Capturing the Essence of a Portrait Subject

“I’ve never taken a photograph of someone and created a persona, I’ve just discovered what was already there.”― Anthony Farrimond

“I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.”— Frida Kahlo

The other day, after lunch at my favorite fish taco stand, I walked by a group of young women having lunch and as I passed by overheard one saying, “You can’t capture the essence of a person with a photograph.” While we could certainly argue about what constitutes a person’s “essence,” I’m sure most photographers would agree that it is not only possible but also desirable that you capture a portrait subject’s essence. Otherwise, it’s just a picture of a person. And it could be that in some young people’s mind the idea of a portrait is limited by their concept of a selfie, which I believe is the farthest thing from capturing anyone’s essence.

I went looking for an example where I captured a portrait subject’s essence starting with a model, Pamela Simpson, who I’ve photo-graphed the most over the past four years. She is admit-tedly a cha-meleon and has many aspects to her personality and is terrifically talented in front of the camera, capable of expressing many emotions and moods. Yet when it came time to select an image for this post I knew exactly where to look and I wanted to pass the story behind this image along for all of the aspiring portrait—including glamour—photographers out there:

When working with a new model, it’s been my experience that even when working with a professional it takes time for us to become photographically comfortable with one another. Even though the images Pam and I made on our very first shoot were good, any working relationship takes time. The image shown was created on our ninth shoot, almost one year after our first one. I remember the exact second I shot it as if it were yesterday: It was the moment when I realized that every one of the images we were making that day were great! And that trend of excellence continued over the next several years that we worked together.

This image, I feel captures the essence of a beautiful, uniquely stylish woman who is strong, confident in who she is as a modern woman and in total control of her craft. She is the consummate model. There may have been other interesting and impressive images that we created years later but this one remains in my mind as the first time we made photographic magic. Is Pamela Simpson the best model I every worked with? Yes and I think and hope she agrees that this portrait captures her essence.

Pam is featured on the cover of my book “Posing for Portrait & Glamour Photographyand you can see more of her and learn about my posing techniques in the 159 pages of this book. Brand new books are available from for just $14.75.

Author: Joe Farace

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