Portrait Advice and Self Realization

by Melody Hall

When it comes to following my dreams, I come to the edge and stop. I am afraid of something. I’ve always wanted to be a portrait photographer but I am afraid of interacting with people.

I used to not be this way. In my teens and twenties, I was outgoing and could strike up conversations with anyone about anything. I was approachable, people liked to open up to me. Something happened in my 30’s that put a stop to all that chatter. For the past decade I have tried forcing myself to shoot portraits of other people.

Perhaps I have been pushing on this wall from the wrong direction, wrong perspective. Maybe I just needed to go through the opposite extreme before I came back to center. Whatever it is, I am still trying to overcome my self inflicted obstacles and reach my goals, achieve my dreams.

I came across an article on lensculture.com, “Great Portrait Advice form Award Winning Photographers. Once I started reading the responses, I relaxed a little. I realized that these great portrait photographers aren’t as confident as I had imagined.

A portrait for me is a meeting, a moment where the power of the human mind and the physical condition meet—alongside it is a reflection of myself. It tells us something about where we are in our lives.” Sander Troelstra

Many like Sander Troelstra, get knots in their stomachs, feel insecure. Troelstra goes on saying that these are tools, use them. It keeps the photographer on their toes, alert, even if they are breaking a sweat.

That is how I feel before a shoot. I get anxiety, my hands sweat and every worst case scenario runs through my head. I forget that sometimes our flaws can be our most efficient tools. Learning how and when to use them is something I will learn. Realizing that I am not alone in my fears was a huge step in the portrait direction. Knowing that it’s a part of the process for many photographers, set my anxieties at ease for a moment.

“Life’s experiences alone will create shifts in you as a photographer, and you must be willing to accept that and evolve. Trust in these shifts and move forward." David Jay

David Jay was a professional fashion and beauty photographer, now he has dedicated himself to a personal project that is the opposite of being a beauty photographer. David shoots wounded soldiers, terminally ill, the grieving… he’s taken this opposite extreme of his own… he trusts his path that got him here. He’s constantly moving forward with his work and everything in his past has helped him become the socially aware human he is.

When I landed on Polly Braden’s words I got very emotional.

“My most important recommendation for portrait photographers is this: put your camera down. In terms of professional advice, I would say that its important to be brave and meet people.”  Polly Braden

It hit home, I was not as brave as I thought I had been all these years. I am a coward and I needed to come to terms with why I am so afraid of interacting with people. It’s important to my work as a photographer to get past this and move forward.

When it comes down to it, I don’t think I am afraid of other people or how they will respond, I am afraid of myself. I am afraid of the critic inside. I am afraid of failing, not producing what I envisioned. I am afraid of myself and how I will react to not succeeding, the depression and anxiety. It has nothing to do with the people I’ve never shot. I am afraid to fail so I do not try.


Sander Troelstra
Children of the night. Street children roaming the streets of Durban, South Africa. © Sander Troelstra. This portrait is from a series recognized in the LensCulture Street Photography Awards 2015

David Jay
First Lieutenant Nicholas John Vogt, US Army. © David Jay, LensCulture Portrait Awards 2015

Polly Braden
Caroline and David, Holmewood Community Center. © Polly Braden, LensCulture Portrait Awards 2016