The Utility of Portraits in Ads

By Caleb Rexius

Are direct-to-camera portrait shots overused in contemporary ads? Maybe. 

Are they sometimes cheezy? Definitely. 

Do they work? Yes.

Today, we’re talking about The Utility of Portraits in Advertising.


Using portrait cinematography in promotional videos is still highly effective when it comes to communicating a welcoming and inclusive brand identity, with a personal touch.

In my personal production experience, portrait shots help fill in the gaps of understanding, empathy, and connection.


Obviously, not just any portrait shot will do.  When I’m filming portraits, I try to get a range of emotions, not just the simple smile.

There are so many different subtle changes actors can make in their face. This can emote a wide range of feelings and apply to a broad range of uses as well.

If I’m creating a positive, lighthearted ad for an insurance provider, I don’t want a serious, sinister face looking at me. Generally, a soft smile will apply much better here, so let’s save the serious face for a high-intensity sports application instead.


There’s just something about watching a screen and seeing someone stare back at you that undeniably makes you feel more connected to that brand in that moment.


In addition, compiling many faces/portraits together in an ad in sequential order, or in a large grid, can also help build of feeling of community, which is a strategy many brands and marketers employ near the end of advertisements.


Finally (as seen in so many projects in my past), finishing with a portrait shot on the final frame clearly communicates a conclusion to the piece. People have even come to expect and anticipate those sorts of endings, and it can be a smooth transition into branding and call-to-action cards.

Let’s review what portraits do:

Communicate Inclusion

Translate Emotion

Spark Intimate Connection

Highlight Community

Signify a Conclusion

For those reasons, portraits are sticking around for a while. 

Caleb is the Founder and Lead Cinematographer at Filmpac.

FILMPAC Filmpac is a premium stock footage + music membership library.