Steve McCurry Shares His Philosophy on What Makes a Good Portrait

steve mccurry portrait photography tips

Kashmir (1998)

What makes a good portrait? One of the world's most famous portrait photographers, Steve McCurry, has taken to his blog to bring us his musings on what makes a good portrait. Who better to get advice from than a photographer who has provided us with some of the most famous portraits of all time?

Turns out, while lighting and composition count, the best photographs are those that create a connection. McCurry, known for his heartfelt photographs of citizens around the globe, knows that in capturing universal human elements, his work remains timeless.

And just how does he manage to shoot such magical images? One could make a list of portrait photography tips, but it really comes back to our human desire to make ourselves seen. “Portraits reveal a desire for human connection,” McCurry writes. “A desire so strong that people who know they will never see me again open themselves to the camera, all in the hope that at the other end someone will be watching, someone who will laugh or suffer with them.”

So seemingly simple, a good portrait is a window into the soul of the subject, a gateway into a culture, and a glimpse into a moment in time. “A good portrait is one that says something about the person. We usually see parts of ourselves in others, so the good portrait should also say something about the human condition.”

It's not just McCurry thinking about the topic. He cites famous portrait photographers throughout history who have offered their take on the subject. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Anthony Bannon, and Philippe Halsman all carry the same ethos, making McCurry's philosophy a thread that carries through the ages.

See more of the famous portrait photographer's timeless work.

what makes a good portrait steve mccurry

Philippines (1985)

what makes a good portrait steve mccurry

Brazil (2010)

girl from yemen photograph steve mccurry

Yemen (1997)

steve mccurry portrait photography tips

Kashmir (1998)

steve muccurry portrait photography tips

Bangladesh (1983)

steve mccurry famous portrait photographers

Afghanistan (2002)

portrait photography

Pakistan (2007)

portrait photography

India (1983)

steve mccurry portraits nepal

Nepal (1983)

steve mccurry portraits

Yemen (1997)

Steve McCurry: Website | Blog | Facebook | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Steve McCurry Studios.

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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