From the Photographers at SpaceCoast Living

In these days of selfies, smartphones and drones, it seems everyone is taking more photos than ever before. You probably have a hundred or so on your phone right now. We’re all capturing the people and events of our lives with reckless abandon, and sharing those images with everyone, even those remotely our “friends.” So, what makes a photo we take transcend a snapshot and become art? What separates the selfie from the portrait, and what takes it from being your profile photo on a popular social media site to being enlarged, matted and framed and hung on your wall? SpaceCoast Living was intrigued by the potential answers to these questions and reached out to four of our own photographers for clarification. Of course, the first was our own photo editor, Jason Hook. He’s made hundreds of people around Central Florida look just awesome on our covers and in feature stories. Then we asked our other SCB photographers and posed the question to them. What follows are their thoughts on that special photograph, and what made it stand out. Read carefully – we think you’ll be shooting more portraits after this!


I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to shoot many different styles of photography including architecture, food, commercial lifestyle and editorial, but my favorite is where I had my start: portraiture.

So when the editors came to me this month and asked me to write about what I think makes a good portrait, I was intrigued by the question, but I was also a little stumped! What does make a great portrait? It seems like a simple question, but it’s like trying to describe why it feels good when someone smiles at you, or the discomfort you feel when a baby cries. Of course, there are the obvious answers: good lighting, interesting background, good composition, but it’s the main element – the human element – that will make or break a good portrait.

A good portrait invokes an emotion. The viewer won’t be aware of all the mechanics involved in making the photo happen. They should just feel something and it could be something as simple as
it made them smile. It’s one of those things that you know it when you see it.

So as a photographer, or if you’re someone that needs a portrait, how do you make that happen? Well, a good portrait is not accomplished in the way most people remember, i.e., the dreaded
school photos. That awful 30 seconds, sit here, turn your head like this, click, “NEXT”! It’s soulless and it is not a portrait! That is a mug shot only good for identification.

This explains why the first thing that most people say when they walk into my studio is, “I hate getting my picture taken.”

Having your portrait taken can be a very vulnerable experience, plus a good portrait takes time. A certain level of comfort must be built between the photographer and the subject. Once that
trust is there, then walls begin to come down allowing for genuine moments to shine through.

Ultimately, I think that is what makes a good portrait, that moment of vulnerability, strength, a person’s character, whatever it is that makes that person who they are. When you can see that, when the picture tells a story, you have a good portrait.

Of course, personally for me the best part is when that same person who hates taking photographs leaves my studio with a smile on their face saying, “That was fun!”


Portrait photography is quite rewarding when you can capture the essence or mood of your subject. Obviously great portraits can be caught on the fly with little preparation, but for more consistent results it’s best to plan ahead. Location should complement the theme of the portrait and not be distracting to the subject. Elements that make up a nice portrait go beyond correct proper exposure, to composition, expression, color harmony, separation from the background, direction and quality of light. Entire books have been written on these areas. In my opinion, the success of any portrait lies in the eyes, whether they are open or closed.



What makes a good photograph is not something kept in the camera bag or that can be bought at all. In my opinion, character is the unique quality that separates a good portrait from everyday superficial pictures. Any portrait using any technology can be well lit, well composed, and well exposed, but the way a portrait artist uses that technology to create a visual bond between subject and viewer is where the art in photography lies. The character of the individual being photographed is drawn out, the viewer is given pause to identify with the subject as a person, to connect with them, and the image resonates with them long after the viewing experience. Indifferent to the latest technology or technique, it is the artist’s eye and experience that create good memorable portraits.


I’d have to say the single most important thing is making the person comfortable with the process. It isn’t everyone who just lights up a smile and poses perfectly for each shot. Most of us have a level of uncomfortableness when a camera is pointed our way, and that’s what I try to eliminate first. It will often start with our initial contact. I’ll tell a potential portrait client that they have more work to do than me. Choosing clothing, jewelry, make-up, and hairstyles are often as much work as making the photograph. Now they’re involved and part of the process. I follow that with keeping the shoot simple and light-hearted. Nothing shows up quicker to a camera than stress. I particularly love shooting (high school) senior portraits. Mom usually comes along, and the two bond so much during the process. When they see the results later, the parents most always comment on how quickly their son or daughter has grown up. I know that when I do good work for a family, the photos will be around for many, many years. I like that.