Portrait Photography

For Their Service

 "J" A Homeless Veteran of New York City - Bushwick 2017

I met "J" through a chance encounter coming off a subway platform in Bushwick. He was struggling to get his walker down the stairs. A man in front of me helped him down and as soon as they reached the bottom I approached him. J was wearing a Navy Veteran t-shirt and I could see he traditional Navy Veteran cap similar to the one my grandfather wore 

J's story is long and full of heartbreak, yet he remains vigilant in his determination to get out of his current situation. He has been through 2 tours, an IED attack, numerous surgeries, a death of a sibling, and separation from his only son. 

J is homeless. He is one of approximately 990 homeless veterans in New York City. In 2015, The Huffington Post, published an article that there had been a 40% drop in homelessness amongst veterans reducing the rates from 3800 to 990. 

That is still 990 homeless veterans. There shouldn't be any, period. There should be nothing that stands in the way of our country providing for those who gave their lives, their health, and their families to protect and serve. 

J gets 100% disability benefits from his service due to the IED attack that left him unable to walk without a walker and having to endure surgeries and a titanium plate. The attack destroyed his leg and pelvis. J gives a good portion of his benefits to care for his son. The remainder goes to care for his mother and brother. 

But New York City says J makes too much money to get housing assistance. I think these veterans deserve more for their service. Don't you?

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.