The Empathic Lens

Most, if not all, of my clients come out of their portrait sessions with a feeling of being refreshed, empowered, and relieved. Some of them have described as a feeling of love and care. A byproduct of this great attention is a renewed confidence in self. This feeling my clients receive during their sessions helps even the most apprehensive person to face the lens with confidence. The reason for this is what I call THE EMPATHIC LENS.

Throughout this post you will see images from a session I did with Marlene, a subject who was not keen on being in front of the camera. She had struggled in the past with being in front of the camera formally. She texted me after the session and this is what she had to say:

Working with Tracy was easy. I am on of these people who is very uncomfortable in the presence of the camera. This dissolved very quickly during our session and somehow she captured me looking younger and more serene than I typically see myself.”
— Marlene from Ridgewood, Queens


The definition of "empathic" involves the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathetic people are different from empaths in many small ways and often the division between the two becomes a grey area. For purposes relating to the photographing people, I prefer to use the term empathic. Empathic goes beyond empathy and reaches into the ability to be highly sensitive and attuned to another person's thoughts and feelings. 

To better understand how far this sensitivity goes there is a wonderful article published by Psychology Today in 2016 entitled "10 Traits Empathic People Share." I use several of the key traits described in the article to benefit not only my clients but my work in street and documentary photography. I thought it would be beneficial to go over some of these traits and how they relate to empathic photography sessions. 

Absorb Other People's Emotions

This is the first step to any session. It is what I do from the very beginning of my interaction with every client or subject. Sessions always begin with a consult to get a good gauge on how the subject is feeling about being in front of the camera. Understanding their triggers, looking for micro-expressions, body language, and tone of voice help me absorb a bit of any kind of apprehension or excitement and provide a buffer. During sessions I will play music chosen by the client providing an emotional connection for them. 

Being Highly Intuitive

Being intuitive is a key component of a positive relationship with any subject or client. Listening to my gut about how they feel throughout the session helps with movements that are natural and do not look posed. Before you know it, you are posing on your own as well as expressing natural emotion key in expressive portraiture. 

A Giving Heart

I approach every session paid or portfolio with a clear understanding that I am giving of my talent. Being able to reflect a true, expressive, emotional and honest self in portraits is what is behind the rise of self-confidence in sessions. A giving heart also means patience. I do not place limits on a session time if I feel the subject isn't comfortable. Many sessions begin with 15 to 20 minutes of sharing experiences verbally before I even raise the camera. 

I use empathic photography for every portrait session, finding that it was the best approach. The strategies are not only helpful to clients but also to any photographer who feels they too have these highly sensitive traits. It is a side that can be tapped into for portraits, street, or documentary work. 

All of my work is very people-centric. I love what I do and my ability to pull in empathic traits for my approach to portrait sessions makes my clients and subjects love their time in front of the camera.

Tracy Barbour is a New York City Street, Documentary, and Portrait Photographer based in Brooklyn. She is available for Empathic Portrait Sessions. Please inquire about booking your session on the CONTACT & BOOKING page. 

A Touching Project

The series is about grief and how human beings deal with that grief. It is also about the grace that comes in the fight to stay alive or the fight to have quality of life until we pass on. It is about giving people tangible evidence of their existence. There is comfort in knowing you were here and you mattered.
 A young woman newly diagnosed with glioblastoma rests in her living room in New York City.

Yesterday I had the honor of being featured on The Photoblographer for my Grief & Grace Project. A huge thank you goes out to Chris Gampat, the editor of this amazing online publication for reaching out to me. The interview breathed new life into my project and I am humbled by the feature. Please be sure to check out the interview here

Construction Zone

This morning I went for a short walk in Ridgewood, obviously to get Dunkin Donuts iced coffee. The entire area along the 68th Avenue and Fresh Pond Road area was a construction zone on the M line section. 

My grandfather was a builder. I spent 2 years of my professional career working for a concrete and building materials company. I know these guys work hard and one can't help but have respect for this group slinging steel on a Sunday.

Dance Tunes

 A young man stands on the subway while listening to music on his headphones in New York City.
I love you so much I’ll never be able to tell you; I’m frightened to tell you. I can always feel your heart. Dance tunes are always right: I love you body and soul: —and I suppose body means that I want to touch you and be in bed with you, and i suppose soul means that i can hear you and see you and love you in every single, single thing in the whole world asleep or awake
— Dylan Thomas

A Photographer's Perspective

There were photos I had to take for posterity. But then there were images that I took because I could see the energy pouring from the people I photographed. I think ultimately the underlying story was to show generations of women together supporting each other, men supporting women, and children being the next generation to move forward in hope for a better future.

On January 21st, 2017 hundreds and thousands of women, men and children marched in the streets across the globe to send a message to the new administration. Fearless & Framed, a website dedicated to documentary photography, featured several of us women photographers and how we felt being on the ground documenting the day across America. 

A Calm Heart in the Second Act

 The view from a window on a plane at La Guardia Airport in New York City.

I took this while sitting on the tarmac at LaGuardia. Watching the sun rise over the right wing, I retraced my steps to the ride to the airport in the darkened hushed silence. 15 minutes earlier I was standing in the darkness on a curb in Astoria with a heaviness in my gut.

My last day here was spent mostly alone. I woke up late for a Monday, drank coffee, road the subway, walked the streets, and returned at dusk to wander through the neighborhood greeting strangers, looking for the east river, and gathering every last bit of memory to myself I could.

I found myself here, sighing into the condensation of a dirty jet window. Not ready to leave, not ready to stay, but with a calmer heart and mind determined to make the changes I was seeking.