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Great Portrait Photos from Yesterday...and Today!
"Who is your favorite, most inspiring portrait photographer?" I posed this question to our Facebook fans earlier this month; some 90 people responded. Choices included influential, timeless classic black and white portrait masters of the past, while others included photographers who specialize in headshots, senior portraits and family portrait photographers.
I have to say: Adorama's Facebook fans know their portrait photographers!
I chose my personal ten favorites from among the 90 nominations, and present them to you here. Your choices may differ, and there are many more outstanding photographers whose work didn't make the cut; Be sure to visit the Adorama Facebook page find the thread and visit all the sites (if youhave the time) but if you can't, check out these ten (presented in no particular order) for an adventure in seeing that might even influence your work!
George Hurrell was a pioneer of Hollywood Glamour Photography. Often imitated (“hey kids, let's do a George Hurrell-type headshot!”), Hurrell started a portrait style in the 20s and 30s that lives on today. With dramatic lighting of legends of cinema, his closeups were the kind movie stars were ready for.
Andrea Joki's photos, mostly done on location, offer a strong sense of place that complements the subject's expression and even their outfits.
Any conversation about portraiture should include Richard Avedon, whose fashion portrait photography broke new ground for going beyond simple beauty to a more nuanced, often super-realistic approach. From his photos of an unposed Maralyn Monroe to unflinching photos documenting his aging, dying father, Avedon showed that true beauty was in the details.
After Avedon, what next? How about one of his students, Jonathan Mannion? After working for Avedon for a year, Mannion focused on hip-hop and urban music stars, expanding to sports and advertising but never straying far from his portrait roots. You can see the influence in the open lighting, hyper-real details and revealing poses.
Sports portrait photography can be challenging but Joel Grimes' approach—partial desaturation, high contrast, dramatic lighting—reflects the gritty aspect of athletic subjects and has earned him a wide following and constant work. Actually, he uses the same approach to all of his portraits, including non-athletic subjects, to create a distinctive, dramatic style.
Gordon Parks personified the use of portrait photography in the name of civil rights. He focused his lens on the minorities, the poor, and the victims of racism, showing their strength and dignity in the face of adversity. The nature of the struggle for equality may have evolved over time, but Parks's approach offers timeless lessons for socially conscious portrait photographers todays.
Mindy Harris represents a contemporary trend: Candid, relaxed portrait photography, where “portrait” and “lifestyle” overlap. And, as the web site's name indicates, the color is consistently understated—a soft pastel-type look permeates the images, and that look is popular among families these days. Photographers who want to attract customers should study this style.
Peter Hurley is a headshot master. Go directly to the "Headshot Work" portion of his portfolio. Study his portraits and look at the reflections in his subjects' eyes and you'll be able to reverse-engineer his images and see how he uses very open, hi-key lighting with white backgrounds, as well as big reflectors and diffusers to light up the faces of famous and up-and-coming stars.
A talented music portrait photographer who is branching into editorial work, Zack Arias photographs people in the studio, on location and always bold and straight-on. He was a popular choice in our informal survey.
High school senior photography is a bread-and-butter business for portrait photographers, and Steve Harrington has made it seem like a ton of fun for the kids while being photographically fetching. He has a knack of putting his subjects in situations that tell us a story about their interests and passions.
You might have heard of a photographer named Mark Wallace. In fact, you may have seen one of over 400 videos he's created for AdoramaTV! But did you know he's a cutting-edge portrait shooter in his own wright? Check out his work here.
And let's not forget Annie Liebovitz, Bambi Cantrell, Jerry Ghionis, Harry Callahan, Pete Souza, and of course Joe McNally—all of whom were mentioned and incoproprate cutting-edge portrait photography in their varied work.
If you are just bursting to say "how could you leave out_____?", leave a comment below and tell us who is on your list of top portrait photographers!