

Concept & Creativity

My style varies from shooting in natural light when I’m keen to capture catchlights in the eyes to shooting against dark backgrounds, which suits my darker, grungy style of photography.

I always convert my work to black and white to see if the image becomes more powerful when the colour is stripped away. Take, for example, my image titled Scintillating Silver, where I took inspiration from my surroundings and the props I had on hand.

Prior to my workshop, I found a cool piece of metal mesh in my husband's shed. I instantly thought this could be used in an image! The mesh was pliable and didn't have too many sharp edges that would scratch the model. Once on location, the idea came together when I had Millie in make-up and dressed in a silver bodysuit - that's when the mesh was added.

I love the texture the mesh brings to the image and also the ‘why factor’. I am always looking for items or objects I can add to an image to create a different look.


When creating fine art portraiture, the original image SOC (straight out of camera) is often the foundation on which to build meaning that, although I plan the concept, some of my images from planned shoots are happy accidents. Sometimes I will use the full image; other times, I may focus on one area, as was the case in my image titled Fallen Angel, which has become all about the hands. This was not my original intention, but once I got into post-processing, I was mesmerised by the hands and the emotion they conveyed. The rest of the image suddenly became less important, hence the blurring of the rest of the subject. By using this process, the viewer is drawn to the hands, and a story begins to unfold. To me, this image signifies struggles of faith and power.

Very rarely will I delete any images from a shoot as I will go back and use pieces from different images to create a composite, and as my post-processing techniques evolve, I always have stock to pull from to process in a different way.

Preparation of the concept is imperative before I begin a shoot. There are several factors to consider, including location, natural or artificial light, props, wardrobe, hair, and makeup. Am I going for a set theme? Does this involve creating a period in time? What emotions am I trying to convey? Do I have a story in my mind that will be easy for the viewer to decipher, or do I want it left open for interpretation?

Read the full article by Shelley Harvey in Issue 58 of NZPhotographer magazine.

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