We often talk about portrait techniques in terms of the technical: how to achieve a masterfully-crafted composition of someone’s facial features. But when it comes down to it, a great portrait is not about posing, or lighting, or meticulous post-processing; it’s about the person, and what we understand about them through the image. In his project, Humans of New York, bond-trader-turned-photographer Brandon Stanton makes it his mission to connect his subjects’ innermost selves with his million-and-a-half subscribers – every single day. ABC Nightline released this heartfelt coverage of the project:
What makes Stanton a great photographer isn’t his technical knowledge, but his emotional understanding. Through his relatively short career, he has honed the ability to see the stories that play out all around us and to distill them down into a single shot with a poignant caption.
New York City has long been the place where the line between public and private life gets blurred, a quality which can’t be forgotten as people from all walks of life spill their hearts out to Stanton’s lens and friendly smile. Mashable also released this short clip detailing the artist’s philosophy about his work (you can also catch a glimpse of his gear – looks like a Canon 5D Mk III with a 50mm f/1.2L lens!):
The way to learn stories is no great secret: if you want to know, ask. As photographers, we sometimes have a tendency to hide behind our lenses, but the only way to connect with the people we photograph is to talk to them, to find out what makes them who they are. Only then can their unique selves fully shine through in our photographs.
Honest, earnest questions strengthen the bond between you and your subject, and help you understand how to tell their individual story. Your emotional investment has the potential to turn an average portrait into a work of art.
It’s important to note that every person Stanton photographs – no matter who they are or what they’ve done – is shown with dignity. He always honours his subjects, and never passes judgement, but searches for the best in everyone.
The underlying story in all of this, though, is the inspirational tale of how Stanton was able to turn a potentially tragic event (getting fired) into an incredible opportunity which he has used to touch the lives of so many people. He has recently released a 304-page hardcover book, also titled Humans of New York, which compiles 400 of his greatest images to date.
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