Top 10 Portrait Photographers that Inspire My Work

Instagram is such an interesting social networking site; it gives us entry into people's lives, but everything we see is carefully edited and hand-picked to be there. Despite the undeniable level of inauthenticity regarding what's shared on Instagram, there is a strange sense of community amongst its users. Followers become more like a family, learning about the lives and adventures of the people they follow. 

Over the years, my Instagram account has moved from a personal platform where I connect with friends, to a professional networking service. In an effort to grow more as a photographer and creative, I began (almost exclusively) following other photographers from around the world. However, it took quite awhile (about a year), for me to follow all the photographers I follow.

Many of the professional photographers and creatives I follow do such a good job of sharing their resources and helpful tips. In an effort to give back--especially because I believe Instagram plays a huge role in a photographer's success--I've decided to share the top ten photographer's that inspire my work:

1. James Day (@jamesdayweddings)

James Day was the photographer that showed me what good light looks like. As you can see from the last six posts on his professional Instagram account, he knows how to capture the golden light, moody tones, and ethereal rainbows in a way that showcases both the beauty of the natural world and the emotion of his subjects.

2. India Earl (@indiaearl)

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India Earl's style is much different than that of James Day, but she has an equally good grasp on lighting and, unlike a lot of James Day's work, pushes the rules a bit by overexposing a lot of her images to force your focus onto the couple. India's fearlessness when it comes to shooting in direct sunlight inspires my work and helps me step out of my creative-comfort zone. 

With her aged, desert style, she shoots lots of sessions in the Southwestern United States.

3. Kristen Kaiser (@kristenkaiser)

What inspires me so much about Kristen Kaiser's work is that she's not afraid to think outside of the box and shoot in less-traditional ways. As pictured above in her latest posts on Instagram, Kristen blurs out the natural environment to draw attention to the couple she's shooting. 

Kristen also edits/shoots in way that makes her photographs look like they were shot on film--a style that is growing in popularity.

4. Phil Chester (@philchester)

Do you market yourself as a storyteller--specifically a storyteller of couples' love stories? If you're not following Phil Chester you need to get on Instagram and follow him right now. Phil uses raw, authentic imagery to capture love stories across the world. 

One thing that caught my attention is that he tells couples not to clean up their house before he comes to do a shoot. Instead, he encourages them to leave everything as it is. He doesn't want to capture an overly posed, picture-perfect moment, he wants to capture the special stuff that comes in the in-between. 

5. Annie Ruby Connolly (@annierubyy)


Annie Connolly markets herself as an "intimate/adventurous elopement and wedding photographer." Based out of the Southwest, Annie does a lot of portrait shoots against stark desert landscapes. With an eye for composition and capturing pure emotion, her work has helped me a lot when it comes to posing my clients.

One thing Annie does that is unique is that she takes short video clips of her couples during their portrait shoot and then compiles the footage into a video. 

6. Samuel Elkins (@samuelelkins)

Samuel Elkins work is much more stylized than the previous photographers I've shared, but equally good in composition, editing, and light. A lot of Samuel's work is commercial--especially for businesses geared towards travelers. Because of this, I enjoy following his work to see how he is able to merge art and corporate businesses together in a way that attracts the consumer but also conveys information.

7. Lauren Beeston (@laurbeeston)

Most of you that know me know I love barefeet, lots of sunshine and the sea. Growing up, I wistfully imagined a world in which I was born a mermaid (who am I kidding, I still do). Lauren seems to be the same way.

Lauren Beeston is a travel, destination wedding, and product videographer based out of Hawaii. Her videography is part of why I follow her (and all the sunshine, mermaid, wanderlust-filled images), but the main reason I follow her is because of the way she structures her Instagram profile. She balances it as both a personal profile and a professional profile. All of the images are high-quality and maintain her style/brand, but a lot of the images are actually of herself. Since this is close to how I am currently running my Instagram, I appreciate seeing other creatives do the same.

8. Melissa Marshall (@melissamarshallx)

Melissa Marshall's moody portraits make me dream of rainy days, good books, great coffee and eternally scrolling through her aesthetic Instagram feed.

As you can see from her latest six posts, Melissa is not afraid of black and white editing. As someone who loves black and white images, I learn a lot from how she edits hers--such as how she underexposed the bottom right image to draw attention to the groom kissing the bride's hands. 

9. Sue Bryce (@suebryce)

I scrolled down a bit before I took this screenshot from Sue Bryce's Instagram because I wanted to capture more of what her profile is all about. Sue is a talented studio portrait photographer with a talent for making photographs look like whimsical paintings through use of light and shadow. 

While Sue's style doesn't necessarily align with my own, I have learned a lot from her detailed "behind-the-scenes" posts, as well as how she uses dramatic, in-studio lighting to create stark, emotional images. 

10. Kelsie (@kelsieemmphoto)

Last, and certainly not least is the extraordinarily talented Kelsie from Utah. Kelsie specializes as a wedding and fashion photographer, combining love stories with rich visuals.

What I especially love about Kelsie's work is that it is simple and uses soft light and minimalistic editing. It's clean and for the most part doesn't seem over-edited, which is a style I am trying to incorporate into my own work.

While all of these photographers are talented creators with a strong client base that spans across the world, don't forget to look locally too! Since it's important to understand your local market, follow all of the local photographers you can. Not only can this inspire your shooting locations, it also helps you gain a better understanding of what your client expects and needs.