Why the Best Portrait Photographers Have Great Empathy Skills

To be a good portrait photographer, you of course need to have solid lighting and shooting skills, but that's not all of it. Being a great portraitist take a strong ability to connect with your subjects, and this great video investigates why empathy is the key to doing that.

Coming to you from Sean Tucker, this wonderfully insightful video examines the concept of empathy and how it applies to portrait photography. A big part of shooting a portrait is successfully engaging with your subject to make them feel comfortable in front of the lens. Empathy is so important because it's a higher level of engagement than sympathy. Whereas sympathy is the act of caring about the feelings of one another, empathy is actually feeling those feelings, and when you do that, you better understand your subject as an individual, and that in turn makes you better able to represent their essence as a human being in a photograph. I think Tucker is really on to something in recommending photographers regularly get their own portraits taken as well. When you spend all your time behind the camera, it can be easy to forget what it's like to be in front of it, and that in turn diminishes your capacity for empathy. Getting in front of it regularly helps you to understand and remember the experience.

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9 Comments

Ekaterina Soubbotina's picture

Great article. Thank you for sharing.

I really enjoyed that in addition to telling photographers "you have a great deal of power in the room" - use it kindly, Sean also sends a clear message to potential clients saying there's no point in bulling photographers doing work their comfortable with. Great advice for both sides of the camera.

Are you kidding? This “photographer” showed off a lot of his tech “skills” but really failed to show his “empathy” skills. There was (at least in this video) no attempt to relate to the model on an emotional level. Youtubers never cease to amaze me...

user-189304's picture

You either didn't watch it, or didn't understand it.

I did. During the shooting part the photographer only spoke about his tech approach. It wasn’t until AFTER the shoot that they conversed on empathy.

user-189304's picture

Right, so:

1. The creator (of the video) focused upon his own feelings on the lead up.

2. The photographer that the creator went to discussed his set up for maybe 2 minutes (of 24 minutes). Keeping in mind it is one photographer photographing another photographer.

3. They spent the rest of the time discussing psychological techniques.

Yeah, I can see how you could draw such a conclusion from approximately 10% of the content.

JetCity Ninja's picture

this is exactly why i could never be a portrait photog, no matter how much i want to be or the number of personal concepts i have running thru my mind. being a borderline sociopath with combat PTSD has it's drawbacks.

however, i can guarantee if you hang with me, you'll never die in my presence. :)

A great video. I subscribe to both Sean Tucker and Tommy Reynolds channels on YouTube and have learnt a lot from both.

Empathy skill depends upon the photographer because photographers spend all the time behind the camera. Empathy means that you can fell and share your emotions and power of loving. That the main thing for the best portrait photographer. A few months ago my cousin gets married and he hires a photographer. I am shocked to see his empathy skill. In this time I thing Alex F Buchholz Photography has a great empathy skill for in profession.