You are a story. And a portrait is a wordless version of that story with no beginning, no middle, and no end, There is no arc to the now. If you look at your portrait, and assign to it moments from the past and future yet to come, you will be distorting it, and may not like what you see. It’s human nature to create some sort of Gestalt composed of memories and expectations but that is wholly unnecessary and potentially counterproductive. Your portrait is a slice of the now. And by the time you even see it, it is in the past.
Part of my job is to take the picture. But another part is to help you to interpret it. When I see your photograph I see beauty, no matter what you see. I have no filters, I create no story where none exists. Unfortunately I can’t be there for every person when they see their photo for the first time, but that’s the kind of photography I want to be doing. I hesitate to call it therapeutic. Let’s call it guided. The whole experience, from the moment we meet through...
He was a stranger that day. He just walked up to me and asked if I could take his picture. We were in Chinatown. It was my birthday. I was doing free portraits for my friends, or anyone who would show up in Chinatown. And I loved him instantly. He was so open, so willing. He trusted me before he even knew me. He used to live in Chinatown, he told me. This alley was familiar to him. He was comfortable and relaxed. A perfect subject for a portrait.
The perfect subject for a portrait is a person who wears their heart on their sleeve. A perfect subject for a portrait engages me as if I were an old friend. A perfect subject for a portrait is not afraid to get close, to be emotionally intimate. A perfect subject for a portrait feels totally comfortable in their own skin. You don’t have to be perfect but it’s helpful to be aware of these things. All you have to do is be yourself, the way you are with your family and friends. Treat me as a family member. Treat me as a friend.
People assume I’m some sort of poet or artist but what I really love to do are team photos - portraits of people who work together. I’ll do your About Us page, your speaker bios, your LinkedIN photos, your C-Level execs.
About Us is more than words. It better be. You’ve heard the axiom show, don’t tell. You can say whatever you want about your people but if it doesn’t show up in their photos it will ring hollow and people won’t care.
About Us conveys the spirit and energy behind a brand. It’s supposed to make people feel like they know you. You want perspective employees to visualize themselves there. And potential clients to want to know you. About Us is your own zeitgeist. It has to feel good.
I can help you feel good. I can help you exude joy. I can help you to capture that energy that lets people know you’re the real deal.
For the NPM shoot (of which the above photo is a representative slice) I was working with a generic conference room. But it had good natural light, good northern exp...
Tell me what you think. Tell me how you relate to the world. Don’t mince words. Life is too short and too dangerous for that. By dangerous I don’t mean deadly. We live in a time of hyperbole and outright lies. Not everything is as it seems. But this is not the era of falsehoods it is the era of truth. Those who are honest, and real, and vulnerable, are the true leaders we look to, we must look to, to save us from ourselves.
In my photographs I seek the truth. It’s that simple. I want to see people as they really are. All I ask is that you come as you are and embody your authentic self. Can you look in the mirror and love what you see? Can you look at all the other faces around you and feel the same? I’m not talking about your family and friends. They are easy to love. What about the person in front of you at the stop sign? What about the woman ahead of you on line?
That’s my approach to this. That’s my technique. We both show up honestly and recognize ourselves in the other. And that’s w...
Metaphors drive understanding. Through metaphor we don’t just see our connectedness, we feel it. For Marshall here, the metaphor is the river. Running rapids in a kayak. I don’t have to be a kayaker to understand that. I just have to have a basic understanding of rivers.
What we do in the office and what we do outside of it are not two different things. Despite what Marshall says, the line between those two places is not as hard as it might seem. I get what he’s saying. Each has its place. But there is much in common between the mentality required of each. Survival is not the dire binary of life and death but there is a certain danger, a certain seriousness, the office shares with the river.
But that’s not the point. We can tell much about this man by how he looks at the world and spends his time. This profile is more than just a picture. It’s a glimpse into how he thinks. And that’s the whole point of these ODEs (which is what I call these story portraits). I’m interested in how a perso...
We can’t possibly know what’s going on inside a person. But there’s a whole universe in there, an entire lifetime of experiences and feelings. Looking at a face is like looking at a distant galaxy through a radio telescope. Something is there. But what?
To some degree we are mysteries to one another but we are more alike than we often believe. We may be galaxies orbiting in our own universes but we share so much. We are here together, on this planet, breathing the same air. We have arms and legs and hearts. We have mothers and sisters and sons. We eat food, drink water and sleep. We love and despair.
My portraits celebrate that. They are an attempt to recognize one another as individuals, but also collectively as people. I mean, this is not something I think about while taking photographs. I don’t think about the meta purpose. I focus on the person. But I see each as a planet recognizing that we’re all spinning around the same star.
I know that I’m just looking at the surface, below which...
The other night I was watching The Sopranos and there was a scene with Hal Holbrook where he plays a scientist who, while watching a boxing match, tells Tony (Soprano) that the two fighters in the ring are an illusion. We’re not separate entities, he says, we’re all together, in a soup of molecules. There is no distinct individual. We’re waveforms. Everything is everything.
I think about this a lot. I’ve always believed that everything is connected, beyond metaphor. Literally. Each of us is a thread in a vast fabric. Holbrook’s character goes on to say, we exist as individuals only in our consciousness.
Photographs seem to further this illusion. They seem to support an objective reality. They serve to reinforce our perception that we are entities, islands. Is it possible that over the last decade or so we’ve grown more distant from each other because of social media and the over-reliance on the so-called objective reality of the photograph?
I have said before that it’s possible for a phot...
I know that we are so much more than we see. We are not our photographs, not our reflections. Yet, in those things there is an aura of truth. The eyes see, but the heart processes. The more we look the more we feel.
Fleeting glances reveal but surfaces. To go deep you must absorb, and that means looking with organs other than eyes.
Intent is crucial. You have to want to see. If a photographer takes this approach, the resulting images will more likely reverberate with an energy beyond the visual. Why does it matter? Because such portraits leave an impression. Because the human behind the image will register.
You want to capture attention, and hold it long enough for a person to feel something. It’s not about vanity. It’s about conveying the essential you. Passion, commitment, care. That’s what you want to show. You don’t get that from a selfie. You don’t get that from an assembly line photographer.
When you choose a photographer engage a person who engages you. Choose wisely. The wrong doc...
Yesterday, I was in someone’s living room and I was looking at them through the camera, and we were talking. I was asking questions, getting to know them, and the light was perfect, and the photos were looking great and I thought ‘This is it. Doing this. Meeting someone for the first time and experiencing their life.’
I get to stand in front of strangers and and look at them, and humanity blossoms before me. It’s an incredible honor, a blessing really. I feel as if I am privileged to be in this position. Can I really get paid to help people see their best selves?
If I could I would do it for free. It’s sad that we live in a world where we have to charge money for helping each other. I truly enjoy being a portrait photographer. It brings me joy. It’s not easy, and I’m far from rich, but I have yet to find a job that makes me feel as this one does.
When I look at a face like the one above I am paid a bonus. A tiny explosion of joy erupts within me. Months, years later I feel my heart swell...
When I look at a face in a photograph I want to feel the person, get a real sense of their spirit. For this to happen they have to behave toward me as if I was an old and trusted friend.
This person here I’ve known for thirty-eight years so it was easy. There is no barrier between us. He knows how I see the world, and thus trusts me, not just with the camera, but with all the little decisions that have to be made after the photo is taken. People don’t realize this.
I take an edit pass over the photos. I choose the photos that I will show you. I process those photos in such a way as to enhance light, line, texture, skin tone etc.. That’s really the work. That’s the hard part. Taking the photo is only half the job. The other half is editing. It takes longer to edit a photo than it does to take it. When choosing a photographer consider their editing skills.
I look at thousands and thousands of faces. Selecting the ones that convey the right ‘feeling’ is the most important part of what I do a...
I shot all these DBI portraits with a 50mm 1.2. For most of you that means nothing. But do you notice how there’s almost a 3D quality to the photo? Think of the image as a loaf of bread. Only one slice is in focus - the face. The larger your aperture (the shutter, the opening that light enters) the thinner the slice of bread that’s in focus.
In this case his eyes are that slice, which we call the focal plane. The back of the chair, his neck and parts of his collar are all nicely blurred. That blur, which is sometimes called bokeh, is what gives the photo a 3D quality. In the case of a portrait, the face pops out.
Since a person’s eyes are the focal point of your attention in life, as well as in a photograph, this ‘technique’ helps to draw the viewer into the person’s face. When you combine that with good light, interesting texture, and negative space, you are likely to get portraits that are, well, interesting.
I love this effect. It gives me a visceral feeling of presence. For me at leas...
I’ve said this before but your face is an invitation and your portrait (on social media, websites, bios etc.) is either going to beckon connection and interaction or it’s not. If we’re bothering to be here on these platforms at all then it’s interaction we’re after.
I always tell people, “Think of me as your client, your customer. Look at me the way you’d look at them.” The energy should flow from you to me. That way you have the ‘power’ in the dynamic.
That power dynamic is, I think, what intimidates some people about being photographed. A photographer is not an authority figure, though he/she is often looked at as one. What we do do is get close to you then show you what you look like now, in the moment, and that’s kind of powerful.
Not all of us are up for that. We age, we gain weight, our skin changes. Time does what it does. It’s easy to squint in the bathroom mirror but not at a photograph you just paid for. So before you get that portrait done, spend some time looking at yourself,...
A photograph is a portal through which we may enter the heart of another human being. It is a glimpse of something that cannot be fully conveyed in an instant. It’s not the whole picture. It is not something that can even be seen.
Auras, and energy and chakras sound like hippie talk but they are just words for the ineffable quality of a mind attached to a living body. They speak of things seen and felt beyond seeing. I wish I had a word for that feeling, the feeling that you are in the presence of something alive and wise.
That aliveness, that vibrancy, is all I hope to capture and it usually comes through, though not always as dramatically as in the portrait of Jonah above.
Light is important. Backgrounds are important. But what really matters is the connection between me and you. Maybe that makes you feel uncomfortable. You don’t know me. But if you allow me to take your picture you will. You won’t know the details of my life but you’ll know the kind of person that I am, you’ll know kin...
It was my first portrait booking outside of San Francisco. Never before had I been flown in for photos but New York City is my hometown and I was lucky enough to know the brother of the firm. I didn’t know the people, had never been to their offices. But they sent me some photos of their space and I could see right away they had good light.
I was nervous. I always am before a shoot, but this time there was a lot at stake. I had not done this many portraits in such a short amount of time, and I had no idea what the set-up would be like. But Dave, the CEO, has a great aesthetic and as soon as I walked in I saw these chairs. Mid-Century modern. Not quite quite wing-backs but broad across the tops and in wonderful colors. That’s when I remembered David Hockney.
I’m a fan of David Hockney. Especially his painted portraits of people (mostly men) seated in these beautiful chairs. I had long been inspired by him to simply sit people in an interesting chair, in good light, and engage them with th...
If you’re reading this then my strategy worked. I shot a photograph intriguing enough to pique your curiosity. This particular location gets good light and every portrait I do here is intriguing. They (the photos I take here) look more like paintings than photographs and that’s a quality I strive for.
It’s a certain timeless, classic look. Fifty years from now you can look back on this and it will feel just as alive. That’s my goal, to take photos that will stand the test of time, not appear dated, and convey the vital essence of a person. I don’t always succeed. But I succeed often enough to know that I’m onto something. This is no fluke.
I think that this approach is just as valid for corporate headshots as it is for personal ones. I think that LinkedIN is the perfect venue for pictures that reach out through the screen and grab hold of you. I look at hundreds, no thousands, of LinkedIN profiles and the ones that really grab my attention are the ones where the person has given careful...