Photography Inspiration – A Chat with Portrait Artist Shannon K. Dougherty

When we first saw photographer Shannon K. Dougherty’s portrait work we were blown away with her ability to convey strength alongside femininity. Her portraits hint at a deeper story, one that makes viewers imagine the inner life of the subject, walk into their world and dream their dream.

Shannon K. Dougherty
Photographer Shannon K. Dougherty

Shannon is an internationally published award-winning photographer based in St. Louis Missouri. We had the opportunity to talk to Shannon about how she approaches her portrait work, photography, and styling.

What led you to become a photographer?

I started in the fine arts world as a painter. I had such a love for working with live models and figure painting and drawing but its very time consuming and messy. I had access to a dark room at school so I started to experiment with film photography as a way to keep making art.

Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty
Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty

How would you describe your photography style?

I love to have a soft and dreamy element to my work but also have that person come off strong as well.

Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty
Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty

What is your favorite equipment to have on hand at a shoot and why?

Since I mostly work in portraits, I like to have my 50mm lens and 85mm lens on hand. Another favorite is my 70-200mm. If I want to shoot wider or a more artistic shot, I will use my 16-35mm.

Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty
Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty

I mostly use Canon but sometimes I’ll bring out an old film camera for fun. I also love having v-flats handy to bounce my light around. I also shoot a lot of my sessions with only 1-2 lights and just bounce my light.

I’m a big believer that you don’t need a ton of the top gear to make a great photograph. Getting creative with light and gear helps you learn a lot about the basics of photography.

Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty
Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty

Your photos always have a hint of a deeper story, whether that is through the emotion in your models face, your use of props or location. Do you come at your work with a story in mind or is that something that comes naturally during the shooting process?

Thank you for that! I always want there to be more to the photograph than just the person in front of the camera. Maybe its the artist in me, but I need there to be more of a story told, otherwise it’s just a photograph.

Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty
Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty

I do coach my models and clients throughout the shoot. When we change our set or locations, I give them an idea of what emotion I am looking for. Even with a creative shoot planned, I have basic ideas for what I will do, but I mostly go with the flow.

Sometimes I’ll change an idea while shooting if I think something will tell a better story or emotion.

Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty
Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty

What would you describe as your biggest challenge with photography?

Even if you scout a location and prepare for the elements, you never know what could happen. I basically always have bags and camera covers.

Also, dealing with crowds. I’ve been lucky to work in a crowded location and the crowds let me work. But, I don’t expect that to always be the case. I’ve had to edit out a lot of people in the backgrounds of my photographs before!

Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty
Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty

Your models are always beautifully styled. Do you have any tips on styling models?

I do communicate with my models about what to bring for their shoot. Often, I have them bring a few basics and I provide the wardrobe from my studio.

If I have a theme for a shoot, I always let them know what they will be wearing or at least the vibe that I want. Right now, I do almost all of the styling for my photoshoots. I have such a love for it.

Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty

What role does editing play in your work?

I personally love editing my own work. I like having control of the narrative that I am trying to achieve with the images. Editing is a great way to tweak little things that you didn’t get right in the camera. I do try to get everything right in camera, then clean up with editing from there.

Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty

What advice would you give to photographers looking to improve their craft?

Never stop learning. Read books, attend conferences and events for photography, watch tutorials, get a mentor. If you feel like you’ve learned all you need to know, get rid of your camera and do something else. You should never stop learning everything you can.

Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty
Portrait By Shannon K. Dougherty

See more of Shannon’s work:

Website: www.shannonkdougherty.com
Instagram: @shannon_k_dougherty
Facebook: @shannonkdoughertyphotography

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