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A Message to Portrait Photographers

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She came in for her senior session. Her hair was a mess of tangled waves, unruly and uncooperative. Her face was covered with freckles and dotted with acne. She wasn’t model proportions and the clothing she wore required careful adjustment to keep it from bunching up in places.

She was sweet and shy, a girl not used to attention being focused on herself. But 10 minutes into her session, the shyness wore off, leaving behind a girl full of life and laughter. The session ended, she came back for her screening and the order went into production.

Several weeks later, she came back in with her mom to pick up her senior album. It was filled with her favorites from the session. She was visibly anxious. I removed the album from the box and placed it in her hands. She opened the book, and as she slowly turned the pages, she wasn’t smiling. Quite the opposite actually… she began to cry. Each page seemed to bring a new quiet tear.

I was horrified. I was used to images being met with smiles and joy… what had gone wrong? My stomach felt like I had swallowed a chunk of ice.

I said nothing and watched as she continued to go through the album. And then, upon turning the very last page, she looked up at her mom, blue eyes shining with tears, and said the words I will never forget:

“I really AM pretty.”

And that, right there, is why we do what we do.

See, my portrait photography friends, You do not cure cancer. You don’t have the power to stop the path of a tornado or make rain fall on a land covered in drought.

You take pictures of people.

And although you aren’t performing surgery or landing a spaceship on a comet, you still have a gift to share. And that gift affects lives.

For in front of your cameras stand people. And people, well, they often wear masks disguised as a smile. And beneath those smiles are the hidden things. The unspoken insecurities:

“I’m fat”
“I’m ugly”
“I’m not worthy to have my picture taken.”
“I’m going to hate these.”

You won’t know this, of course, because most won’t share it. I mean, who can blame them? But rest assured, those feelings are there, more often than not. And they bounce around in the minds of those you’d least expect.

It is your job to create images that silence those fears. Images that prove those fears unfounded. Images that shout louder than the lies our insecurities whisper. Images that say:

“You are perfect.”
“You are beautiful.”
“You are deserving of attention.”

Your gift, dear portrait photographers, may not save lives. But never doubt its importance.


About the author: Missy Mwac is a photography satirist, a lover of bacon, a drinker of vodka, a lover of sparkle, and a guide through the murky waters of professional photography. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can connect with her on her website, Tumblr, and Facebook. This article was also published here.


Image credits: Header photo by Ultra_Nancy

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