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The Secret to Portrait Photography

November 04, 2012 by David Bergman

** Buy prints of these images at TourPhotographer.com. I’m donating all of my profit to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Sandy relief. **


I used to think the secret to making a successful portrait was all about the light. But now I know that’s not entirely true.

Last night, I had the opportunity to photograph some of the celebrities backstage at NBC’s telethon, “Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together.”


I knew I wouldn’t have much time with any of the subjects, so I kept my light simple: a Dynalite 1000 w/s power pack with one big soft box at camera right and a second bare bulb behind me at camera left bouncing off of a white scrim for fill.

I shot with the Nikon D4 and 85 1.4 lens, usually around 100 ISO, 1/250 at f/16. I toned the final images with Nik Silver Efex Pro.


Of course, I have to be confident and competent with my gear, but I wasn’t doing anything special on this shoot. A successful portrait isn’t only about the light.

So what’s the secret?

Human connection.


In most cases, I literally had less than a minute to shoot and was lucky to fire off 15 frames. So I needed to connect with each person on some level.

It started as we walked down the hallway together - I introduced myself and made a joke, or whatever seemed appropriate at the time.

When they finally stood in front of my lens, my job was to make them feel comfortable and immediately pull something out of them for the camera. I often use humor, because actual laughs are always better than fake smiles. But it’s different for each person.


The best story I’ve ever heard about a photographer connecting with a subject is when Platon asked Vladimir Putin what it was like meeting Paul McCartney.

Even though my time with each subject was very short, I think there is some genuine personality in the images. And I didn’t have to setup 6 lights with colored gels to get there.


I live in uptown Manhattan and my apartment was not damaged by the storm. But I have many friends downtown and in New Jersey and Long Island who will be facing the long road of rebuilding their homes and home towns.

I wanted to contribute in a meaningful way, so I’m donating all of my profit from licensing and print sales of these images to the American Red Cross. The photography business has been good to me for 25 years, so it’s the best way I know to give back.

Thank you to NBC and the 10 talented artists who posed for me at 30 Rock in New York City.

** Buy prints of these images at TourPhotographer.com. For publications wishing to license the photos, contact my agent .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). All fees will be donated to the Red Cross.**


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  • By Teri Starbuck on November 04, 2012

    Your secret? “Human connection”.
    This is why you are such a master at capturing all the special moments the emit such beauty and emotion, as it touches each individual in a different place in their heart.

    God bless you, David for combining this opportunity to both get your photos, AND be able to help out the Sandy victims. You totally rock the world, and are #1 in my book.

  • By Kris Dezotell on November 04, 2012

    As always, beautiful work, Dave!

  • By Marty Cohen on November 04, 2012

    Wondrful portraits David. Thank you for posting them and offering them for sale with proceeds going to the Red Cross relief efforts. Heartworming!

  • By Lana Velevska on November 05, 2012

    Thanks for your insight David.

    It really is interesting to hear your perspective on things and how you enage your subject matter and time.

    Always a fan of the great work you produce grin

  • By Bianca on November 05, 2012

    Jon is definitely like a fine wine, gets better with age. What a beautiful man, inside and out. Good job, David! smile

  • By Lens Band on November 06, 2012


    Great work!!!  I think it’s wonderful what you are doing to help the victims of this tragic storm that passed.  My family and I live in Upper Manhattan as well, when Hurricane Sandy landed, and thank GOD that it was uneventful for us.  I would love to share this link on our blog to hopefully bring needed awareness on how others can help contribute to helping out.

  • By Bob Davis on December 20, 2012

    Hey David,

    Happy holidays.  Nice portraits, I agree, its all about the human connection and keep it simple…...

    Hope all is well in your neck of the woods.



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