To say that I love portrait photography sounds cliche to me. To say that one “loves” anything almost has no meaning any more because the word “love” is so over used. It’s so over used that it doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to mean… at least to me it doesn’t. The word has become so watered down and it’s a shame because now I have to find a new way to describe how I feel about my passion.
So, I’m going to say it this way. Portrait photography is what drives me. It’s what gets me excited and even anxious to get behind my camera and begin capturing slivers of time in someone’s life. I almost hate to admit this but before I have a photo session and I’m getting everything ready, I feel as though I’m getting ready for a really special date with a woman I can’t wait to spend time with. Now, I think that describes how I feel a lot better than just saying that I “love” portrait photography. My soul gets giddy.
This affair I’m having has intensified for me in just the last several months, like a lover’s body you really start to get to know, the passion gets more intense. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Comparing what I do with having a passionate affair, but I think that translates better than just saying, “I love portrait photography”.
I don’t like all portrait photography, just the kind that’s honest, the kind that lets you see behind the facade that people put up. The kind that allows you to see who a person really is, inside. You know it when you see it because you can’t look away. Its honesty is like a magnet. It’s an image that captures you… and you willingly surrender to it.
Portraits, unlike headshots, aren’t trying to sell you anything. They are a statement — a declaration of who someone is in that moment. An image that makes no excuses for itself. The best portraits take no prisoners and hold nothing back. They are reflections of the truth.
I’m a truth seeker in life. I only want to know the truth and portraits give that to me and it energizes me in some spiritual way. I don’t always capture it. Some people aren’t in touch with their own truth, but sometimes they let their guard down when I’m clicking away. It’s not until I start going through the images when one of them stops me… dead in my tracks, and there it is. My shutter managed to slip through the cracks and capture a fleeting glimpse of someone’s truth.
An interesting thing is happening with my photography. The more honest I get with my craft and art, and the more laser focused I become in trying to purify the intent of what I want to capture with my camera — the more attention I seem to be getting. It’s a vibrational alignment kind of thing… if you’re into that.
Confessions of a Portrait Photographer
I recently came to the realization that I’m not a headshot photographer… I’m a portrait photographer, at heart. That was huge for me because I was a portrait photographer who was trying to be a headshot photographer. Things were out of alignment, but now that I know that, I’ve actually become a better headshot photographer and a better portrait photographer.
It’s funny how the truth has a way of making you honest and also bringing out the best in you… even if at times the process is a bit painful.
The Voice Inside
It all comes down to listening to that soft voice in the quiet corner of your mind that gently speaks to you. A lot of times it gets drowned out by all the noise from the outside world and all the noise from inside your head. One has to take the time to be alone with oneself and just listen… to that subtle voice that’s whispering the truth. It knows you better than you know you.
In starting my photography business I wanted to make money and have it be successful and profitable, and all those wonderful things, but it was struggling. I was out of alignment with what I was supposed to be doing and who I was supposed to be doing it with. It was tricky because headshots and portraits are similar… but there are differences. (To read more about these differences you can refer to an article I wrote called, “What’s The Difference Between a Portrait and a Headshot”.)
My Fortunate Accident
I actually stumbled upon the realization that I was a portrait photographer by accident. I had a new client who wanted to be photographed against a plain gray wall and at the time, I was shooting in a cinematic style, outside, with a shallow depth of field (check out Dylan Patrick’s work for more info on that). I obliged to adjust my style because they were, after all, a paying client and I wanted the business.
We did the shoot (I happened to have a gray wall in my apartment) and afterwards, for literally weeks and months afterwards, I kept going back and looking up those images. There was something about them that kept luring me in like a mythical siren.
I realize now what that was. Those images were more like portraits than headshots. I was being seduced and didn’t even know it. Something inside me was changing, something beyond my control and it was scary because even though I didn’t want to admit it at the time, I knew eventually that someday this was where I was going to end up and it would require me to change everything about the way I photographed people and my business would have to be turned upside down.
That was something I didn’t want to face, but it became such a strong and seductive pull that I eventually and inevitably gave in to it. I surrendered to the truth, and it was that little voice inside that kept saying to me that this was where I wanted to be.
Change can be scary, but if it’s that voice inside that’s directing you, trust that in the end it will be the right choice.
I "Love" Portraits
After I finally admitted to myself that I “love” portraits (I think you know what I mean now when I use that word), I noticed a shift within myself… kind of like a final adjustment had been made. Things were good before, I was shooting people and faces and headshots, but something was off that I could not put my finger on.
The crazy part about all this is that now I feel free to develop a headshot style that’s different and independent from my portrait work. The two were co-mingling and overlapping and muddying up the waters. I see my work through a corrected pair of lenses and my vision is now clear.
I’m in the process of developing a headshot style that’s free from the trappings of my portrait work. It will be its own thing, separate and unique.
What’s that saying? The truth shall set you free?