Loading Spinner

Portrait Photography

Portraiture is fundamental to the history of photography, and is one of its principle uses from its inception in the mid 19th century. Portraiture was no longer the privilege of the upper class, as photography made it accessible to the masses. Initially, long exposure times rendered it impossible to capture sitters clearly, but the technology improved with the daguerreotype and subsequent processes.

The daguerreotype produced a single image, but experiments with the wet plate collodion method yielded the ability to print multiple images quickly so families could have multiple portraits from one sitting. In a matter of only a few years, entrepreneurs such as Gaspar Felix Tournachon (Nadar) had opened commercial portrait studios both for celebrities and political figures as well as for the masses. Nadar pioneered techniques for posing sitters to achieve his own particular recognizable style. His contemporary, André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri achieved success with the development of the carte de visite, using a special camera that allowed him to make eight negatives at once.

Carte de visits were small portraits that friends exchanged and collected. Over time, the portrait was a reflecting pool for the various styles that took hold of the medium, from pictorial photography with its soft effects to street photography that captured people unaware, to the straight unflinching clarity of the 20th century.


Quick Facts

  • In addition to his advancements in the commercialization of photography for portraiture, Nadar was also well known for taking the first aerial photographs in a balloon above Paris
  • The famous yet amateur Pre-Rafaelite photographer Julia Margaret Cameron is known for the soft, pictorial effects of her celebrity portraits taken in the 1860s and '70s. She often intentionally increased the exposure time of her photographs to create the soft-focus effect
  • Richard Avedon is one of the most influential portrait photographers to emerge in the 20th century. His portraits were characterized by a close focus on the face against a white background, allowing each portrait to become a psychological and emotional study of the sitter

Recommended Items at Auction

See all items

Vintage framed photo lot
Mar 05, 9:00 AM EST
Vintage framed photo lot
by Wehrly's Auction Service
Est: $0- $0
$126 Bids
[CALIFORNIA]. Seth Kinman, California Hunter and Trapper, w...
Mar 07, 10:00 AM CST
[CALIFORNIA]. Seth Kinman, California Hunter and Trapper, w...
by Potter & Potter Auctions Inc.
Est: $150- $250
$1255 Bids
Important Braxton Craven Trinity North Carolina Family Photo Collection
Mar 09, 10:00 AM EST
Important Braxton Craven Trinity North Carolina Family Photo Collection
by Mebane Antique Auction
Est: $100- $10,000
$1104 Bids
bp parity badge
[Tintype] Native American Man w/ Knife
Mar 16, 10:00 AM EDT
[Tintype] Native American Man w/ Knife
by Fleischer's Auction House
Est: $1,750- $2,250
$2254 Bids
Nakoda People Portraits Gelatin Silver Prints, 3
Mar 17, 12:00 PM EDT
Nakoda People Portraits Gelatin Silver Prints, 3
by Auctions at Showplace
Est: $800- $1,200
$1753 Bids
Antique Photographs: Railroad Tintypes (2)
Mar 09, 10:00 AM EST
Antique Photographs: Railroad Tintypes (2)
by Roland Auctions NY
Est: $30- $50
$303 Bids
CODY, William “Buffalo Bill” (1846-1917). C...
Mar 07, 10:00 AM CST
CODY, William “Buffalo Bill” (1846-1917). C...
by Potter & Potter Auctions Inc.
Est: $150- $300
$1253 Bids
Antique Tintype Photograph Portraits (3)
Mar 09, 10:00 AM EST
Antique Tintype Photograph Portraits (3)
by Roland Auctions NY
Est: $30- $50
$302 Bids
Antique Tintype Photograph Portraits (6)
Mar 09, 10:00 AM EST
Antique Tintype Photograph Portraits (6)
by Roland Auctions NY
Est: $75- $100
$102 Bids
bp parity badge
[OPPENHEIMER, Ben] Florida Soldier w/ Carbine
Mar 16, 10:00 AM EDT
[OPPENHEIMER, Ben] Florida Soldier w/ Carbine
by Fleischer's Auction House
Est: $2,250- $2,750
$1252 Bids
ADMIRAL DOT TOM THUMB CDV PHOTOGRAPH LOT OF 2
Mar 06, 9:00 AM EST
ADMIRAL DOT TOM THUMB CDV PHOTOGRAPH LOT OF 2
by Affiliated Auctions & Realty LLC
Est: $100- $200
$302 Bids
[PERFORMERS]. Group of 21 Cabinet Card and CDV Port...
Mar 07, 10:00 AM CST
[PERFORMERS]. Group of 21 Cabinet Card and CDV Port...
by Potter & Potter Auctions Inc.
Est: $400- $600
$2002 Bids
bp parity badge
[Ambrotype] Iconic Southern Portrait
Mar 16, 10:00 AM EDT
[Ambrotype] Iconic Southern Portrait
by Fleischer's Auction House
Est: $2,250- $2,750
$1252 Bids
Antique Photograph Portraits of Children (4)
Mar 09, 10:00 AM EST
Antique Photograph Portraits of Children (4)
by Roland Auctions NY
Est: $30- $50
$101 Bid
[CASTRO, Fidel Alejandro (1926-2008)]. KORDA, Alberto (1928...
Mar 07, 10:00 AM CST
[CASTRO, Fidel Alejandro (1926-2008)]. KORDA, Alberto (1928...
by Potter & Potter Auctions Inc.
Est: $100- $200
$501 Bid
Group of Nine Cabinet Cards of Assorted Sub...
Mar 07, 10:00 AM CST
Group of Nine Cabinet Cards of Assorted Sub...
by Potter & Potter Auctions Inc.
Est: $200- $300
$1001 Bid
[TINTYPES]. Group of Eight Humorous Tintypes, Including Two...
Mar 07, 10:00 AM CST
[TINTYPES]. Group of Eight Humorous Tintypes, Including Two...
by Potter & Potter Auctions Inc.
Est: $300- $500
$1501 Bid
LAWRENCE SCHILLER (New York, 1936). Robert Redford and Paul Newman in "Two Men and a Fate," 1969. Photograph.
Mar 05, 11:00 AM CET
LAWRENCE SCHILLER (New York, 1936). Robert Redford and Paul Newman in "Two Men and a Fate," 1969. Photograph.
by Setdart Auction House
Est: €1,000- €1,200
€4001 Bid
bp parity badge
[Tintype] Lawman w/ Badge
Mar 16, 10:00 AM EDT
[Tintype] Lawman w/ Badge
by Fleischer's Auction House
Est: $150- $300
$1001 Bid
Blake Little, Untitled; Derek and Keith (three works)
Mar 08, 10:00 AM PST
Blake Little, Untitled; Derek and Keith (three works)
by Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Est: $1,000- $1,500
$501 Bid
AUTOGRAPHED PHOTO OF RUSSIAN WRITER MAKSIM GORKY
Mar 09, 10:00 AM EST
AUTOGRAPHED PHOTO OF RUSSIAN WRITER MAKSIM GORKY
by Antique Arena Inc
Est: $100- $150
$501 Bid
[TINTYPES]. Group of Five Tintypes and One Ambrotype. [V.p....
Mar 07, 10:00 AM CST
[TINTYPES]. Group of Five Tintypes and One Ambrotype. [V.p....
by Potter & Potter Auctions Inc.
Est: $100- $300
$501 Bid
(100 + ) PRESS PHOTOS MUSICIANS AND BANDS
Mar 06, 10:00 AM EST
(100 + ) PRESS PHOTOS MUSICIANS AND BANDS
by Thomaston Place Auction Galleries
Est: $100- $150
$501 Bid

Sellers Who Sell Portrait Photography


Potter & Potter Auctions Inc.

Potter & Potter Auctions Inc.

Roland Auctions NY

Roland Auctions NY

Finarte

Finarte

Connoisseur Online

Connoisseur Online