Portraiture has been used as a tool throughout the ages to immortalise the visual image of ourselves and our loved ones. From Roman-era busts to paintings of kings, Van Gogh to the Mona Lisa, artistic portraits have long been a staple of our cultural dialogue. Images of physical bodies captured in a static moment preserve a wealth of history, meaning, and individual characters.
Nowadays, portrait photography has brought this desire to memorialise our identities to new levels. We can now seize in a moment an almost exact imitation of how we actually view and remember a person. Props, backgrounds, and effects can bring these images to life by imposing meaning and symbolism, but the challenge of any good portrait photographer lies in balancing authenticity with creative direction.
From corporate headshots to intimate sittings, portrait photographers give us the power to craft and reinforce our visual identities. So, whether you're on the hunt for the perfect photographer to capture your image, or you're a portrait photographer or art-lover seeking inspiration, this curation of the 8 best portrait photographers in London will offer you a deeper understanding of what brings success in the world of portrait photography.
- Nadav Kander
- Rhiannon Adam
- Rory Lewis
- Karolina Heller
- David Woolfall
- Robbie Ewing
- Faye Thomas
- Serena Bolton
1. Nadav Kander
Nadav Kander is an Israeli photographer who moved to London in 1985, aged 21, from where he has built a name for himself that expands the globe. His collections have been featured in the likes of the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago.
For undeniably breathtaking work, he has won a number of prestigious awards, including the Outstanding Contribution to Photography at the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards and the Fujifilm Award Winner in 1997, and also holds an honorary fellowship at The Royal Photographic Society. His 2009 series Obama's People was the largest set of images by a single photographer ever to be featured in The New Yorker magazine.
Kander's portraits feature a range of high-profile figures as well as anonymous sitters, but they always place the human essence centre stage, revealing characters and atmospheres that transcend our visual perception and make us feel something touchingly unfamiliar about the subjects he captures.
Speaking on his portraiture, Kander says that he looks "for the flow when ego and one’s own histories are put aside (for both of us)", and speaks of the relationship between photographer and subject as a dance that evolves as both become more comfortable. As his portfolio and expansive accolades support, Kander is arguably one of the greatest portrait photographers in the world, let alone London, so it's clear that the has a skill for bringing people's stories to the forefront of their portraiture.
Rhiannon Adam is an award-winning Irish photographer based between London and the United States. She has a BA in Arts, Design & Environment from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and an Msc in English literature from the University of Cambridge.
Sharing her wealth of knowledge and experience, Adam gives talks and workshops at the likes of the Royal College of Art, the Barbican and the V&A. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, BBC, Vice, and The British Journal of Photography. In 2019, she won The Photographers’ Gallery’s New Talent Award.
Inspired by her nomadic childhood spent sailing around the world with her parents, Adam's photography often takes on a social documentarian lens, intrigued by "the image as an intersection between fact and fiction" as noted on her website.
Adam's career includes an eclectic list of projects and impressive accolades (including co-founding an art gallery and conducting a 3-month photography project on a remote island). Arguably her greatest is yet to come, as she is one of the eight designated crew members set to embark on the first civilian lunar tourism mission in 2023. The project, dearMoon (financed by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa), will see a SpaceX Starship fly around the moon on a six-day tour.
3. Rory Lewis
Working between New York, LA and London, Rory Lewis specialises in unique portraiture and headshots, most notably for actors, royals and military personnel. Having worked in the industry for over 15 years, Lewis is one of the most sought-after portrait and headshot photographers in the UK and America, and his natural yet dramatic photographs tell us exactly why.
Lewis' work has been exhibited in galleries across the globe and featured in world-renowned publications, including at The National Portrait Gallery in London and in The Guardian and The British Journal of Photography. He also won the Portrait of Britain Award 4 years in a row from 2017 to 2020.
Inspired by the tonal contrasts in Renaissance portraiture, Lewis' work often has a poetically classic feel to it. It's perhaps no coincidence that the studied Medieval History at King's College in his younger years, as there is something distinctly nostalgic and not-of-this-time to his photography. He likes to keep his set-up minimal, using one or two lights to create a dramatic "chiaroscuro" effect through low key lighting.
Lewis shares his knowledge through masterclasses and mentorship programmes, as well as on his personal blog and YouTube channel. He posts regular updates and examples of his work on his Twitter and Instagram pages.
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Karolina Heller is a Polish digital media producer and portrait photographer who has been living in London since 2008. In her portraiture, she specialises in photographing actors, models, and visual and performing artists. She has also worked with a number of renowned institutions in and around London to produce visual assets, such as Freud Museum, Keats House, and Gilden’s Art Gallery.
From her studio in Mayfair and in various outdoor locations in and around the West End, Heller crafts personally tailored portrait shoots. Keller is invested in showcasing her subjects' unique personalities and elevating their personal brand through her various photoshoot concepts.
Speaking on her work, Heller notes that to "evoke the ‘true self’ of my sitters has been an ever-present objective and the driving force in my work". As you'll likely notice, this is the ultimate task of any good portrait photographer, and though it may sound like an intangible measure, it's immediately evident when a photographer is able to reveal their subjects in this way.
David Woodfall is an award-winning photographer based in London and the Cotswolds. Working predominantly with large corporate clients, his work has been recognised at a number of prestigious awards, including having been a finalist in the Taylor Wessing National Portrait Gallery Awards, and his expansive list of clients includes GQ, British Vogue, Barclays and NSPCC.
His style of portraiture is clean, professional and uncomplicated, often due to the nature of his briefs. In his personal portraiture, he tends to explore the more intimate, revealing side of humanity, as showcased in his Scars Stories series, which captures individuals with bodily scars and the memories behind them.
However, even in Woolfall's corporate portraiture, he succeeds in capturing the character and soul at the heart of his subjects and evidently gives them the freedom to tell their own narratives, no matter how big or small the project. Based on his client testimonials, it's clear that this is achieved through his friendly, personable nature and ability to make people feel comfortable in front of the camera.
6. Robbie Ewing
Robbie Ewing is a self-taught portrait photographer in London, who has been developing his skills as a photographer for 15 years. He has a BA in Woven Textiles from the Scottish College of Textiles and an MA in Textiles from Central St Martins.
Ewing's photography echoes his creative beginnings in the world of textiles, exploring the patterns and textures found in reflections, materials and people. More recently, he has taken to returning to textile design professionally and is working on developing his own photography into interior textile designs.
Working from his studio in Camberwell, South London (which he also hires out), Ewing uses his expertise in both in-camera techniques and post-production to produce unique portraiture and professional headshots that hold their own in this competitive industry. His work often features the use of coloured lighting to add dimension and dramaticism.
7. Faye Thomas
Faye Thomas is a portrait photographer based mainly in London and occasionally in LA and Cape Town. Her work has been featured in a long list of high-profile publications, including Vogue, Tatler, The Times, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.
She is the non-executive director of one of the most prestigious photographers' associations in the world, the Association of Photographers (AOP), which work to protect, lobby and defend the rights of photographers across the globe.
Acknowledging the inherently vulnerable nature of having your portrait taken, Thomas is intent on breaking down the walls with her subjects and introducing an unguarded playfulness and ease to her shoots, which works to reveal people's true characters, behind their insecurities and reservations.
Thomas' Instagram profile showcases a great curation of her professional portraiture, which includes many famous actors.
Serena Bolton is a fine art storyteller and professional portrait photographer in London, though she often takes her work all over the world. She studied Art History at SOAS and Fine Art Sculpture at Chelsea and Wimbledon Art Schools. Following her studies, she went into producing artwork for show houses in Belgravia, Mayfair and Knightsbridge.
Promising to capture the best version of her subjects, Bolton's clients value her not only for her ability to take great photographs but for her discretion and confidentiality. She shoots from a range of locations, making use of the beautiful backdrops available throughout London.
She offers a wide range of services, from corporate headshots to graduation portraits, family photoshoots to female portraiture. Each are tailored specifically to the nature of the shoot and the individual clients at hand. For example, Bolton notes that women tend to be more self-critical and often lose touch of their multi-faceted identity when trying to juggle their roles of mother, wife, employee and so on. Because of this, she works to empower women and celebrate their femininity through her portraiture.
At the heart of all her photographs is storytelling, and if you need some help curating the narrative or visual presentation that you want to tell, Bolton is happy to help consult. As part of this, she offers services that encompass pre-shoot coaching and styling all the way to post-production retouching.
Bolton shares her wisdom on her online blog, where she writes how-to articles and educational guides for those in working in portrait photography. You can also follow her on Instagram and Twitter where she posts snapshots of her work.
As this curation of the 8 best portrait photographers in London shows, we're truly spoilt for choice when it comes to great portraiture. From corporate headshots to abstract portraits, these photographers show us how narratives and characters can be read in most stripped-back compositions of a human face.
Whilst the subjects of portraiture should speak for themselves in some regard, in order to effectively capture the mood and character of an individual, the guidance and creative vision of the photographer should not be undervalued. Lighting (and other studio equipment), composition and photography backdrops play a large role in this and obviously will vary depending on the purpose of the portrait.
The most important thing to remember is that great portraiture is about getting to the heart of a person's true character and revealing this through your photography, which can be a difficult task to achieve during a limited session with a stranger. The key is to learn how to put people at ease and disarm them with humour and warmth. Being a portrait photographer is just as much about being good with people as it is with a camera.
For more inspiration from some of London's best photographers, why not check out these upcoming photography exhibitions in London.
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