Portrait photography gives us all different kinds of things.
You connect with interesting people you’d have never met otherwise.
You capture memories of your kids that will last forever.
And maybe you have some fun doing it.
But maybe portrait photography isn’t just about pictures — or the great experiences we have when making those pictures.
Maybe it’s the life lessons we pick up along the way, like:
7) You Are Surrounded By Interesting People
I can’t even count the number of interesting people I’ve met doing portrait photography.
There was the real estate agent… that rented out her listings to sex workers.
…the single Mom torn apart by the fact that her daughter was stuck in an institution.
…the Southern debutante with a serious pill problem.
But those were just the obvious ones.
There’s also the ‘regular’ people that don’t have the most exciting life story, but who work their asses off to make their dreams come true, or hell, just get by.
I call those people everyday heroes. Get them to open up, and you’ll find that they’re all interesting in their own way.
And why are they interesting? It’s because…
6) We’re All Connected
The consciousness that sets us apart from other animals is a blessing and a curse.
We all hope. And we all suffer. That’s the human condition that binds us together.
And it’s why you can form an instant kinship with a portrait subject.
By photographing someone, you’re saying “Hey, I think you’re interesting, and you’re worth photographing.”
I love shooting street portraits because it’s a reminder of how quickly we can connect with each other.
I feel like I’ve had instant mini-connections with hundreds of people.
And all the photographic interactions I’ve had with people remind me that…
5) You Can Still Play When You’re Old
When you lock in with a subject to create pictures, the entire world around you gets blocked out.
Shooting portraits brings me back to when I was a little kid, playing with Legos, completely unaware of everything around me.
I used the word “playing” for good reason.
As we get older, we forget the value of blocking out the world around us to just “play.”
To just do things to see what happens.
And by playing…
4) You Find Out What Kind of Person You Are
“Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you.”
-Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
Look at one of your portraits. You see another person’s face. But You also see your own.
The pictures you create say a lot about who you are as a person.
Are you fun loving and free-spirited? Are you angry? Sad?
They also tell you what you value.
If you’re a dedicated black and white photographer, maybe you value simplicity.
Maybe it’s nothing more than surface beauty or popularity.
But no matter what your pictures are about, you can’t example this simple fact:
3) Time Is Moving… Faster and Faster
I’m about to turn 40 so I’ve got one foot in the grave.
I’ve noticed something real, real funny when I go through my image library.
I come across pictures that feel just 1 or 2 years old… but it was more like 5.
And the ones that feel 5 years old are actually 8.
I’ve been doing photography for almost 10 years.
The first 5 felt like an eternity. But now the years are blowing by way too fast.
That why should remember that…
2) It’s Good to Take a Step Back and Focus on the Now
“Holy shit. My Dad is getting old.”
That was my reaction the first time I saw one of my portraits of my Dad, all big on an Apple iMac screen.
When you see someone all the time, you don’t really notice them age.
But if you photograph someone over time, you can see the progression.
That reminds you to take a step back and appreciate people.
1) Everyone You Love Will Die
The only portraits you’ll regret are the ones you don’t take.
Photograph the people you love while they’re still here.
My mother passed away in 2010.
I took candid shots of her, like this:
But never a real portrait.
And that’s something I’ll regret forever.
What has portrait photography taught you? Let me know in the comments.