The 10 Commandments of Portrait Photography

Apr 25, 2018

Michael Comeau

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

The 10 Commandments of Portrait Photography

Apr 25, 2018

Michael Comeau

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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Call me cranky, but I don’t like the latest photography trends.

I love simple, classic portraiture, and I admire legendary photographers like Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and Albert Watson.

Now, one big thing that’s been missing from this site is a real statement about who we are and what we believe in.

I want people to visit and know right away whether this is the place for them.

That’s why I put together the 10 Commandments of Portrait Photography.

I’ve got a flair for the dramatic, wouldn’t you say?

But I used the word ‘Commandment’ for a reason.

Some people believe, and some don’t.

And that’s okay.

This is just the truth as I see it.

1) A Portrait Is About the Subject, Not the Photographer

We create portraits because we want to say something about a person, and because we want to make a connection.

Not because we want to show off our fancy new $2,000 lens or get more likes on Instagram.

2) To Call a Picture a Portrait, You Need Consent

Too many photographers will call any old picture with a person in it a portrait. But to be a portrait, the subject must consent.

Otherwise, you could call any old street or fashion picture a portrait. The world would lose all meaning.

3) A Portrait Is About a Person, Not How They Look

The moment a picture becomes about makeup, hair, a prop, or a post-processing style, it ceases to be a portrait.

It is a fashion picture.

4) A Portrait Can’t Ever Tell You Everything About a Person

You can’t encompass everything there is to know about a person in a hundredth of a second. So never assume you’ve captured the truth about a person.

People have many sides, and you’re lucky to catch just one of them.

5) An Effective Portrait Makes You Curious About the Subject

Forget the words good and bad. If you want to know more about the subject, then it’s an effective portrait.

You may not like what you see in a particular portrait, but if it gets you thinking, then it is effective.

6) We Learn from the Masters, Not the Latest ‘Influencers’

We don’t create portraits for the moment to chase the latest fleeting trend.

We want our pictures to live on and be just as effective 50 years from now.

7) Ideas Are More Important Than Technique

You don’t need to be a master technician to be a good portrait photographer.

But you must be able to formulate idea and concepts that form the basis of your pictures.

8) Technique Is More Important Than Tools

Cameras, lenses, and lights are fun… maybe more fun than they should be. We can all admit that.

But it’s not what gear you use that counts. It’s how you use it.

9) A Portrait Does Not Have to Flatter the Subject

A portrait does not have to please the subject.

It has to affect the viewer.

Related: What Is a Photographic Portrait?

10) Do No Harm

It’s the photographer’s job to make the subject comfortable. A portrait session should be enjoyable for everyone involved.

Yes, you can use Jedi Mind Tricks – but only to put your subject at ease.

Art has no rules. Right?

Wrong! At least around here.

I created OnPortraits.com because I couldn’t find a portrait photography community I liked.

But OnPortraits.com is not for everyone.

Do you have a personal rule or guideline you follow in your portrait photography?

Do you agree or disagree with any of my 10 Commandments?

Let me know in the comments!

About the Author

Michael Comeau is the Editor in Chief of OnPortraits.com, a community focused on simple, classic portrait photography. This article was originally published here and shared with permission.

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10 responses to “The 10 Commandments of Portrait Photography”

  1. Fernando Adrian Avatar
    Fernando Adrian

    nice article!

    1. Michael Comeau Avatar
      Michael Comeau

      Thanks Fernando!

  2. rifki syahputra Avatar
    rifki syahputra

    a good one..
    the things I should keep in mind..
    nice

    1. Michael Comeau Avatar
      Michael Comeau

      Thanks Rifki!

  3. Tracey Avatar
    Tracey

    These tips are practical and I agree with most of them except point no. 9. If a woman is paying you for a portrait, she’s expecting that your capture is definitely going to flatter her. I get what you mean though generally.

    1. Michael Comeau Avatar
      Michael Comeau

      Agreed. With paying clients, the customer is boss.

  4. Frans Fourie Avatar
    Frans Fourie

    Meh. Some cool points but why are these considered the 10?

    1. Michael Comeau Avatar
      Michael Comeau

      I’m sure everyone has their own take on this!

  5. Doug Sundseth Avatar
    Doug Sundseth

    I’ll disagree with #6 as stated. While I’ve certainly gotten more useful information from classical portraitists (including painters), I’ll take my tricks where I can get them, and some of them may be from avant garde young portraitists.

    Fundamentally, I don’t care about the source, just the result.

    1. Michael Comeau Avatar
      Michael Comeau

      Point well taken. Thanks Doug.