Photographer Sean Tucker Explains How to Capture Authentic Portraits of People

“The War In Every Portrait” is an interesting video from photographer Sean Tucker that explores the idea of capturing authentic moments in a portrait session. Tucker muses that there is a constant battle between the subject and the photographer. The goal is to find the kink in the armor of their exterior persona and expose the “real” person hidden inside.

Portrait photography has the power to permanently capture the real identity of a subject but getting to a point of comfort in a portrait session where the real and true persona of the subject begins to show can be quite a challenge. Tucker says it is akin to being at war. The subject has a very clear idea of the persona they project on a day-to-day basis. This is what they will show you when they step in front of the camera. Your job as a photographer, however, is to cleverly peel away that exterior persona and reveal the authentic one they reserve.

Tucker offers a few tips on how to do this in the video as well as further highlighting the importance of this process. Have a watch, it really is worth considering if you shoot portraits.

[via PetaPixel]

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12 Comments

So many articles on how to light, how to expose, all the technical crap but very little on how photographers work with their subjects. I figure I could get a great deal out of just watching a video of a portrait photographer working a session session. Good piece, I'd really like to see more like this

Adam Chandler's picture

I totally agree. Creative Live just released a nice class on capturing authentic portraits and I think the instructor, Chris Orwig, did a great job talking about the way he approaches subjects and connects with them. Granted, it's not free ($79). I definitely think this subject deserves more attention by the photographic instructional community.

Emma Grigoryan's picture

This was my daily dose of enjoyment and the Yousuf Karsh story doubled it. I plan to do a very in detail article on him sometime soon.

I just finished reading a book about Karsh. That helped me see what was missing from my portraits.

Emma Grigoryan's picture

that's so nice to hear, he is an amazing one and the more you learn about him, the more you appreciate.
I am planning this article since maybe 2 months, waiting for a book to arrive, I really want to make a very detailed and multi-dimensional story :)

My next shoot, I'm just going to plan an extra 30-60 minutes to just chat. Perhaps I can get excited about portraits again.

Jay Jay's picture

I've shot a huge amount of portraits, often by people who have never been in front of a camera before, and Sean Tucker is spot on about capturing the true essence of the subject. The things i've found that works to bring that out in every person i shoot is to give them tips on posing and show them magazine examples of those poses so they can see how it looks in real life. Talking to them, asking them to tell you things about themselves, as well as you, the photographer, telling them stories or jokes, goes a long long way to relax them and not make it seem so much like a photo session, but 2 people hanging out and taking some photos along the way.

Not everyone uses this ability, but shooting tethered is my number one way of getting people to relax and pull their personality out- you'll see their eyes completely light up the first time they see themselves on a laptop screen after the lighting has been dialed in on them. Being able to see how they look, as well as stopping to do a quick look back on sets of shots also helps them to fine tune their poses, which in turn, helps them relax even more. Playing music they like also helps them to feel more comfortable as well.

I added DSLR Controller to my kit, but even using a WiFi card to send images to my tablet really helps. My wife can show them their image on a decent screen, without them moving. I've considered hanging a 55" TV on the wall for doing presentations, and what would work for tethering too.

Jay Jay's picture

I used to use an eye fi card to send images to an ipad too- even had a mount to hold the ipad to my tripod, but as eye fi's are legendarily known for, it's their inability to reliably stay connected to any device, so my card got ditched after two uses. On rare occasions when i'm not doing a direct wired tether to my laptop, i sometimes use a battery powered wifi unit called Weye-Feye, which i learned of from a photog who works for Red Bull. Works great and keeps the connection, plus you can control the camera from their app, similar to DSLR Controller. If you're interested, you can pm me or check it out on Amazon.

Hoodman loupes are fantastic to use when you are on location or outside, as i'll show the client sets of shots we take. That little gadget does wonders to relax their poses and make them easier to shoot. I bought a knock off of it on Amazon for about $25, and it's worth every penny. (Sorry Hoodman, you're way too overpriced)

Alejandro (Alex) Martinez's picture

What an honest and authentic explanation of what it is to take someone's portrait. Bravo Sean.

Isaac Alvarez's picture

I really love this. Great article. I love going for the emotions and not just the pose.

Capturing authentic portraits is probably the hardest thing that you can do as a photographer. Luckily, I'm a wedding photographer, so I capture laughs and tears. I also have the added benefit of meeting clients several times before taking their photograph. I feel for portatists and those that work in editorial photography. Best wishes from the team here at http://www.christopherbellphotography.com.