Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

We chatted with 9 mobile photographers about portrait tips, what they’re trying to capture, and the best things photography has allowed them to do.

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture
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Secrets from the Pros

Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Portraiture

There is something about portraiture that’s complex and simple at the same time. Shots can both be deep and emotional, or they can be candid and simple. Either way, the art of creating portraits is always a unique experience for the photographer, the subject, and the viewer.

Sometimes, it’s about a photographer gravitating towards her subject’s facial expression, other times, it’s the curiosity that drove a photographer into taking a shot. Sometimes, it’s all about shooting to hone skills, other times, it’s shooting to hone connection towards strangers. We chatted with 9 mobile photographers about portrait tips, what they’re trying to capture, and the best things photography has allowed them to do.

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Chris Maliwat

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Chris Maliwat

Chris Maliwat

If you think about it, the idea of shooting commuters exclusively may sound boring, but Chris Maliwat of @subwaygram shows us otherwise. His Instagram account is full of candid portraits of New York Subway commuters and each photo is full of character. “Photography allows me to preserve fleeting memories and find commonality in what appears to be diverse,” He said. “In a world where people consciously and often obsessively cultivate an image to portray, I love taking candid portraits to show how people look when they are un-posed and unmasked.”

Technique-wise, Chris has two solid tips: Don’t over-edit and don’t be afraid to get too close. “Let the subject’s relationship to their environment help tell their story. The best portraits reflect an inner monologue and suggest a broader narrative -- they help reveal a subject’s authentic self,” he said. For the 44-year-old resident of Brooklyn, “Commuters settle into reverie—a liminal space between both physical locations and mental states—revealing commonalities in fleeting moments that are worth preserving.”

Brendan Se 01

Photo By: Brendan O Se

Brendan Se 02

Photo By: Brendan O Se

Brendan O Se

Brendan has a unique way of capturing portraits that’s not easy to put into words – except, maybe, poetic. “I lose sense of my surroundings, of noises. I become super-focused on my immediate environment, and the only distractions I have are visual ones. When I am out shooting and I zone out I am on an accelerated path, excited, exhilarated to be in the moment. Scenes, looks, people, flash and vanish. It is dreamlike. When this happens, it is exhilarating and freeing,” Brendan shares.

He also noted how we should worry less about the technical side of things when taking photos. “Too much emphasis can be put on the technical side of photography. Busy yourself with making a connection with the person you are shooting. Allow yourself to be part of the experience,” he said. “If I were to give a tip, it would not be technical. Engage with the person. Be prepared to tell them things about yourself - be comfortable in revealing yourself to them as you work towards getting them to reveal who they are. That and shoot multiple shots all the while talking with them. Do not stop.”

For Brendan, a good portrait is one that showcases “an evident connection with the photographer and the person being photographed.” For him, it is the evidence of exchange that he’s trying to capture the most in every portrait. “We all are guarded about what we show and what we may reveal. In a portrait you want to shift this and create a comfort where the subject reveals.”

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Anup J Kat

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Anup J Kat

Anup J Kat

From underwater photography to portraits of people, there’s no question why Anup J Kat is a multi-awarded photographer. But that’s not really why he shoots. For him, success is measured not by awards but by being able to find your style. “Photography for me has played a bridge between the ocean I love and the people who don’t understand it. Not only has it been a journey of self-discovery it has also taught me to connect with the subjects I shoot,” he shared about his work. For Anup, a good portrait shot is rooted in connection. “It’s most important for one to understand and care about your subject. This is half the job and the rest will fall in place.” “The face of a person has all those moments he or she has gone through in the past. For me it’s the story of the past years which you will capture in that moment. It is beautiful, as they sit there and look at you and you see so much in those eyes,” He further added.

And if there’s a tip he can give on taking portraits, for Anup, it’s all about the lighting. “The kind of light falls on a subject would make or break a good portrait. For example you would like a younger woman to have a soft fill of light on her face whereas showing an older man to have a wrinkles and help accentuate with a harder source of light,” shared Anup.

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Erfan Nasiri

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Erfan Nasiri

Erfan Nasiri

Also based in Iran, Erfan Nasiri continues to hone is skills on street photography with a touch of candid portraiture. When taking portrait shots, Erfan said he’s trying to capture “stories that you can take after joining with the person and sharing their life.” Technique-wise, he said “you must learn to genuinely let them know that they don't need any ‘figure’,” he shared, and further added that it’s vital for the photographer to connect and be a friend to the subject, somehow, rather than a complete stranger. When asked about success, Erfan has a unique but a pretty sensible and relevant take – “difficult experiences. Living with different people and can make a successful photographer.”

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Iza

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Iza

Iza

Currently residing in Paris, France, Iza focuses on street photography. “Most of my photos explore the moments of everyday life. I operate spontaneously, instinctively to create a visual record that seeks to share a moment of life,” she shared. And given that she shoots fully on her phone, Iza said it takes a good amount of patience and optimism. “But what I get in return is a chance to make an honest picture of authentic moments,” she further added. For Iza, good portraits show the “emotional strength that emerges from the image.”

And as for tips on shooting, her response was succinct – “Spontaneity. Don’t ask to pose for the shoot! And hope for a beautiful light.” With her shots, Iza shows us how mobile photography is less limiting and really, more about pushing our creativity outside its limits. Or what we thought were limits. And when asked what makes a successful photographer, we got another short but priceless response: “Chance, maybe… with some talent.”

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Roshan Singh

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Roshan Singh

Roshan Singh

Doing incredible close-ups, Roshan Singh’s images are stunning on their own individual way. “I love capturing moments… beautiful stories around,” he shared; but for portraits, Roshan said it’s all about “an unsaid story, some kind of connection and of course, happiness.” He also noted that when taking portraits, it’s vital to “focus on your subject's eyes. Make a connection. Let your portrait speak in silence.”

Indeed, portraiture has this unique way of connecting not only to the subject but more so to the photographer. Everyone can take good photos, but to take good portraits – that’s a different thing. And that’s why many photographers love to focus on this particular way of shooting. For Roshan, it’s because he gets to know “so many different stories of the people” of the people he photographs. “There is a kind of connection you make with the people you meet and ultimately make a part of your art. I love returning to places I have shot, asking for the people I have photographed just to give them their prints and perhaps bringing smiles on their faces,” he further added, while noting that success as a photographer is “an unending thirst of learning.”

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Shayan Sajadian

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Shayan Sajadian

Shayan Sajadian

Shayan is a documentary photographer based in Shiraz, Iran. And this 25-year-old knows how to take fine, fine portraits that showcase what humanity looks in different angles. Shayan shared how photography allowed him to discover a lot of things and have a lot of adventures. “I gained a new perspective and I saw things that people didn’t or couldn’t see,” he shared. Shayan also shared a valuable tip when taking photos, that is to hold the shutter because “there are things that happen in a split second. When I want to take a photo, I try not to scare the subject or alarm them or distract them. For me, to take a photo in the definite moment you should be very sharp,” Shayan noted how the face and the eyes of the people are the “most important things he pays attention to” when taking portraits or just photographs in general. “In my opinion the best picture is a photo that can’t be photographed at a later time and from another angle,” he added.

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Shel Glaister

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Shel Glaister

Shel Glaister

“Take pictures every day. Take dozens, hundreds, thousands.” Shel Glaister is a mobile photographer based in London and for her, it’s all about taking lots of photos and knowing your equipment. “Play with angles, with light, with composition and reflections. Mess around with editing apps. There really is no harm in trying something different, even if it ends up in the trash. Try, challenge, learn,” – this is her series of tips on taking good portrait photos, or just about any photos in general. For Shel, the best portraits are those that “make you wonder what the person is thinking, what their life must be like.”

“One of my favorite portraits I’ve taken is of a coffee shop barista while she was laughing at me. She didn’t realize I was already snapping away, as I was talking to her and not looking at my screen. Of the photos I took that day, that one of her relaxed and happy is by far the most convincing.” She further shared. And when asked about success, Shel considers it more of a personal thing, “I suspect (and hope) success has to be personal, ultimately. To feel at least partially contented in your ability to make the image you wanted, while still striving to grow and improve.”

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Mirek Górski

Secrets from the Pros: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Impact of Taking Portraiture

Photo By: Mirek Górski

Mirek Górski

“Photography is a form of therapy for me. By nature, I am anti-social, and photography allows me to approach people and overcome my own boundaries,” shared Mirek Górski when asked why he takes photos. Focused on black and white, Mirek’s portrait shots are simply captivating. And given there are many kinds of portraits, for Mirek, a good portrait is one that “shows the model in such a way that it allows others to look at it completely differently. One that allows us to discover in another human being something we have not seen before.” And as a technique to taking good portrait shots, Mirek said to “make sure that the photographed person looks at the lens. Help the model forget that he is standing in front of the lens. Do everything to make him feel good and free. The eyes are the mirror of the soul.”

For the 44-year-old Polish mobile photographer, “the most important thing for me is that the portrait is real and authentic.” “Even if these pictures are not technically perfect, they are very close to me. A relationship with a stranger is the most important value of a portrait,” he further added.

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