What's the order of importance in making a beautiful portrait?

1. To recognize a beautiful face.

2. To connect with the sitter and get a real expression.

3. To create light that's not about the light but is in the service of making the sitter look their best.

4. To choose the right focal length and lens character to translate what you recognized as beauty.

What is the least important and most talked about trivia in making a portrait?

1. What brand of camera you used.

2. What brand of light you used.

3. Your lighting formula.

4. How sharp and noiseless your image files are.

The first four matter. The last four are boring.

If I ask my friend, who is an artist behind the camera, how his portrait session went with someone he tells me first what they talked about. And he describes the moment at which the expression and pose clicked in. If I ask my friend, who is a gear head, about how his portrait session went he tells me what camera body and flash he used. Totally different mindset. Totally different results.

Knowing exactly which gear to use without bringing imagination and passion to the shoot is something like "knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing."

Please use our Amazon links to buy your camera gear (and anything else you like at Amazon). We'll get a small commission which helps defray my time and cost while costing you zero extra.
Thank you very much.


  1. Interesting and to the point. Thanks for the insight.

  2. I guess the gear heads take photos more for the physical pleasure of using a machine, whereas (and this might be a bit condescending to gear heads) artists tend to transcend that mindset.

  3. An excellent list that sums it up nicely. Unfortunately most books about portraiture emphasize the equipment, lighting and pose because those are things that can be reduced to a formula, the Sears Photo Studio approach.

  4. Deep down we all know this....but its so easy to get drawn into childish tech arguments about gear!

    Thanks for the reminder about what really matters.

  5. Hi, I am from HK......I found your blog while i am searching information for my photography homework.

    I love your portrait, especial those with Renae. Btw, is the photo Renae in a wedding dress, with tanned shoulders, looked straight into the len, stood in front the soda and bottle water signage, taken by you? I love that one !!!

  6. Welcome back Kirk.

    1. Thanks. It's good to inhabit this time and space.

  7. Beautiful portrait, interesting post. Yes, at the and it's about communication, between model and photographer. If this works the portrait will work as well, communicating emotions, thoughts, feelings...
    Thanks for pointing out this.

  8. I can't help but feel you've been sniffing around equipment forums a bit too much... though you've said you weren't going to... in the end, if someone has no sense of control with their art, the only thing they can do is look for something to do it for them. Then they get bent when after too many dollars and and not enough time they are back at square one

    You are actually good at taking pictures... pictures are different than photos... anyone can take photos, auto everything does that... pictures tell stories

    You do some terrific stuff, stay away from the gearheads...

  9. I've been shooting portraits for about 10 years and have read many books, taken multiple all-day courses, and taken a weekly photography class at a local college. Nothing I've read or heard speaks to me as clearly and passionately as your blog. Whatever you do, don't stop.

  10. Even though I know it's your thing... it's still super refreshing and a delight to read the WHY of photography....


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