15 tips every portrait photographer must know for making more powerful portraits!
1. Have respect
This is my number one rule. It doesn’t matter if I am photographing a poor boy in Laos or the CEO of a large company in New York-I always respect the people I photograph. I live by the motto: “you should never get close to people in order to take their photo; you should take their photo in order to get closer to them”. Act as if your camera is a bridge and not a weapon. I have friends who are amazing street photographers, who manage to work with such discretion that they can get the portrait without the person realizing he was photographed. Certainly, there are some exceptions, but I believe that people are not zebras and we are not hunters. To summarize the point, I photograph old people in same manner I would like someone to take pictures of my grandmother.
2. Ask yourself – Do I understand what a portrait is?
“A Portrait is painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person […] the intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person”
While this is a very basic definition of the concept, it can help us to understand the true nature of good portrait photography. A portrait must tell a story. What kind of story? A story about the person in the image. How can you tell a story of a person in one image? You can’t! You can never capture the whole story, because human beings are too complex. You can either choose to focus on a specific emotion expressed by the subject or by yourself. I call the first method “highlighting”, in which you zero in on a specific story, at a specific time.
For example: when I took the photo of the Japanese girl (above) I was trying to highlight this specific moment, when she held her mother’s hand, when she has not yet decided – whether to leave or hold on tight. Sometimes the best stories don’t reveal the whole story at once. Like in this image from China (below). Do you think this girl is waiting for someone who should be coming soon, or is she watching someone leave?
The second method, in which you imprint your on feeling onto the story, can start with answering the following question: How did you feel when you met this person? Because a good image is told by two people – the one in the image, and the one behind the camera.