If selfies are the unofficial currency of social media in general and Instagram in particular, then portrait photography is a natural counterpoint to those front-lens fancies. People love to see and share their own faces, but they love to see and share other peoples' as well.
Amateur and professional photographers around the world are doing just that. They're taking to the streets and their studios, phones in hand, celebrating the individuals that comprise their communities. These aren't your typical Instagram users. These photographers are focused on the individuals in front of the camera, capturing how they exist in the world.
Here are 15 portrait photographers on Instagram you absolutely need to follow.
Lorcan Finnegan is an Irish street photographer and filmmaker best known for his series "Dublin Faces." In this series, he captures pseudo-candid photographs of Dublin's residents, in high contrast and high resolution.
The image above is one of his strongest. She's photographed as if she's in an ad in Vogue: tightly focused on the eyes and highly saturated. Yet she's just another woman in an Irish city, maybe waiting on the bus or timing when to cross the street. The crags of her face and the dark, dyed fringe of hair just further highlight the intensity of her stare. It's an intimate portrait of a stranger, and it's this unique quality that makes Finnegan's portraits so captivating.
Dorothee Buyck is a Swiss photographer whose Instagram features secretly snapped pictures of her fellow riders on the train. These images of oblivious passengers are gorgeous and fleeting. You see that they are totally absorbed in their lives, unaware of this photographer across the table. When the passengers are looking down at their phones or asleep, Buyck is working, seeking connectivity in a public space where distance is a commodity.
While each of these portraits have their own unique magic, this particular image captures both the utility and the beauty of train travel and life as a commuter. The way his reflection floats in parallel, unbeknown to him, conveys a full narrative.
Mattieus Suprin is a French photographer who travels the world taking black-and-white portraits of the people he meets. Many of his images are close-ups of adults in the developing world.
This image of a child in Burkina Faso manages to catch a fascinating expression. Is it hopefulness? Dependency? Understanding? In some ways, there is nothing more inscrutable than a child, and Suprin captured this beautifully. The presence of the mother's or guardian's hand further emphasizes the child's place.
Lidia Vives is a Spanish artist and photographer based in Barcelona. Her images are a combination of artistic portraits of models and self-portraits. Many of her pieces play with the surreal, the strangely familiar, the sensual but not sexual.
This is one such image. It is a detail of a larger work called "I Want to Believe." Stripped of the context of the rest of the image, it exists in a kind of limbo. In it, a woman who may be Livia has a nosebleed that may be from something inane or something violent. Nothing is clear, but nothing overtly threatens either.
Zeno Peterson's work is that of a young, active, adventurous and connected artist. This Johannesburg-based photographer and cinematographer creates street portraits, staged portraits and, interestingly, portraits of other photographers.
This image, of photographer @dayphotolife, is one of the latter. The piercing gaze and the moment of obscuring contrast with the business of life in the background, making this gorgeous photo feel like one quick inhalation.
Awat Barikyan is an Iranian street photographer who says he works mostly with his iPhone 6 in Tehran. Many of his subjects are old men: shopkeepers, salesmen, taxi drivers and more. Notably, there are very few women. In a combination of grayscale and full color, his images do a fantastic job of showcasing both his subject and their environment.
This picture stands out from the rest, not only for the unique color and texture of the skin, but because of the tenderness in this man's eyes. This seems like someone the photographer knows, maybe a family member or an old friend.
Kolja Finn Nicolai is a freelance photographer from Berlin, Germany, who creates editorial portraits as well as street photography. Many of her images feature young women in creative apparel or playful situations.
Many of her images, like this one, feel vaguely sinister. While we can see the mirror, it doesn't really register as such. It's an old trick, an almost-vaudeville optical illusion, but here it feels like a fairytale gone wrong. Like so many of her other images of young women, this one has a narrative quality, a sense that there is so much more than what is on the page.
Keegan Boyer is a street photographer working in Seoul, South Korea. Unlike many of the other portrait photographers on Instagram, most of his work is unabashedly joyful. Happiness, color, life and vibrancy are the name of the game.
This image, which Boyer has captioned only "We're Musicians," is a perfect example. These two young creatives are engaged with the photographer and the act of photography, enjoying it even as they are playing up their individual personas. Each of the photo's elements are captivating, like the play of the shirts with the paintings on the wall behind, the unique symmetry in their stances and the soft confidence in each subject.
This California-based photographer, known only as Tristan, has that natural whimsy that is so aesthetically popular these days. Most of his images are of young women, presumably his friends and local models, in flowers, in fields, on mountains and in streams.
This one stands out because it seems slightly more intimate. When you read the caption, you begin to see why. This is one of the photographer's best friends, and it shows. She's looking at him knowingly, without judgement, almost waiting. It feels like a moment equally plausible in a movie or in real life.
Andrew Kovalev is a Russian portrait photographer working in Paris. Like so many of these photographers, his work has a cinematographic quality. Unlike the others, Kovalev writes lovely, brief descriptions of his subjects that help the viewer understand them.
This shot shows a Belgian fisherman named John who works in the port of Antwerp. As Kovalev says, "An #oldstager, wearing #red #overalls, something about #Hemingway in his #posture and his #eyes — he was undoubtedly my perfect subject." With the red of his jacket almost forming a cape and the assured pose, John could be Superman almost as easily as Hemingway.
Ben Lowy is an American photojournalist and documentary photographer who travels the world to shoot. According to his bio, he rose to prominence in part because of his coverage of war zones. His Instagram work is just as beautiful, detailed and compelling as his Iraq war images, but undoubtedly more peaceful.
This image shows a Haitian man at a marketplace in Port-au-Prince. The contrast here between the bright colors of the umbrella, so often associated with vacation and happiness, and this man's face and posture make the image really striking. It's a dignified confrontation.
Alistair Redding is a British photographer working in London who has recently started a series called "London People." Like Lorcan Finnegan's "Dublin Faces" and an Australian photographer using the handle @mankindmelbourne, this project seeks to catalogue the many faces of one city's inhabitants.
This woman, with her confidence and defiance, seems like she would be just as comfortable in New York as in London. The way that she seems to stand, totally still and alone in the middle of a bustling street, grabs the viewer's attention and refuses to let go.
Shooting primarily in black-and-white, Italian street photographer Giacomo Quilici has a flair for the dramatic. He seems to focus on memorializing happenings that most would forget: waiting, yawning, sitting and chatting.
This image of a man who might be yelling, yawning or sneezing is a perfect example. The contortions of his face contrast strongly with the polish of his clothes and the composure of the rest of his body. There are also small elements that Quilici caught, like the way this man's eyebrows overhang flossily, that make a seemingly simple portrait visually complex. The focus, in this image and all of Quilici's photographs, is the detail.
Zaldine Jae Alvaro is a Filipino skateboarder and hip-hop enthusiast as well as a travel and street photographer. Children and the elderly feature prominently in his work.
This photo is a unique fusion of both. A man is holding, or perhaps selling, toy bubble guns. These bubbles float playfully in front of his face, reflecting in iridescence the light and the colors of the street. A small, improbable smile rests quietly on his face.
This anonymous street photographer probably has about as many followers as your mom and more likes per image than you. If nothing else, those figures highlight the way that these images resonate. The photographer has a unique affinity for stylish elderly women, and these images glorify and reflect their unique personalities. The photos have an appreciative quality about them — a desire to celebrate a life actively lived.
The shot above in particular is compelling not because it showcases the fashion, but because it showcases the woman. Her wrinkles, her lines, her large ears and short grey hair, make her beautiful. She is full of happiness. As viewers, we can't help but be drawn to her joy.