10 Lessons for Portrait Photographers: The Art of Story

1. Dive into your subject’s life
Study the things they love. Look at their favorite things. Appreciate them.

2. Put yourself in their shoes
You may not have grown up the way they do. You may have different values. But for a moment, be subjective. Don’t allow yourself to be removed from their story.

3. Understand their perspective
Everyone has different viewpoints. Lay aside your preconceived ideas and do your best to really be true to your subject’s story.

4. Take the emotion of their story and capture it
A truly successful portrait photographer can take someone who is quiet and demure and capture that – even if the photographer is bubbly and vivacious. You add your style to the shoot, but in the end, a portrait is about your subject and not about you.

5. Go after energy
Use elements of movement and motion in your portraits – don’t be content with all your elements being still and static.

6. Use your subjects in their natural environment
Their favorite room. Their backyard pool. Their treehouse. Their farm. Where your subject is most comfortable, they will be most natural as well.

7. Go for the unique
Spitting skittles. Surrounded by stuffed animals. Surrounded by cosmetics. These are all scenes and settings from Michael Franzini’s portraits. Don’t be afraid of ideas that haven’t been done before. Those are the portraits that stand out most.

8. Establish strong connections
What experiences can cross over differences of age, culture, and upbringing? Focus on these to make your portraits strong.

9. Respect their story
Your subject may make choices that you would not. Your subject may come from a world completely foreign to you. What matters most is that you give respect to them and their story. If you can show this, your subject will be comfortable letting you into his or her life.

10. Create art
Above all, each person’s life is like a book with many chapters, many characters, and many unexpected twists. The beauty of creating a portrait is showing as many elements as you possibly can, in the most artistic way possible.

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