Moving Beyond ‘Letting Your Personality Shine Through’

I look at a lot of photographs of people, as well as taking many myself. I have been doing both for years. One of the things that I have come to realize is that a portrait is a blending of two personalities, not just the capturing of one.

People are comfortable with displaying themselves at various levels. We all have a different life history. The way we live and what we do leaves traces in our eyes, skin, body lines, carriage and choice of clothing. The choices we make and the resulting experiences as a result of making these choice impacts the way we express our ourselves in our futures. Our personalities grow and change over time.

This is as true of the photographer as it is of the person on the other side of the lens. The photographer’s role is to evoke the model’s personality and capture that evocation in images that catch a single moment in time. That is where creating portraits ts begins.

In days of film people, that often lead to one to a few dozen captures of a person during a portrait session. These days, with digital, it can result in several hundred captures during a single session.


The interaction between photographer can stay at the surface. But it can also go deeper. If the photographer builds rapport with the model, getting past the technical trappings of lights and camera, a session can become a joint exploration of the expressing of aspects of a person’s personality. That is what I strive for in my head shots and dynamic portraits. I express this intent in my tagline line “photography that lets your personality shine through”.

But today things don’t end there. All of us who take pictures today use Photoshop. During retouching and image manipulation, more can happen. The personality and artistic choices of the photographer completely dominate the retouching process. The model is no longer in the room. It is no longer an interaction between two people.

When I made film based portraits that occasionally happened in my darkroom. But my choice was limited by the technology I had available. I dodged and burned and cropped and color adjusted, but my choices were technically limited compared to the ones that I have available today. When I work in Photoshop or Lightroom, the choices I have about the technical possibilities are much much greater. I can inject a great deal more of myself in a final image then ever before.

I did a session recently with a young model. I saw something in her, and worked with her to bring it out. Once I started to work in the images that resulted from our interaction in Photoshop, I moved beyond the basic level of retouching that I normally do. I went after what I saw in her. I injected my version of who I thought she could be into some of the images that I had captured of her.

When I showed her the results, I got a very mixed reaction. She liked much of what I had done. Her most positive reactions where to the images in which I limited myself to “letting her personality shine through”. I retouched these but never moved beyond the spirit of our interaction in the studio. But she was very uncomfortable with a few of my final images.


She did not feel that these were images of her. My first response was that I had simply discovered a side of her that was there. I said that she might not be fully in touch with this side of her, but I thought it was still her. She was unhappy about my explanation.

Reflecting on the whole experience, I realized that what had happened. In these few images, I had moved beyond “photography that lets your personality since through”. I moved to “photography in which I inject my vision of who you might be” into the results.

I don’t think that this is a bad thing to do. I think that many iconic images  of people are a coming together of the dynamic personality of the model and the creative personality photographer. Both people have life experience, people insight, and personal creativity to contribute. The vision of the photographer is as important as the self expression of the model. Such images celebrate both individuals.

Modern technology has broadened the technological possibilities for the creative expression of the ‘vision’ of the photographer. I intend to embrace this expanded degree of choice in at least part of my work as I continue to develop as a photographer.

But I am now clear that this is more than ‘photography which lets your personality shine through’. When I am engaged to head shot work so by a client, that is what I will do. Limit the degree to which I inject my own personality into the final image after the actual photography session.

But when I move beyond that to doing portrait work I will let my own personality shine through as well in the final images.  I will not confuse the issue by presenting it as these final images which ‘was discovered’ in the model. Such images are much more than that. They always need to be labelled as what they are, the coming together of two personalities, not just the representation of one.

See the whole video of the final images from the shoot by clicking on The Moods of Justine.)