Five Focuses for Portrait Photography

Michael J. Spear at Soho House

We believe that being a maker and creator can take shape in many forms, which is why we always enjoy hearing about different creative processes and challenges from the VSCO community.

Michael J. Spear was on hand at Soho House West Hollywood to lead an interactive shoot and editing workshop with VSCO X members, as well as speak to his creative process. He talked about getting vulnerable with your models, and getting to know them in order to be able to show them in their best light, how they want to be portrayed. Michael also shared five areas of photography that he likes to focus on when shooting portraiture.

The following five focuses are a recent realization I’ve been drawn to lately. Now I try to walk away from every shoot with them. I think when you piece all these together in a set, it develops a deeper story to each individual.

Tight Crops

Tight crops reveal small portions of the face, and using the natural geometry of the face and body to round out the frame.

Hard Light and Shadows

Use the sun to create a sense of mystery, or to add contrast to the photo.

Scale and Geometry

Find an environment that is architectural, and use its lines to round out each photo.


Include hands to create an interactive sense of intimacy.


Use anything you can find around you to enhance an attribute you find intriguing.

A few more tips

A mentor once told me to always make “your images” and show something people have not seen before. You and I could stand side by side, take a picture of the exact same subject, and end up with drastically different outcomes. And when we think about these five focuses, we all interpret them in our own way. With that in mind, my tips are:

– Make your images, and do everything you can to show the world how you see your subject.

– Leave everything at the door, and don’t make it about you. Be present, and genuinely allow yourself to connect with someone new.

– Most importantly, respect their personal space and comfort.

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