Not all portraits I do are indoors, in offices, in urban settings. Not all lines are straight. Sometimes something softer is called for. Sometimes the best setting is the earth and sky. And occasionally, there are horses.
If a person asks me, I will tap into my reservoir of sacred places - locations where I have known magic to happen, and by magic I mean serendipitous encounters with trees, animals and land. I have done this now with countless individuals. I have never done it with a group, or team, though I could if the aesthetic of such a team called for it.
This can be a very personal, very emotional experience. For both the person being photographed and me. Usually such an experience requires walking together, and walking generally leads to talking, which means learning about one another. This is an excellent way of getting to know someone, and of loosening them up for a portrait session. Walking is the preferred method for priming the emotional pump that so often yields truly great...
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...
Each person is unique, but each person is connected to every other and has more similarities than differences. Without over-stating it (actually without stating it at all) that is what I try and communicate. Without realizing it, I want you to see yourself in every face.
It’s strange how what we notice first about someone are the differences. In an instant we perceive how we are not alike. Those differences are, in that fleeting moment, purely physical. Skin color. Body type. Ethnicity. Age. That is what our eyes are trained to do, that’s what they evolved to do. It seems to me that we could solve many problems if we saw less with our eyes and more with our hearts,
It’s easier to do that when we’re honest in how we come across in something as facile as a photograph. We live now in a world where photographs are ubiquitous. They’re often what we first see of each other now. So they’re important. They say you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression but I don’t think that’s true...
Presence. That’s what I’m going for. I want you to feel as if you’re standing in front of the person in the photograph. I want them to feel real. I want you to feel as if you could just reach out and touch them. People worry about how they look in a photo but it’s not how you look, it’s how you feel.
That feeling is the difference between a stiff, sterile portrait and one that conveys a true sense of you. Not the whole you obviously, but a whiff of you, a flavor. There’s a certain essence that comes through. That essence is, I guess, spirit, or maybe even soul. I don’t know. I certainly don’t want to over-analyze it, or even think too much about it. But you either feel it or you don’t.
I have found that natural light and natural backgrounds work best. They compliment your natural qualities. I have also discovered that serendipity - chance juxtapositions of texture, color, and light - plays an important role. You just don’t get this in a studio or with a plain, uniform background element.
This is the first portrait I ever got paid for. I got $50 which is not a livable wage for all the time and work involved but what I learned was invaluable. North-facing windows, I discovered, provide the best light. And the serendipity of location my ally.
I began my portrait photography career as a Task Rabbit which gave me experience and helped me build my portfolio. But it was no way to live. The so-called ‘gig economy’ is rigged. Service providers compete on price. It’s a race to the bottom. In order to win projects you have to bid blind, and bid low. There was no way I could make it as a photographer that way.
But how DO you make it? I don’t know. Word of mouth and constant hustle. It’s not enough to be good. You have to be lucky, and dogged. And you need friends. Thank God for my friends. Gratitude is always helpful but what I’m really here to talk about is authenticity. Truth. My photos strive for a certain truth in how they portray the people in them.
I can’t take everyone out to the Marin Headlands for portraits. I wish I could. The light is sublime. And the backgrounds are so interesting. Maybe one day I’ll do a series of team portraits there. It’s not easy to get to, but the results speak for themselves.
I choose to photograph in natural light because of the subtlety and nuance. I like the serendipity factor. You never know what you’re going to get. And there’s a freedom to this. Under the right conditions I can recreate a similar effect indoors, but still there’s something to roaming - randomly moving from place to place.
My favorite locations all have this in common - you can wander and always find great light and backgrounds. Perhaps someday I’ll do a portrait series in San Francisco’s Chinatown. That wo
uld be perfect for a local company.
If you’re looking for the standard headshot against a flat color, I’m really not your man. I can do that of course, but my strength is in synchronicity in natural light and locations. I’m lookin...
Sometimes it helps to just let go. Portrait photography can be too serious and it helps loosen you up by showing your goofy, funny self. If I don’t have a lot of time to get to know someone I ask them to show me some crazy. Make a crazy face. These photos are rarely seen except by me.
Faces are strange. They contain so much information. But a person who can find their inner clown shows me their humanity. And it’s humanity I seek to convey.
A person who’s not afraid to show this side of themselves can often show their other, more serious side too. We’re all actors, whether we’re aware of it or not, and posing for a portrait is just another act. It’s just a matter of holding an emotional state in your mind and sitting still.
So whatever it is you want to convey in your photo, think it, be it. Confidence, approachability, friendliness - it’s all in your repertoire. The face has evolved to communicate. Use it.
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...