Portrait Advice and Inspiration from a Celebrity Photographer

We all want our photos to come out looking like something from a magazine. But how do that? One of the world’s most well-known portrait photographers—with a portfolio full of celebrities—gives us some invaluable advice on how to take an excellent portrait. Renowned photographer Jillian Edelstein talks about her encounter with Nelson Mandela and how he reacted to having his portrait taken while he was president. She also shares some wisdom on how to approach a shoot and what to avoid:

Edelstein picked up photography when she was 20 years old and living in South Africa. The allure and magic of the dark room made her fall in love. She was born and raised in South Africa and lived there during apartheid. She saw a lot of less privileged people affected by apartheid and saw her camera as a weapon. She used it to document the people in the townships.

township portrait

Portrait from a Township

documentary portrait

Portrait from a Township

Edelstein has been asked to photograph some incredible people, including Nelson Mandela during his presidency. Under strict instructions not to use any light sources to protect his eyes that had been damaged in the limestone quarries, she had an opportunity to interact with the president in a way not many people get to, and she found him to be down to earth. Mandela even referred to himself as a “country bumpkin.”

celebrity portrait

Nelson Mandela

Be Curious

You have to have an interest in people that drives your work, but this has to be paired with sensitivity. If you ever push someone into something they’re uncomfortable with, the portrait won’t work.

celebrity portrait tips

Yoko Ono

Don’t Have a Formula

This is the key to approaching a portrait session. If you go into a shoot with expectations and a plan, you’re likely going to be disappointed.

celebrity maternity portrait

Helena Bonham Carter

Be Passionate

Stay hungry and continuing to strive for something better. There’s got to be a mixture of really wanting your work to be seen but also truly believing that your work is just as good as the rest—maybe even better.

portrait studio session

If you can apply this wisdom to your own photography, who knows where it can lead you!

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