The essential tools required to master the art of portrait photography include a myriad of special shooting and lighting tricks of the trade. Serious photographers search for and soak up any and all information that will make us better at our craft. The most valuable technique, however, is not illustrated in a book, a YouTube video, or taught in even the best photography schools across the country. The most useful tool I have acquired photographing 600 CD covers and thousands of musician/actor/author promo photos has not been cross processing, Polaroid transfers, infrared technique, or any Photoshop wizardry. The real secret behind a true portrait photographer is the sacred art of seeing.
A photographer well-versed in this rare art comes to honor each person by using a watchful eye and a compassionate heart, ready to receive the beauty in everyone, rather than outwardly transforming the person in order to fulfill the current public fantasy of what is considered attractive.
Beauty is not a Hollywood exclusive, nor does she reside only at the peak of Billboard’s top ten. The very act of being human was born of beauty, and even among life’s ugliest stories, Aphrodite hides in the recesses waiting for someone to recognize her.
Perhaps more than portrait photographers, we are curators of true life performance art framed in a variety of physical forms. Just like priceless art, each masterpiece must be handled with care and shown in the best light without disguising or damaging the original.
Each soul must be seen in its authenticity, and every genuine expression nurtured as a potentially perfect smile or a momentary unveiling of someone’s deep dive toward their own transformation and refinement.
Not everyone is fearless. Not everyone is confident. Not everyone is happy with their physical self image. However, everyone is photogenic. If we photographers are patient and kind enough, fear will fall away and someone’s true essence will be revealed. A split second of pure beingness, undisturbed by fear and judgement, is all we photographers need if we are paying honorable attention. Chances are, though, it will feel so good your subject will hang out there for a while. Why not? It feels good to unburden oneself from habitual low appraisal.
The subject’s heart and soul come first. Then, the photographer’s art. Then, the photographer’s ego. To me, the order is non-negotiable.
Copyright: Irene Young