Portrait photography: Show us a favorite or break-through photograph
This photograph remains one of my favorites. It was taken circa early 90’s during a studio shoot-out arranged by a camera club (CCJ) I belonged to in Jo’burg. In this photo, the models are waiting for their turn to be photographed in a studio setup, using studio lighting, as well as available light in the large studio. It was a candid moment, as I knelt in front of this model, Megan.
For me, this was a transitionary photograph – I was at a point where I knew basic photography techniques. I read voraciously, and devoured magazines and books. But my own images at the time – landscapes and cityscapes and such – were mostly “found” images. For me, there was still a gap between what I was photographing, and the images I was drawn to – portrait and fashion images which were more controlled. Even then, the portraits and fashion photography that appealed to me, had a fresh and “loose” feel – and I felt I wasn’t quite capable of that yet. It wasn’t just insecurity, but also shyness in working with people, and posing them. I lacked the courage to involve the people in my photography.
Yet, here I had a photo that had that spontaneity and elegance that appealed to me. Even though the moment was presented to me, and I had nothing to do with how it was arranged, I still felt really proud of it … but more so, the realization dawned on me that I could do this. I could have set this up and shot it. It was within my reach.
I was aware of the problems with this photograph – the fingertips cropped off, and the tilt. The pillow she held to herself is incongruous. The background is cluttered. A more controlled photograph would’ve been more successful. Still, this was one of those photographs which sparked a change for me.
This photograph then, was pivotal in my progress as a photographer. For the first time I took a photo that looked (nearly) as good as I saw in photography magazines. I could do this!
Let’s hear your story
I would like to hear your story, and see your favorite or breakthrough portrait. It need not be perfect. It just needs to be important to you.
Add your favorite portrait photo – your kids, or anyone that is important to you. Or show a portrait photo that has specific meaning to you. Make your entry informative or fun.
Post your comment here, and then email me the image (preferably watermarked), so I can add it along with your comment entry. Preferred sizes: 900 x 600 pixels; 600 x 900 pixels; 750 x 750 pixels. Somewhere around there. And if you need to ask whether it should be 72dpi or 300dpi, you are in for a stern lecture!
To make it interesting, this book on portrait photography was the prize for one lucky winner. Entries closed on Saturday, March 21st. The most interesting or informative or deserving entry as chosen by myself and my cosmic collaborator, won the prize.
Even though this contest has closed, please add your comments – we would all love to hear. There are always stories that need to be shared.
Faces: the Art of Portraiture
This comprehensive book on portrait photography, contains stunning images. Each image is paired with a lighting diagram, a description of why the type of image was chosen, and then takes you through post-production to put the finishing touches on.
There is a wide breadth of portraits — from street shots to studio shots. The emphasis is on the the techniques used to photograph these striking portraits – all the how-to when it comes to composition, posing, lighting, and even legal and model info.
If you are curious about the premise of this book, you can order it through Amazon USA or Amazon UK.
Details about the photo at the top
It is scanned from the Fuji transparency with a Nikon CoolScan 5000. What you see there though, isn’t the “organic” look of film. I retouched it slightly in Photoshop, and then had to brighten it up and change the WB through Curves and Levels and a Color Balance adjustment layer.
For 20+ years I shot in Fujichrome, and loved the vibrant colors. I wish though that all the images I had shot, were 12 megapixel (or better) digital captures. They would’ve been more crisp, and more easily accessible and usable. For workflow, and for the final look, digital (imho) far surpasses film, and I know I will never go back to film. Life as a photographer is better and easier with digital. But those were the days.
- Success Stories via Tangents
- Personal photos from the archives – South Africa
- Photographers – overcoming fears
- Photographers – when was the moment the magic happened for you?
67 Comments, Add Your Own
1Bruce Walker says
My favourite work almost always tends to be my latest work, and so my favourite portrait is also from my latest portrait shoot. This one represents a point where many skills I have been working on individually came together at once: things like subtle, controlled lighting; posing and directing for a more natural look; and styling to support the lighting and get the specific look I’m after.
I was inspired by the images in my copy of Robert Mapplethorpe’s book Some Women (1989). I was struck by the unusual renderings, with light luminous skin and deep tones that almost disappear into shadow. I experimented for a while with a mannequin in my office studio until I “discovered” the perfect subject, a local jazz singer and hobbyist model who was willing to work with me on a creative shoot.
The moment these shots came up in Lightroom I almost danced a jig around the room. The feeling you get in that first giddy moment seeing the results of weeks or months of prep work and study come together and confirm a new level of achievement, is unlike any other.
This is why I shoot.
2Peter Wasserman says
Prior to making this image, my only experience with a flash was on camera. I purchased a 60″ umbrella and started to experiment with off camera flash. This was one of the first images I made using that simple set-up. It’s my youngest son, so I’m just a little bit biased… but I was pleased with the initial results, plus I just love his natural expression. And, I thought it was cool how he posed himself!
The attached image. I shoot weddings full time, a few years ago before this wedding image I have to say I did struggle a bit with lighting, in particular with my speedlight. How I came across Neil’s website I have no idea, but of course I’m glad I did, I then spent perhaps close to a fortnight just going through everything trying to learn. I went to the following wedding with a completely different outlook, a different frame of mind ( don’t ya just love the puns), I was going for the beauty shot. The venue wasn’t great, dark and very unglamorous, I had it all worked out what I wanted to achieve and I pulled it off, ok, it’s not a perfect shot, but it’s a shot I’m proud of. Things clicked (I know another pun, sorry) into place, the little light bulb appeared over my head, my iso, my aperture and my shutter speed working in harmony, my speedlight bouncing off the wall. I gave a quick glance at the lcd on the back and I knew I had nailed it. I have other photo’s that mean a lot to me for emotional reasons but this one means I can take a half decent photo (after a few words of wisdom) Thank you Neil.
4Ciaran Kelly says
This is a pic of a participant in a local boxing tournament. I was asked to do the photography for the official programme, and I was asked to call at the hall where the boxers were training. I found myself in a building, with high windows, no curtains, and strong evening sunlight streaming in. I wanted to shoot low key portraits, and decided to shoot in a corner using my studio lights to try to overpower the available light. I ended up using a large softbox about 2 feet away from the subject, with another light higher up and behind the subject to provide rimlighting. I shot at F14, 1/160th, at ISO 100 on a 105mm lens. This guy came (reluctantly) for his pic in the middle of a sparring session, and his expression combined with the beads of sweat on his face gave me this result.. I couldn’t have been happier!
5Brian Becnel says
One image that will stand up for me to be that critical moment when I knew that what I’m meant to be doing is capturing people in their moment. I had only me my client once prior to his portrait shoot. He needed headshots and portraits for his business marketing plan. His life story shares a number of very similar circumstances including the ages of our children. I knew we had a connection.
As I began to shoot, I simply told him “this would be fun; let’s do this”. Within a few frames, I could see that he began to relax. After a few more frames, I asked how he was doing and was he still nervous. He said, quite simply, “I trust you.” We worked together that morning for over 2 hours. I showed him my vision for various scenes (and poses) in the urban settings of downtown Orlando.
After editing this image and sharing it with my client, it became humbling to see that I was able to capture this shy but trusting man with the inner confidence that I knew was already there. The reaction of his friends on Facebook have really blown him away. I see this final image and know that stars and Universes aligned. I’m so grateful for this medium as the outlet for my creativity and passion.
This picture of me and my son was one of the first I took with some cheap umbrellas and off camera flash. I had only dabbled in photography with point & shoots, but then bought my first DSLR and really got the bug! After reading a bunch of books I decided to setup a little “studio” in my bedroom. My son was an eager subject (then), and we were really just experimenting, having a good time.
The reason this one was pivotal for me is that I took some prints to work one day, and one of my coworkers that considers herself a decent photographer asked me where we had this [studio] pic taken at. At that moment, I thought perhaps I can take me some real pictures.
I had primarily been using a 24-70mm f2.8 lens for my casual cosplay portrait photographs. However, at the time, Neil had posted several blog articles about using long lenses for portraiture. Thus, for one particular photo session, I decided to “challenge” myself by shooting using a 70-200mm f2.8 lens only.
In this particular shot, the subject was dressed in a costume of a character who happened to be an archer. I wanted to get a close-up of the subject getting ready to fire an arrow. I’m sure we have all seen this type of pose before, but for this subject, she didn’t have a picture of herself in this pose. As photographers, we not only want to provide the shots the patron wants, but also try to provide awesome shots the patron didn’t think about.
I had used a single softbox, camera right, based on what I learned from Neil. However, to get the perspective needed in the photograph, I was, if I recall correctly, at least 14-18 feet away from the subject. I had never shot at that distance previously. I wanted to shoot nearly wide open, since I wanted to blur out the background to make it seem like the subject is in a forest. In reality, it was a single large willow tree in a wide open corporate park area.
1/160s, f3.2, 135mm focal length
I learned two important things about this shoot. First, this lens is extremely heavy to hand hold over a session! I will need to take more breaks or shoot a little less with this lens. Second, I cropped too tightly for the shot. I need to let portraits shots breathe more.
Overall, the shoot was a combination of multiple techniques that Neil taught on his blog: metering, off-camera flash, TTL flash, using wireless triggers, breathing techniques, directing the model, selecting a background, and post-processing. There will always be room to learn more, but I am happy that I reached a baseline where my photos don’t suck. :-)
7.1Keith R. Starkey says
Looks like an ad for a movie! Nice work!
Thanks for the compliment! I don’t if it’s worthy of being a movie ad (artists are their own worst critics, as the saying goes), but I definitely felt I accomplished the shot I had in my head.
Stephen was one of the first photographers I ever worked with as a cosplayer, and I’ve been fortunate to not only see his work grow along with my cosplay, but to have been introduced to Neil’s work by him!
Thanks for the compliment, Ger! I think your cosplay has probably grown a lot more than my photography, since I’ve been idle. I need to go through my “warmup” phase again. :P
8Jennie Key says
I am a full time oncology nurse by day and a wanna be Annie Liebowitz by night. I wish I could say I have loved photography all my life but that would be a lie. However, I do tell my friends and family that about every thing I am obsessed with has happened by accident. My obsession with photography isn’t any different.
I love people and it’s the main reason I fell in love with nursing. I could spend hours with a patient teaching him/her about treatment plans, side effects and remedies.
Last April, I started asking oncology patients if they would consider getting their portrait taken to promote All Cancer Day which is February 4th of every year (a Hallmark Holiday no one know about). The first set of portraits I did were in B&W. The second half I decided to do in color.
Amber was the first portrait I did in color. I wanted to give her the royal treatment because she was almost done with treatment and was truly an example of a survivor. A local hotel in town allowed me to shoot this portrait in the lobby (which is gorgeous). I rearranged the furniture to frame the couch in front of the fireplace and captured this beautiful portrait of this beautiful warrior. I also had the dress and necklace loaned by a nearby boutique. This was the first time I had approached several businesses to support a concept I had in my head.
It gave me a confidence to do continue doing similar portraits AND I have.
Amber told me this experience inspired her to run in a pageant to promote breast cancer awareness. This has been by far my most rewarding portrait.
What a great idea and an exceptional execution of that idea. She is not just a warrior she is a very beautiful Warrior Princess.
Thanks for sharing this portrait.
Attitude is everything….love the lighting!
This image was taken during my second wedding I ever photographed and the first one I did solo. I cannot describe the fear I had in my heart when I arrived at the bride’s house. I had to stop before I entered her house and take a few deep breaths, I was trembling.
It was an October wedding and I could not ask for a better bride. She was one of the nicest brides I ever photographed (so was the whole family).
I remember sweating so much that I could not change setting on the D40 (that was not even mine) my fingers kept slipping. I had one camera, one lens (Nikon 16-85) and one SB-600. I used a fill flash bounced of a wall behind me. That night after the job I slept over 15 hours. The next day when I saw my pictures I was amazed that I actually created those images.
Until today this bride is one of my favorites
9.1Keith R. Starkey says
Very lovely. Beautiful.
9.2Valent Lau says
Amazing what you can do with so little gear!
Isn’t it true? Fear of failure than becomes a strong motivation
For me it all started with this photo in 2010. To be honest, i`m still quite happy with the result. I took it, looked at viewer and I`ve said to myself – damn Baart, pretty good. Then I thought, what will be result when I … add some flash, change my shutter/aperture , lens , perspecitve…. end so on, end so on……. the adventure has started.
Back in 2010 I knew nothing about light and lighting, posing, f-stops, shutter etc. but I felt free and when I look at this photo I think, that if you don`t overengineering things, than you have better results. Simplicity.
5 years later my journey still continue and it make me smile when I remember my way through – strange and sometimes dangerous places, people I met thanks to new passion and couple of other things, that would propbably not have happened if I did not took this photo…
11Kara Clark says
I have been shooting portaits for over 5 years, and this portrait of Samantha, which I recently took, is by far my favorite. I love it for 3 reasons, compositioin, angle and the the natural beauty and smile on her face.
I have grown as a photographer starting with of course, images I don’t even like to share.. and for me this image, shows that growth. Shot with Nikon D7000, indoors, 2 JTL Strobes, placed on either side of the tiny hotel bed. I was standing at about a 45 degree angle on the night stand to her left, a little balance involved.. and yes I did almost fall, but where would the fun be if I didn’t.
I realize after years of photography, you can capture amazing images, which make others ooh and ahhh and then you can capture images like this, which grab the feeling, the moment, the vunerability, the connection.
In shooting I always have been taught to maximize what I have, know every detail, of everything you purchase, push it to the max, although the expensive gear is amazing, and nice.. which one day I WILL have.. I have learned that what goes into the pushing, the desire to get the shot, the ability to do so, is in the photographer! Here I feel I have accomplished that.. and for me that means more than anything.
I love this!!! GREAT words to live by as well!!
Perfect lighting, very nice BW process and great expression.
This photo was taken in early 2009, during a family gathering. It was almost a year since I had started exploring photography, using a “bridge” digital camera (Panasonic FZ18). Up until then, I had only been photographing landscapes – I even waited for people to leave a place, prior to taking a photograph!
That day, my relatives met again after a long time – and they remember why it had been such a long time! While my grandpa and my uncle argued over something insignificant, my aunt smoked her cigarettes almost ignoring them. For some reason, I felt I wanted to photograph all this. I went upstairs, grabbed the FZ18, returned back to my chair and discreetly placed the camera on my lap. I grabbed about 50 photos without looking at the screen or the viewfinder – and, while I had low expectations, i really loved the results.
These were my first portraits, and a few days later I bought my first DSLR (Canon 40D) with a 50/1.8 to continue shooting portraits. This photo, is my favorite from that day (I re-edited it today – I was pretty lousy back then).
12.1Keith R. Starkey says
I love these kinds of shots!
Smoking can be seen as controversial, but so do I :-)
13Marco Borroni says
This is my breakthrough portrait. It took me several years to be able and feel confident in shooting this kind of picture. Not because it’s flawless, but because in this photograph many of the obstacles that would have made impossible for me to take this photo just one year ago were finally overcome. I decided to post this message as a ‘thank you, Neil’ for sharing your experience.
This picture was taken while I and a group of friends were having supper at a kitchen table, definitely not an ideal setting! The kitchen had different light sources with different colors, people moved around, the space was limited, my friends were not really willing to be my subjects and finally I had little experience in photographing people… but this is the result and I am happy with it.
Last year I was in Afghanistan and I took all my gear to play photojournalist while working. My job consisted of building a facility at Kandahar Airfield.
Within the first few days we had biblical weather. Large hail, rain, and a sandstorm within 24 hours of each other. All the rain meant flooding. The wadi near us had broke and was filled with trash and other unmentionable waste items.
We did all we could to keep our living spaces clean and sandbagged our facilities. The water level was almost waist deep.
I grabbed my camera to document what I could while working. One of the third country nationals that worked near our compound cleaning and removing trash did not seemed phased at all. He went about his day like he normally would.
While we were in a huge truck driving around he was wading through the muck. When he saw my camera pop out from the window he looked up and smiled instinctively. It mattered not that there was high water filled with unmentionable items, he was getting his picture taken and wanted to look good.
I was not sure if I got the shot at the time. When I went back later the image really spoke to me. It resonated with me that no matter what is going on to have a good outlook and to keep going. I had captured something during a moment of chaos. I had prepared myself to be ready for moments like this. This is one of my favorite pictures from my time in Afghanistan. It may never mean much to anyone else but what went into it and the subjects expression means a lot to me.
Great shot! And great attitude!
14.2Valent Lau says
Amazing scene, and so cheerful!
15Ian Scott says
This portrait of my grandson was my first studio shoot; I was also using the Lastolite baby poser for the first time too; the shoot was a real laugh, Scott laughed all the way through the shoot, thanks to his mum, we all had acheing faces from laughing so much. It was an amazing experience that all of us in the studio will never forget, we often look at the photos I got that day and laugh out loud.
16Elly lieber says
So heres my story …i’ve been wanting to get into fashion/beauty photography for the longest time but never thought i had the skills …one day recently i summoned the courage to ask a friend to be my guide me through this what i thought was going to be a very hard and long process… finally i came across a fellow who has a studio and i decided that i would go all out got a model and a make up artist.. got to the studio so nervous and to my surprise i was in the midst of 2 of the greats of photography and if i had questions i wouldn’t be afraid to ask and boy was i lucky… this photo was taken on my very first shoot in a studio and fashion/beauty/portrait sessions ever not 7 weeks ago ..this photo very much resembles the feeling i had that day .. unsure… scared …trying to hide my fears…etc thanks nvn for your patience
1/200 sec @ f 5.6 iso 100…70-200 usm 2.. 2.8 with a mark 3 on board
17David Bruno says
Three of our four children who were still at home had plans all at the same time during a week in August, 2007. My wife and I decided we finally needed a “real” honeymoon, and went to an all-inclusive resort in Aruba. Up until that time, my photo taking was basically to document and preserve the memories in a photo album. Artistically, it went no further than “don’t cut any heads off, keep the horizon horizontal, no red eyes, etc ….” Right before this trip, I was browsing the camera manual, and started reading about Depth of Field, the first time I had really looked into it.
One day during the vacation, as we were lying on loungers, I looked up and saw my wife’s arm with her all-inclusive wrist band in front of my eyes, and I thought “What an interesting picture this would be”. I grabbed my film camera, and started playing around with the aperture as I had read about. I felt pretty confident really for the first time that I was doing something more than “picture taking”. The developed photos came back, and my confidence was bolstered because the photo shown here came out just as I pictured it would when I took it. It was after this I began putting more effort into the nuances of my photos. This was taken with an Olympus IS-10, a film ZLR. I don’t have any other details.
18Keith R. Starkey says
With regard to the photo that inspired you, Neil, you said, “I was aware of the problems with this photograph – the fingertips cropped off, and the tilt. The pillow she held to herself is incongruous. The background is cluttered. A more controlled photograph would’ve been more successful.”
Man, we have got to rise above the rules sometimes and see the bigger picture of what the hek this is all about. This isn’t a professional sitting; it’s a shot of heart and reality as it was happening. When I saw this photo, I wasn’t the LEAST bit disturbed about the fingers being cropped, the tilt, the pillow or the so-called cluttered background? Why? Because of what you said to finish your statement I quoted: “Still, this was one of those photographs which sparked a change for me.”
Spark you? Hek ya! Why? Because it’s real, down-to-earth, true to what live is all about. The fingers cropped, the pillow, the background…all of that contributes so greatly. I firmly believe that if you would have gotten this all “correct,” it would have lost what’s so dear about it.
There are times when we simply do not need to worry about all that stuff. I love how how her fingers are almost but not quite fully visible. I LOVE the background; it SO tells the story of what’s going on: the other dancers, the picture right above her head. I love the way the pillow sits on her lap. And I love the tilt. I love it all. The so-called mistakes are why this photo is so intimate. It’s the gentle simplicity and stark reality to which all the “right” stuff simply would not enhance.
I wouldn’t change a thing. Not one thing!
18.1Patrick Ng says
I, too, did not notice the “imperfections” pointed by Neal. What I saw was a beautiful photo of a beautiful woman.
19Keith R. Starkey says
So I’m walking down the streets of my town with my camera. This gal is holding Christmas lights for this guy who’s stringing them around a tree. I stopped, examined the scene, took a few shots of him, but she turned away. I said, “Say, can I get a picture of you too,” And just as I said that, she turned toward me, and I nailed the shot. It was the shot that told me “I can do this!”
Beautiful! Light, expression, composition…Nice.
19.1.1Keith R. Starkey says
Hey, thanks very much!
This is a surprisingly good candid!
20Susan Hamel says
I have lived with depression for many years, so I have learned ways that have helped me live with a lighter heart. Seeing pictures of my kids helps me feel happy and grateful, thus the reason that I started to learn photography. My 5 year old has so much enthusiasm, curiosity, and love of life. This photo of him is one of my favorites because he loves bright colors. My favorite on him is yellow. We took a day trip walking around an old part of town. A shop’s person gave him a play Sheriff’s star which he wore all day.
I like this one very much because I see it is for real. I should get such start for my son! :)
20.2Susan Hamel says
Thanks so much!
21Ridzwan Kaium says
My Daughter (2007)
This is a test shot with my first DSLR Canon 40D when I got back into photography after a long break from film. It was handheld using window natural light.
22Frank Palmeri says
I captured this image of my daughter when she was around four years old back in the early ’90s, on B&W film that I processed in the darkroom I had for about ten years at that time. To me, this image captures the pure essence of the most amazing woman she has grown to be at age 27 now.
22.1.1Frank Palmeri says
This shot made it for me. My beatiful wife in evening sun shot with a humble Nikon telephoto lens using extensive knowledge from Neil (for real) when I was really just starting with flash. So there is sun from her right and bounce flash (I guess with BFT, too) from her left. This is a lab scan from drugstore-brand ISO 200 print film, cropped and a little bit corrected in potsprocessing.
24Arnold Gallardo says
This is the image of the groom in a pakistani wedding. This was shot in the private bridal reception room. Since there was no space nor time to setup light stands and softboxes, BFT was employed after finding the base exposure for the background. The background were hanged white sheets bathed in colored light hence the graduation in color. The flash power was tweaked to preserve the details in the highlights of the shirt and flash zoom head position was adjusted (feathered) to accentuate the texture and the pattern of the garment. This was a very quick session under 5 minutes. This image shows that light quality is very important in any portrait no matter where it is coming from, either from a softbox or umbrella or even from a bounced flash like in this case. it also showed me that BFT works very well.
25Scott Boyer says
Here are two shots that I’ve had many positive comments about. Both were spontaneous. One was taken using natural light shaded by a tree, the other in a garage during a sweet sixteen party using bounced flash. I am proud of them, even though they were accidental. They showed me that these could have been created, if I developed my vision to see the images before I shoot the photos. I am still far away from that, but I am working hard to get there.
26David Clark says
In most endeavors, teamwork is the key to success. It couldn’t be more true than in Equestrian Competitions where the winners are most often the pair that works together to overcome the obstacles.
The attached image is of my daughter and her horse waiting their turn to compete. Win, lose or draw, you can’t beat this image of trust and friendship.
27Jared Price says
My favorite subject right now is my daughter. I was recently asked to photograph a baby shower for my sister-in-law and my daughter was there running around with two other young girls. At one point the three of them were all sitting in a large oversize window and I immediately thought to sneak outside to grab some shots of them from behind and through the window. At this point in my photography career the ratio of shots I take to the “keepers” is still fairly low and so when I happen to achieve a shot like this, it still feels like a lot of luck is involved. Nevertheless, this image did really help to motivate me to keep shooting. As an exercise, I think that trying to connect with each subject the way that I do when I shoot my daughter is helpful to capturing something special. I’m genuinely inspired by her and fall in love each time she looks my way. This image exemplifies that for me in so many ways.
28Ivan Alexander says
I do a lot of work with my yoga studio, and the first picture was one of the earliest “WOW’s” that I’ve had working with them. To give you some background, the mother is doing a downward facing dog on the wall with the daughter underneath her. This picture was special because it taught me a lot about perspective, framing, and timing. In the midst of all the efforts to make the picture looked “perfect” with the poses and whatnot, I caught this glimpse of special bond between the mother and daughter.
And since we’re talking about accidental, the second picture was definitely one of my favorite accidental that turned out really well. The first time I saw it in post, I had that feeling of accomplishment because to me it looked like something that somewhat resembles an ad say from…Lululemon or one of those companies. It did end up being used a lot for promotional material in my studio as well. Definitely one of the pics that made me say, “Dang, that was a pretty good shot.”
29Wally Kilburg says
I call this photo “Every Musicians Nightmare”. I was invited to go to Nashville to shoot some BTS work for a music video and the musician asked me to work with him on some promotional material and possibly something for his upcoming EP cover. At the time I had been opened for about 6 months, I wasn’t sure I had made the right choice. I wasn’t packing the customers in but this guy, he believes in artists supporting artists, so he pushed me. He has since given me more and more work. While traveling together we talked about life on the road, busking on corners, doing what you have to and keeping it real at home.
This photo came about during a wrap up of a shoot on the freeway above. I stopped traffic to get a shot of him against the Nashville skyline. As we were walking back to the car, our “guide about town”, a very Christian gal, was doing some yoga stretches. My brain warped to our earlier conversation and I yelled for him to grab his guitar case. We were late, needed to get back to the recording studio so time was tight but he got the case, and stood where I asked as I maneuvered my “legs” for the frame up I wanted. My D810 was on manual, I had a TTL’ed SB-910 on a cord held in her crotch area, her actually laughing, and another speed light behind him on the ground set to SU-4 mode firing straight up. Its a bit raw but I got what I wanted. He selected another photo for the EP cover, but I did print this one and hang it in my studio. It still gets the most comments. It also gave me the encouragement to stay open, keep trying and keep working. It was my first “real” commercial gig and has lead to other related work.
30Doug Bey says
This portrait of my beautiful daughter was my first real attempt at using off camera flash. I shot this using a Nikon D90 in manual mode, using an SB-600 shot through a Rogue large flashbender with soft box attachment, triggered with pocket wizards. I metered the light to add a gentle amount of fill flash and add a nice catch light in her eyes.
This was taken as a horizontal image, but I cropped it vertically.
I learned photography back in the mid 80s using a Pentax K1000 SLR, but gave up on shooting film in the early 90s. I purchased my first DSLR in 2007 and my daughter has always been a source of inspiration for my photography. Although this portrait is not perfect and I would shoot it differently now, I like the catch lights in her eyes and the natural feel to the photo. I framed it as a 11×14 and it was given as a gift to my Mother.
I continue to take portrait shots of my daughter as often as I can and thanks to her willingness to pose for me, my work is slowly getting better. This shot continues to be one of my favorites and has inspired me to continue to improve my portrait photography. Thanks!
31Bernard Doughty says
I don’t find it easy talking about myself or my accomplishments but reading your article struck a chord inside me and I felt I would like to share this “turning point” in my photographic development with you all.
A few years ago now I bought my first proper DSLR, a D80, and began immersing myself with photography books as I struggled to improve myself. The accompanying photo shows my first results of me taking real control over a portrait. I began by placing my subject under the branches of a tree with her back to the light and purposely overexposing the image by 1.1/2 – 2 stops to create a really radiant and luminous image that matched her personality. I felt so chuffed with the results and so did she. This experience gave me a leap in confidence and made me feel that with continuous hard work I could really do it and become a more accomplished photographer. Thank you Neil.
32Armin Sarow says
The Turningpoint in my photographic journey was when I discovered how to use my lights. Be it a speed light or Sunpak 120j. It opened a whole new world of opportunities. Before I learned how to set up artificial light I thought my pictures were never good enough.
When my kids were born (11 years ago the young lady in the picture was born) I wanted my picture quality to improve to preserve my memories. I wanted to have really great pictures to show the how their childhood was. What did they look like in different stages of their childhood.
I learned most about lighting from different sources. From you, from Mr. David Hobby, Mr. Zack Arias and last but not least from Mr. Joe McNelly. I am always trying to photograph my kids but they are not always cooperative. :) Sometimes the elder one just doesn’t want me to take pictures of her. Does need a lot of sweet talking to get her to stand in for picture. Pictures mean so much to me, since they allow me to freeze a moment in Time. I wish you all good light.
32.1Jared Price says
33Matt Marion says
I thought I had a pretty good handle on photography in 2010. But in hindsight I knew very little.
I offered to take family Christmas pictures, and at the end of the session took Karen aside for some personal portraits. The Family portraits turned out adequate and I printed them for delivery, but I was very happy with this image and blew it up.
Karen only stayed with us for 6 months more, and the turning point was seeing the framed image on the closed casket. I KNEW at that point I could make a difference with this craft.
By Far this is my favourite image.
34Keith R. Starkey says
Did Neil pick any winners yet?
34.1Neil vN says
It’s been a hectic weekend which expanded faster than I anticipated. We’ll get there.
34.1.1keith R. Starkey says
Oh, not a problem at all. I was not seeing the website updating at all – I get that problem with Firefox sometimes for whatever reason; it thinks it should show me the cached version of the site.
35Corby Chapin says
This photo has meaning to me because it was one of the first that I took in a “studio setting” with off camera lighting. It’s of my oldest son, Austin, sitting on his little toy drums. I wanted to go for dramatic, high contrast lighting to give a small club concert vibe. I used to play the drums myself, but sold them when he was born to get rid of the noise, and used the proceeds to buy my camera gear. So it was also meaningful that my little man was sitting on the very instrument that I gave up, having his photo taken with the camera that was made possible because of that choice. Sure there are all sorts of things about the photo that should have been done better, but I still look at it and say “that was a cool shot”.
And just to stroke your ego, I’ve also attached the very first photo I ever took after reading your blog posts on bounce flash. I had just got my first flash and was immediately frustrated that it looked like……well…..flash. So I googled something along the lines of “how to make camera flash not look like crap” and came upon your site. Again, there’s all sorts of things wrong with the shot, but I remember the moment I looked in the viewfinder and saw the result of manually exposing the ambient light down by 2/3 of a stop and bouncing the flash on TTL and was floored. That instantly changed my photography and I’ve sent every camera buff I know your way for that exact reason.
36Neil vN says
Thank you, thank you everyone! The stories and photos were so personal, that it made it tough choosing a favorite. Especially so because this post wasn’t so much about photos which excel, but rather the personal stories and the breakthrough moments.
So it really was a tough call picking a favorite.
My friend whose advice I rely on so often, picked her favorites:
# 22 by Iosif – his aunt who smokes
# 14 by Josh Line – the portrait of the guy with his bike in the floodwaters in Afghanistan
# 27 by Jared Price – the captivating portrait of his daughter.
# 29 by Wally Kilburg – the musician under the bridge.
# 8 by Jennie Key – the stunning portrait of the cancer survivor. The story added that much more weight.
# 14 by Josh Line – again, the portrait of the guy with his bike in the floodwaters in Afghanistan
# 27 by Jared Price – I too just loved this captivating portrait of Jared’s daughter.
# 28 by Ivan Alexander – the upside down kiss is so adorable.
My cosmic collaborator added this comment: #14 makes my heart smile.
And I would have to agree. Josh Line’s portrait of the guy with his bike in the floodwaters … it just draws you in. You just have to know what the story is here.
Josh .. thank you! You win the book prize.
Again, thank you everyone. This has been inspiring to read.
Congrats to the winners!!
These were great to read the stories behind the images. Thank you to everyone for sharing!
I realize this contest is long finished but I’m happy to read you’re still willing to accept additional comments.
This photo was taken a few years ago when I first developed an interest in portrait photography. I had just purchased an 85mm f1.4 and wanted to get some practice on DOF and handling subjects. In my mind I just wanted some technical shots to prove to myself that DOF really does work in a predictable way and to begin development of my own style of interacting with subjects. I was so happy when this young beautiful woman volunteered to sit for me. We went through the shoot, I managed to get the subject relaxed for some natural poses and took shots at different apertures. We talked and really just had a joyous and fun time. I got my technical shots and a little practice in interaction and directing poses. I gave the young woman copies of the best shots and memories of the shoot got filed away in the back of my mind somewhere.
About 6 months later, we ran into each other and she said something that really made me realize that my photos can affect others in profound ways. She said “Lance, when you took my pictures was the first time I’ve ever felt beautiful.”
From that point onward, my mission in portrait photography is not only to get a great photo but also to get the subject to feel great about themselves. Not only does this result in better portraits but if I can give someone a positive attitude about themselves then I’ve a little bit of good in this world.