My portrait images schooling didn’t occur in a classroom, library, or workshop. Most of what I realized got here from finding out my heroes’ work, attempting to determine why I beloved their photos, after which placing my very own twist on them.

The truth is, I can see that my portrait fashion has come from a endless cycle of:

1. Making an attempt to repeat nice photographers like Albert Watson and Richard Avedon.

2. Failing miserably, however studying one thing within the course of.

And on this article, I’m going to offer you 21 ideas, strategies, tips, and hacks I took from 21 of them — women and men whom I think about the best portrait photographers of all-time.

I illustrated these factors by a mixture of movies, Instagram posts, and my very own pictures.

Received it? Good?

Let’s bounce in:

#1. Richard Avedon: All Portraits Inform the Reality… And Lie

The nice Richard Avedon as soon as stated this:

A portrait just isn’t a likeness. The second an emotion or reality is reworked into {a photograph} it’s not a reality however an opinion. There is no such thing as a such factor as inaccuracy in {a photograph}. All pictures are correct. None of them is the reality.

That could be the truest assertion ever made about portrait images.

We’d prefer to assume {that a} portrait actually says the reality in regards to the topic. However at finest, we will solely anticipate one aspect of an individual.

You may’t seize an individual’s total essence in 1/250th of a second — particularly as a result of persons are all the time performing for the digital camera.

Avedon himself stated:

All of us carry out. It’s what we do for one another on a regular basis, intentionally or unintentionally. It’s a manner of telling about ourselves within the hope of being acknowledged as what we’d prefer to be.

Simply take into consideration Instagram. How many individuals are genuinely joyful and joyful? And what number of are simply performing for you?

#2. Irving Penn: Don’t Make a ‘Good’ Portrait, Make an ‘Efficient’ Portrait

I hate utilizing phrases like good or dangerous to explain portraits.

I desire the phrase “efficient” — as I clarify on this video:

Irving Penn as soon as stated:

An excellent {photograph} is one which communicates a reality, touches the center, leaves the viewer a modified particular person for having seen it. It’s, in a phrase, efficient.

I measure the standard of a portrait by how I really feel after I take a look at it. Do I wish to know extra in regards to the particular person within the image? If that’s the case, it’s an efficient portrait to me.

#3. Joe McNally: Your Digicam Is a Passport

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Picture by Michael Comeau

I as soon as heard Joe converse reside and he stated one thing alongside the traces of “your digital camera is a passport to journey.” And that basically caught with me.

Now, Joe’s adventures concerned capturing large assignments all around the world for Nationwide Geographic and LIFE. Mine have been slightly extra tame.

I shot martial arts occasions (the image above is from the backstage space at a kickboxing occasion) and practices. I might put advertisements on Craigslist and invite individuals over to my home for portraits. And I turned all my holidays into photograph adventures.

#4. Martin Schoeller: Consistency Results in Consideration

Martin Schoeller is a high editorial and industrial portrait photographer.

And whereas he has a various physique of labor, he’s recognized for his tight, intense headshots:

I as soon as attended a lecture with Martin and realized that his headshot pictures are literally impressed by the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher. Curiously, the Bechers photographed water towers in the identical constant manner.

When you’ve got a constant physique of labor, it’s simpler to construct a reputation for your self and let individuals know what you do. That consistency offers you an awesome platform from which to construct. And it’s one cause why I’m populating my Instagram feed with sepia-toned portraits.

#5. Kurt Markus: Use a Gradual Shutter Pace for a Dreamy Look

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Picture by Michael Comeau

I typically like my portraits to be sharp. However generally, I like one thing a bit softer and dreamier. So I’ll take my shutter velocity manner all the way down to 1/10th of a second and even slower.

That is one thing I took from a number of photographers together with Sante D’Orazio, Paolo Roversi, however largely, Montana native Kurt Markus. Kurt is legendary for his ethereal black and white portraits of each cowboys and supermodels.

In researching Kurt’s work, I got here throughout an awesome interview with A Picture Editor wherein he stated this:

I don’t retouch. I don’t try to manipulate the picture into one thing I like afterward. 6×7 is a really forgiving medium. Black and white movie, these lenses, a gradual shutter velocity. I’ll {photograph} girls and quite a lot of time they appear flawless, however actual.

And whereas I’d experimented with gradual shutter speeds previously, I now make it a daily observe. It’s a pleasant departure from my typical deal with realness and readability.

#6. Zack Arias: Put the Head In a Clear Spot

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Picture by Michael Comeau

Zack Arias’ CreativeLive class “Foundations of a Working Photographer” had a huge effect on me after I was getting began. Zack taught me numerous vital ideas about lighting, topic interplay, and enterprise.

However an important factor I realized was “head in a clear spot.” As in, attempt to compose your pictures in a manner in order that the pinnacle is unobstructed. I exploit this concept on each shoot.

#7. Albert Watson: Don’t Worry Exhausting Mild!

After I was a starting portrait photographer, I had a infantile perspective in direction of mild. I believed smooth mild was good and arduous mild was dangerous. Why? As a result of that’s what each blogger and teacher I adopted stated.

Every part needed to be lit with an enormous umbrella or softbox. However after I found Albert Watson’s groundbreaking guide Cyclops, my viewpoint flip-flopped. I noticed that onerous mild could possibly be harsh and exquisite on the identical time.

So I began experimenting with naked flashes, grids, snoots, and good quaint direct daylight. And now I exploit a mixture of smooth and arduous mild on nearly all of my shoots.

Most significantly, Albert taught me to query all the recommendation I used to be given about portrait images. And my perspective is to take heed to what individuals inform me, however check for myself to see what I actually like.

#8. Gregory Heisler: There Are Principally Two Sorts of Mild

After I take into consideration forms of mild, I usually consider arduous and smooth mild.

On this video breaking down his portrait of swimmer Michael Phelps, Gregory Heisler breaks down lighting otherwise:

There’s one form of lighting that you just do to simulate ambient lighting state of affairs so it appears to be like like mild coming from a lamp or mild coming from a pool. And there’s one other variety lighting that you just do as a result of it appears to be like cool and who cares?

That concept turned my strategy to lighting on its head. I spotted you should utilize synthetic mild to emulate any kind of pure mild situation — from the setting solar to the sunshine bouncing off pool water.

#9. Herb Ritts: Pure mild Can Be Excellent, however Your Timing Issues

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Picture by Michael Comeau

One frequent mistake novices make is assuming all pure mild is similar. Nonetheless, the sunshine at 9 am is manner completely different than the sunshine at 12 pm due to the angle of the solar. Because the solar will get decrease, the sunshine turns into hotter and extra flattering. So your timing issues large time.

Herb Ritts is finest recognized for his use of golden hour mild. Nonetheless, Herb didn’t simply shoot in golden hour. He might make even harsh noon mild lovely by fastidiously angling his topic’s faces.

You are able to do this by observing the shadow forged by your topic’s nostril. When the shadow off the nostril is brief, you’re typically in fairly good mild!

#10. Steve McCurry: Open Shade Lighting Simply Works

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Key mild is open shade, rim mild is from a gelled speedlight. Picture by Michael Comeau.

I’ve admired Steve McCurry’s portrait work since I used to be slightly child studying Nationwide Geographic within the library.

Now, you possibly can’t copy Steve’s work. However you possibly can copy his pure mild approach. Most of Steve McCurry’s portraits — together with the long-lasting ‘Afghan Lady’ portrait — have been created utilizing open shade lighting.

Open shade is a pure mild approach the place you place the topic in a manner so:

1. Daylight from straight above is blocked, and

2. Bounced daylight fills within the topic’s face

Right here is my open shade lighting diagram:

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Open shade eliminates unflattering shadows created by high mild, so the face is illuminated with smooth, even mild. And better of all, you should utilize it for almost everybody.

#11. Dean Collins: Lighting Is All Concerning the Fundamentals (Even The Superior Stuff!)

Dean Collins was maybe the simplest lighting educator in historical past. I’ve spent about $250 on his DVDs. And it was the perfect rattling cash I ever spent on my images schooling. He was a technical wizard that would converse in plain English. And, he made rattling good photos.

Dean confirmed me that mastering only a few primary ideas (like controlling the scale of the sunshine supply) would permit me to create the photographs I noticed in my head — even when I didn’t have the newest and biggest gear.

And in his tutorial movies, Dean didn’t use any fancy mild modifiers. He actually clamped cloth to a PVC pipe and made every kind of sunshine with it with a strobe.

That was my inspiration for utilizing a diffusion fabric on my location shoots as an alternative of umbrellas and softboxes. It’s not as horny, however it works.

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Picture by Michael Comeau

#12. Greg Gorman: Shadow and Thriller Are Vital

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Picture by Michael Comeau

Greg as soon as stated, “for me, {a photograph} is most profitable when it doesn’t reply all of the questions, and it leaves one thing to be desired.”

As I famous earlier than, starting portrait photographers are sometimes taught to keep away from arduous mild, and because of this, shadow.

Shadows are extra highly effective than you may think. They add thriller, 3-dimensionality, and a way of time and place to your portraits. All these elements invite curiosity, which is a key consider making your photos come alive.

And one cause I really like Greg Gorman’s portraits is his lovely use of deep shadows, most notably in his groundbreaking promoting campaigns for l.a. Eyeworks.

​The truth is, his portraits from the ’80s and ’90s nonetheless really feel contemporary, as a result of he bucked the pattern of utilizing boring, flat mild.

I feel it’s as a result of the shadows pull you in and make you assume extra about what’s happening within the image.

#13. Annie Leibovitz: {Photograph} Your Household (or Any Household You Come Throughout!)

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Picture by Michael Comeau

I used to be upset with Annie Leibovitz’ MasterClass, however one factor caught with me: how passionate she is about household images. And in case you learn her unbelievable guide At Work, you see that a few of her perfect portraits are these of her relations.

The truth is, Annie’s portrait of her daughter Sarah Cameron Leibovitz is without doubt one of the most lovely photos of a kid I’ve ever seen.

As you acquire extra expertise as a portrait photographer, you’ll discover that you just worth household photos greater than anything — even when they’re of another person’s household.

The one most rewarding expertise of my very own portrait images journey was photographing a new child child on his first day house.

Attempt it — you’ll adore it.

#14. David Bailey: Off With Their Heads! (Properly, A part of Them)

David Bailey is among the many biggest portrait and trend photographers to have come out of the U.Ok. I all the time regarded him to be an nearly punk rock Avedon.

And Bailey taught me a easy lesson about composition: don’t be afraid to chop off somebody’s head.

If you happen to examine David’s work, significantly his tight headshots and wonder photos, you’ll see that he generally cuts off the highest of his topic’s head.

It’s an efficient composition approach for 2 easy causes. First, it’s uncommon. Few photographers do it.

And second, it provides a sense of closeness and intimacy. In case you are standing so near somebody you can’t see over their heads, you might be of their private area.

Curiously, David as soon as stated “I don’t care about composition or something like that. I simply need the emotion of the particular person within the image to return throughout.”

So it’s humorous that he will get the feelings he seeks by this easy compositional approach!

#15. Mary Ellen Mark: A Gentle Contact Can Be the Most Highly effective One

I’m simply fascinated with individuals on the perimeters. I really feel an affinity for individuals who haven’t had the perfect breaks in society. What I wish to do greater than something is acknowledge their existence.

I’ve lengthy admired the late Mary Ellen Mark’s documentary portraits. Mary stands aside due to her light but intense contact. Most portrait photographers can’t trip such a fragile line, but she did it constantly.

You get the sense that her topics, even whole strangers, had full belief in her. And whereas I can’t know for certain, that’s in all probability the results of her variety, pleasant nature, in addition to her eye for topic choice. It looks like she deliberate folks that had an aura of vulnerability. And importantly, she photographed them with respect and dignity.

Tragedy makes for attention-grabbing pictures. Simply needless to say the tragedy you images is another person’s actuality — one thing I’ve forgotten earlier than.

#16. Frank W. Ockenfels III: Don’t Neglect to Play!

Frank Ockenfels is without doubt one of the high editorial industrial photographers on the earth. He’s maybe finest recognized as of late for his iconic film and TV posters. He’s created photographs for the whole lot from Breaking Dangerous to Mad Males to Daredevil to Thor to Males in Black 3 to… you get the purpose.

However what’s actually unbelievable about Frank is his sense of play. Scroll by his Instagram, and also you’ll see a mad scientist at work, taking part in with every kind of movie, cameras, coloration, lighting strategies, and even collages and combined media. And I’ve by no means seen such a variety of experimental images nonetheless really feel prefer it’s a part of a cohesive physique.

He taught me to attempt new issues for an important cause of all — to see what occurs.

#17. Matthew Rolson: Add Some Colour to Your Black & White

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Picture by Michael Comeau

Together with Herb Ritts and Greg Gorman, coated earlier on this article, Matthew Rolston is without doubt one of the Three Kings of California Portrait Images.

I really like Matthew’s basic 1980’s and 1990’s black & white movie star portraits, which he usually toned heat or cool.

A toned black and white makes you cease and stare just a bit longer, largely as a result of they’re so out of favor.

Nonetheless, if there’s one factor I like to do, it’s to do the other of fashionable portrait images developments!

#18. Diane Arbus: Be Courageous When Selecting Your Portrait Topics

I’m not likely influenced by Diane Arbus (at the very least indirectly — she was an enormous affect on Richard Avedon although, who’s my #1 inspiration). However I beloved her boldness as a photographer, particularly when it got here to her road portraits. Diane was very a lot interested in the downtrodden, and her work has a tragic, sympathetic really feel.

My road portraits have all the time been on the secure aspect, sadly. I want I have been extra like Diane Arbus, and slightly braver in selecting my topics.

#19. Max Vadukul: Get Your Topic’s Creativeness Going

I really like Max Vaduku’s portrait and trend work a lot that I named a Jedi Thoughts Trick after him: “The Vadukul.”

On this basic video from MTV’s Home of Fashion present, Max taught me that it’s very important to get your topic’s creativeness by asking attention-grabbing (and generally ridiculous) questions.

Don’t anticipate individuals to slap on facial expressions like masks. Make them really feel one thing. In any case, one of the best ways to make somebody smile is to make them chortle.

When your topic’s creativeness is operating wild, they’ll come alive in a pure manner that simply can’t be faked.

#20. Arnold Newman: Be Graphic… with Your Background!

Arnold Newman had many items as a portrait photographer. However what stands out to me was his potential to put his topics in advanced, graphical backgrounds, with out making it really feel pressured.

Newman was closely influenced by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, who had an offbeat, nearly mathematical manner of composing summary work. They nearly regarded like fastidiously crafted puzzles. Newman’s portraits had the identical impact. They felt a bit offbeat, but one way or the other completely logical

#21. Phil Borges: Your Studio Can Be Anyplace on Planet Earth

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Picture by Michael Comeau

Phil Borges is a documentary portrait photographer specializing in indigenous and tribal cultures. However Phil’s not your common photographer.

He really carried a full lighting setup so he might create studio-style lighting anyplace on the earth, most notably Tibet.

By going by the difficulty of carrying lighting gear within the area, he was in a position to seize actually one-of-a-kind portraits. And Phil is without doubt one of the major inspirations behind a portrait venture I’m engaged on, the place I’ll be creating studios on the streets of New York Metropolis.

Concerning the creator: Michael Comeau is the Editor of, an all-new on-line neighborhood devoted to easy, basic portrait images. Click on right here for extra info. The opinions expressed on this article are solely these of the creator. This text was additionally revealed right here.


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