People are beautiful, and the more headshots I do the more that fact is reinforced. Despite what we see out the window the world is filled with goodness and light. Most of the time I meet complete strangers, but when I leave them they are strangers no more. And I am overcome with hope and joy. That’s because even during a short photo session I come to understand that we are all connected, and so much alike.
Take this CEO of a natural products’ company for instance. He’s so passionate about his brand. He sold me in thirty seconds. And that’s because he’s real. There’s no sales pitch needed when you speak the truth. When it comes from the heart you just feel it. Authenticity is my wheelhouse. If you show up fake you come off fake. But the inverse is also true.
What I have to say to you is that we live in a time when truth and realness matters. More than ever. I want to be part of that. I want to capture that. I want to be a vehicle of light and authenticity. That’s my mission on this ear...
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.
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...
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...
The thing about portrait photography is the page is never blank. I don’t have to *do* anything, I don’t have to *think* about anything. It’s like opening a book where every page is chapter one. The whole story is contained in every image. And interpretation is left to *you*.
I don’t have to go looking for something interesting to see because you are there. You, the person I am photographing. *You* are the landscape, the product, the event. All I have to do is compose a shot and focus. You have to emit your glow.
Your glow is controlled by an array of switches whose sequence begins with trust. There is self-confidence. There is love. Together we break down the walls and open you up. There is nuance to this. There is no formula. Sometimes it requires a prop.
Friendship happens. It has to. That’s the only ‘formula’. If you ask me to do you portrait you are asking me to be your friend. And I enthusiastically consent. By now I have made hundreds of friends. If I can somehow get away with doing...
Not everyone wants to be seen. I mean truly seen. Many of us prefer some degree of obfuscation. The people I photograph, mostly, want to be seen. They’re looking for something a bit more authentic, something not as plastic as a headshot.
I approach photography like I approach all relationships. I’m looking to know people. I want to get below the surface, past all the small talk and into the realms of the real. Life is just too short for anything else.
So if you’re going to look at me, look at me. I don’t care if this is your ‘business’ portrait, authenticity matters more than ever now. I think we’re learning that through this experience with Trump. It’s not that this president taught me anything, it’s that he’s validated something I’ve always believed. Sincerity matters. Truth matters. People matter.
Across the board, from business to pleasure, how we show up in the world is not determined by a hard line between different personas compartmentalized for different purposes. It’s all the sam...
Every day I look through photos I have taken and write about one. This forces me to think about photography. This helps me to remember why I do what I do.
Writing is disciplined thinking. It’s thinking that’s thought through.
Photography is disciplined perception. It’s seeing well-managed.
When I look at a person during the course of a normal day I see but fleeting glimpses of them. I don’t stare and I don’t analyze. I see them, but I don’t really see them.
When I do a portrait, or what some people might call a headshot, I see much deeper. But I don’t just see, I feel. The camera provides an excuse for spending enough time with someone to achieve some level of intimacy. I get to say “Look at me.”, and the person looks.
Even when I’m doing dozens of portraits under time constraints (like the one of Sam above at Twitter) I strive for a moment like this when something human, something timeless, emerges. This is not a person you can sum up in a Tweet. Few of us are. Our resumes and our profiles...
Do I want to meet this person? Is their photograph asking me to sit down and talk? I’ve said before that a good portrait beckons interaction. If, after seeing your photo, I want to meet you then that is a success.
An effective portrait is the beginning of a conversation. It’s an unspoken invitation. I can read it in your face and in your body language. I can see it in your eyes. I want to feel welcome to participate in your life. That’s the intention you need to set and the message you must convey.
I say ‘need’ and ‘must’ but I only mean that in a way to suggest that you consider the results you want. To think about what you hope to communicate. An effective portrait starts there. Who is your audience? What do you want them to feel? I am approachable. I am intelligent. I listen. I suggest that it’s as simple as that.
I could sit here and tell you all about the esoteric elements that contribute to a photograph. I can talk about light, and texture, and your energy, and the timing of all those things as if they were some magical alchemic process. I could pretend I know what I’m doing but really I don’t. It’s that you trust me to do it that enables it to be so. You place yourself in my hands and mostly I rise to the occasion, but not all the time. What I show you are the base hits and the homeruns and not the photos where people do not appear as their best, confident selves.
The other day I took some photos of someone who was not happy with the results (not the gentleman above). This person was older, and was shocked to see how they look. Age can sneak up on us. Time can be cruel to the body. Our fragility can become glaringly apparent, Suddenly we are ephemeral.
I don’t like to disappoint people. I want them to be happy when they see themselves in my portraits. Sometimes beautiful people react as if the...
What if we only looked at each other’s eyes and nothing else? Forget the head and the body and the skin. Our eyes, those soul gateways, are the common denominator between us. You can’t tell a person’s religion from their eyes alone. Or their political party. Or even their sex. When you look a person in the eye, you are connecting to their heart and seeing beyond mere visual perception.
A portrait begins like this. I look into a person’s eyes. I see them. I listen. By the time the camera is raised they have already gotten to know me as I truly am. We are well on our way to establishing a connection.
The best portraits, the most effective, happen organically when talking and walking. Like the portrait above. We were simply walking through the neighborhood surrounding Brian’s office when I happened to see this old house with a perfect lightscape. But we had been talking, and getting to know one another. So when the moment presented itself we were ready. He was comfortable and not afraid to...
You’re getting your portrait done and maybe you dread the moment. You don’t like cameras and the whole concept sort of freaks you out. Does this describe you?
Or maybe it doesn’t freak you out but you’re a bit nervous and can use some guidance. How can you look and be your best? What can you do to ensure the best possible photos result from your session?
We’ll get to aesthetics in a moment but first I want to talk about your energy. Whatever you bring to the session in terms of your state of mind will show up in your photos. If you want to come across as self-assured and approachable, you have to embody that. Use whatever Jedi mind tricks you have to to tell yourself it’s going to be okay. Breathe. Photographers aren’t dentists. They won’t hurt you. Engage them in conversation. Get to know your photographer. Develop a rapport.
Regarding wardrobe, the single most important piece of advice I can give you is wear something you love yourself in. Whatever makes you feel great. Solid colors com...
Sometimes it takes a minute. Sometimes an hour or more. But that connection, that authentic bridge between two human beings always does occur when I set my intention on it. When a person opens up to being seen, and known, the result is always a photograph engenders connection.
Not every person has this in mind. Not every person thinks about it in this way. Most don't. So I sort of have to trick them into it. I have to disarm them. And I do that by being vulnerable myself. I turn over on my back and show them my belly, so to speak. I do everything I can to let them know I'm not a threat.
And then I disclose. I'll talk about my life. I'll talk about how camera shy I am (because I am). Basically I have a normal conversation and over time we learn about each other. Where we grew up. Where we went to school. What we believe in.
A meaningful conversation, in my opinion, is one in which two people open up their hearts. So when I say I shoot wide open I don't mean just my aperture. Yes, I shoot a...
I've said it before but it's worth repeating a thousand more times. Being authentic, and coming across authentic, really matters. Because people are picking up subconscious clues when they see your face here on social media. What clues are you conveying?
When I meet a client for the first time I embrace them, not physically, but spiritually. They're not even aware it's happening. I give them a huge mental hug and that helps them open up and let their guards down. Then, and only then, can the authentic person show up.
Even when I do corporate portraits, and I have only ten minutes to engage with each person, I manage to find a way in. I'm not totally sure how, but I think it has something to do with my New York upbringing.
I was raised back east where relationships seem to matter more. There wasn't a person I didn't bond with - from the guy making my sandwich to the lady behind the counter at the DMV. In New York it's more than just courtesy to find common ground with another human being,...
You’re the beacon. You’re the source. Each person is filled with a thousand suns. I chose the name The Lighthouse to describe people. Almost every other photographer uses their own name. Bob Smith Photography. Sara Jones Photography. And that’s fine. But I realized early on that the photography I do is not wholly my own. It belongs to you.
The photograph itself, the end result, the portrait, is a byproduct of a conversation. I think my portraits stand out because of this intention. My goal is not to capture, but to reflect. And I can only reflect what’s happening in that moment. If we’re engaged, the photograph will be engaging.
I use only natural light, and available backgrounds, not because I’m lazy but because this approach yields compelling results. If you are the lighthouse, I just need to put myself in the position of receiving that light.
I’m not a painter, and I have no training as an artist, but it’s my goal to create a painterly portrait, a portrait that is riveting and timeless...