Why Do Photographers Have Such Crappy Photos of Themselves?

Why Do Photographers Have Such Crappy Photos of Themselves?

I’ve noticed a strange trend of photographers having the worst headshots and portraits of themselves. And while I understand the trepidation that we might feel by being on the other side of the camera, it does shock me that we don’t have nice photos of ourselves for our websites, Facebook profiles and for the contributors section of our magazine jobs. Don’t we all know some good photographers? Do we feel the need to control our image by doing the ubiquitous self-portrait?

I thought a bit more about what I consider to be a good portrait, and to me, it’s a photo that 1) the subject likes and 2) that the audience feels is somehow representative of the subject. Reason 1 probably won’t stand up to most people’s scrutiny of a good portrait, but since we’re talking about portraits of photographers that they would use themselves, I think it is an important criteria.

So the challenge is to get a decent portrait that isn’t a self-portrait shot by another photographer that fulfills the aforementioned criteria. Let’s take a look.

Fiona Aboud had not one, but many! Here’s one shot by Ken Schneiderman.

Photo by Ken Schneiderman

Another by Erin Korff:

Photo by Erin Korff

I love both of those. But I’m a little star struck by the one that Dan Winters shot avec weird flourescent tube in the background. Soooo Dan Winters.

Photo by Dan Winters

Key learning: it helps to be photogenic.

Brian Smith, co-founder of Editorial Photographers, sent me this one taken by his wife. Good contrast — will definitely reproduce well (I’m talking about the photo. Get your mind out of the gutter). I like it.

Photo by Fazia Ali

I always liked Peter Yang‘s portrait, although I’m fairly certain that 1) he took it himself, and 2) that is not his real moustache. Let me know if I’m wrong, Peter.

Photo by Peter Yang

Clay Enos was at a workshop that VII was holding in 2005, and managed to get portraits of the attending members.

Photo by Clay Enos

I like it. I thought he captured the personalities of these iconic photojournalists pretty well. Why does Nachtwey (center) always look like a bad ass? Oh yeah, because he is.


I’d be remiss for not mentioning the modern king of portraits of photographers. San Diego-based Tim Mantoani has been working on a project to shoot some of the living legends with their photographs on large format Polaroid.

Here’s Contact Press Images founder and PhotoShelter user David Burnett.
Photo by Tim Mantoani

Rock ‘n Roll and Sports photographer and PhotoShelter user Michael Zagaris.

Photo by Tim Mantoani

And Pulitzer Prize Winner Deanne Fitzmaurice.

Photo by Tim Mantoani

Being a professional photographer gives you access, and that can be advantageous at times. Here’s Robert Seale (and friends) shot by Bill Baptist. Not exactly a portrait, but a heck of a holiday card. Keep in mind that Robert is about 6 feet 6’3″.

Photo by Bill Baptist

The New York Times’ Fred Conrad took this one of Robert Caplin. If you work at or for the times, Fred probably took your photo, but not necessarily while you were on the phone.

Photo by Fred Conrad

Amber Sexton took a nice natural light portrait of Henry Horenstein.

Photo by Amber Sexton

Rachel Hulin strutted her acrobatic technique in this classic by Kate and Camilla.

Photo by Kate and Camilla

Hey, pay it forward. Rachel did with this beauty of Jessica Dimmock.

Photo by Rachel Hulin

I attended a Lois Greenfield workshop a few years ago, and while I was coordinating my concept with a few dancers, I demostrated what I wanted, and Lois pulled the trigger. Remember, Lois doesn’t Photoshop (i.e I can leap like a stag)

Photo by Lois Greenfield

I suppose it’s not so much a portrait as it is an action shot. Ah, what to do. I was reading Andrew Hetherington’s WhatstheJackonary and I saw a curious posting about how Caroll Taveras had opened a photo studio with “Portraits: $5”. Caroll’s stuff is good, and heck, how often does when get out to Brooklyn from Manhattan? (*snark*).  Plus the image was delivered on a Polaroid, and last I heard, they were outta business. What more could you want for $5?

Photo by Caroll Taveras

Caroll told me that she didn’t really have any portraits of herself. So I turned the tables on her and posed her bathed in the sunlight of her temporary studio between the curtains she made. (More on Caroll next week).

Photo by Allen Murabayashi

How can I finish without having at least one ringflash portrait. Our very own Grover Sanschagrin…

Photo by Allen Murabayashi

Ok photographers, show us your formal portraits taken by other photographers.

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Allen Murabayashi is the co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 6 comments for this article
  1. kalaamkalam at 9:31 am

    Wow nice post. To be honest i think i can do better. I’ve been shooting my self since i first operated a digital camera. In fact my first few digital pics shot were self portraits (in B/W mode). i have a Nikon e950 swivel camera which allowed me to take self portraits very easily and ever since i just experiment. i posted few self portraits of mine on my photoshop.com page, pl. check them out: https://www.photoshop.com/user/kalaam .

  2. moes.myopenid.com at 1:29 pm

    I thought about this for some time – why did I have such a snapshot of a profile photo? So, I had a good friend, Josh Durias take a solid studio portrait/headshot, which may speak more to his style than mine, but at least there was some intentionality. You can see it on my twitter profile: http://twitter.com/jamesmoes In time, I hope to find a photo that speaks more to my style.

  3. Walt Stoneburner at 10:16 am

    This reminds me of “why do the best barbers have the worst haircuts?” Answer, It’s hard to cut your own hair. While this problem is less-so with more modern equipment, it’s still obvious the camera favors people to be on one side of the camera or the other, rarely both.

  4. Pingback: David Calvert, visual storyteller | Social Journalism

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