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What Does It Mean to Take “Authentic” Portraits?

What does it mean to create “authentic” photos as a newborn and family photographer? 

I can not tell you how many photography groups and forums I have been in where people have talked about authenticity, and specifically how the reason that they don’t work in a studio, or use artificial light is because they want to take “real” photos or authentic images.

So, what does authenticity even mean?  And is it possible to get real, authentic photos as a studio photographer?

I’m going to share my thoughts in today’s episode, and after hearing my opinions, I hope you reach out and them me know yours, because I’m genuinely interested in what all of you think.

What does “authentic portraits” even mean?

Photos of people in their messy homes are advertised as “authentic”

Photos of children crying or upset are advertised as “real”

Families snuggling on blankets, back-lit in Golden-Hour sun are “authentic”

And somehow, studio photos or “posed” photos, with people looking into the camera are not.

This assumption is nothing new.  There has been push-back against “posed” images for as long as I’ve been a photographer (which is a really long time).

The belief seems to be that if a person is sitting or standing in a studio and looking into the camera, the resulting photo is somehow not as intimate, or as “real” as a candid moment.

But I disagree.

Yes, there is intimacy in images that come from messy life; hugs, tears, laughter, movement… those things are all beautiful.

But the truth is, most lifestyle photography is just as orchestrated as studio photography.  Lifestyle photographers pose and direct their clients too.  They just tell them not to look at the camera.  And for some reason, the lack of eye contact comes off as more candid, more authentic.

There is an intimacy created when a moment that looks candid is captured.  I get that

But I personally believe that there is also intimacy in eye contact. 

There is something magical that happens when you sit a person down in front of a plain backdrop, without distractions, and just see them while they look back at you. 

Holding a gaze.  Looking into someone’s eyes… I’m sorry, but that’s super vulnerable.

When a person can be captured like that, without the distractions of what’s going on in the background, or the setting they are in; when they can simply sit in a chair, look into a camera,  in my mind, that is TRUE intimacy. 

Letting yourself be seen without distractions and then letting yourself be photographed, without anything else to look at!  Well, to me, that’s as brave as it gets!

That’s the power of studio portraits

Creating a space where people can do that is part of the magic we do as studio photographers. 

It’s beautiful.

It’s needed.

And it’s just as authentic as a family snuggling in a field or on their couch.

To me authenticity is about capturing people as they are at a moment in time.  That can be posed or unposed, designed, directed or completely candid.

I’d love to hear what you think.  Leave a comment on whatever platform you listen on, or Send me a DM on instagram and let me know!

Want to learn from me? Follow the link and get your name on the waitlist for Sandra Coan Certification. We are opening applications again in May, and I don’t want you to miss out.