Creative Portrait Photography Projects to Refine Your Skills

Zach Hetrick describes his project, The Brooklyn Drawing Board in this short film. This is what he calls a “personal project”, which he admits is just code for “practice”; this sounds almost disparaging, but of course these projects are the heart and soul of our continuing education in our craft. Work we do for clients is important, and teaches us many things about people, about business, and where we’re going with our careers. The work we do for ourselves, on the other hand, teaches us who we are as human beings, and where we want to be going:

The notion is simple; you might have done a similar project before – clean, honest, two-minute portraits of all the visitors that come through his apartment for their various reasons. At the end of the film, Hetrick describes the lighting setup, equipment, and settings that he uses to get the consistent look in every image. This is a wonderful exercise for any photographers who feel a little stuck in their work, or for anyone uncomfortable with shooting portraits.

portrait diagram

It is a low-stress, highly-effective method which forces you to explore people, their personalities, and their unique traits; it forces you to become familiar with the intricacies of the human face – something that will define any photograph, not only portraits.

portrait photography
The main benefit to this project is its simplicity. It’s easy to over-think a concept until it becomes so large that we’re afraid to even pick up the camera, lest it weigh as much in our hands as the idea does in our mind. It’s also easy to get into a rut of only taking photographs for other people, and we can forget why we fell in love with the medium in the first place. If we cease to love what we do, how can we continue to do it well? We must always keep our own passion front and center, making personal work indispensable for any artist.

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4 responses to “Creative Portrait Photography Projects to Refine Your Skills”

  1. Debbie says:

    How do you high pass filter to make photo pop?

  2. Debbie says:

    By the way nice job!!

  3. Love this project idea. I’m doing something similar in my local community and I can tell you this idea may seem easy but it’s not.

  4. Such a great project. Would like to do something similar with my headshot photography but just can’t seem to find the right location.


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