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The 9 Best San Francisco Portrait Photographers

These nine portrait photographers bring something unique to the art of portrait-taking, creating compositions that seem much more alive and dynamic than most amateur shutterbugs. All of these photographers are known throughout San Francisco as being absolute pleasures to work with. Beyond that, you’ll notice a wide variety in their styles and compositions.

Some of these photographers are extremely playful, while others are more serious and nostalgic. In addition, some have stripped-down natural styles, whereas others have more dramatic, high-contrast, and electric styles. All excel at finding the soul behind the eyes, capturing the type of smile that lights up a person’s face. There’s something for everyone on this list of the nine best San Francisco portrait photographers.

1. Sarah Deragon of Portraits to the People takes lively narrative photos

When Sarah Deragon of Portraits to the People takes pictures, she’s trying to tell compelling visual stories. Even though a good portion of her work includes headshots for corporate biographies and online dating profiles, it’s easy to see the playfulness and creativity underlying each photograph. She also has an incredible eye for bringing out the beauty, charm, and soul in all of her photographic subjects.

In her photos, you can tell she’s a patient photographer who connects with her subjects, able to draw out emotions at just the right moment to grab the perfect photograph. If you’re in search of a portrait for any reason –– family portrait, school portrait, corporate headshot, etc. –– take a look at the work of Sarah and Portraits to the People.

2. Kingmond Young Photography takes dramatic photos using subdued colors

Kingmond Young is known for his content-driven and artistic composition, both in his portrait and action shots. After becoming acquainted with his clients and learning their backstory, he centers his lighting and shooting style around the couple’s narrative.

In addition, he has a great eye for color, with the subdued palette of a Dutch Master with just a touch of Instagram glow. Some of the other photographers on this list lean away from the intense dramatic lighting and coy, tongue-in-cheek poses and stylings of the “futuro-baroque,” but Kingmond leans in for certain shoots, if the narrative calls for it. Any additional drama or touch of the organic simply adds another layer of interest to the photos he takes.

3. Kaare Iverson is adventurous in life and photography

Kaare Iverson — pronounced like “Kory” –– is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker, a great lover of the outdoors, an activist, and one of San Francisco’s best. He’s got a great, natural photojournalistic style and, for the most part, he uses minimal tricks of light or post-production –– though he’s plenty capable of pulling off all the known tricks when his photos call for it.

A lot of his photos seem to be about being in the right place at the right time, which suggests he must be an exceedingly patient photographer. His candid photos are quite special, and he also takes excellent, lively headshots. If you’d like your portrait taken at the top of a mountain, or want corporate photos that will make your team stand out from the crowd, check out Kaare’s portfolio.

4. Elisa Cicinelli Photography takes subtle, natural photos

Elisa Cicinelli’s photography is thoughtful and subtle, demonstrating her excellent technique. Her portraits are traditionally composed, with lots of soft light, bright and clean whites, as well as usually slightly subdued shadows — although with extremely dramatic shadows in her black-and-white photography. All of this creates a sort of retro feel that lends her photos a timeless quality. Her portraits show she has a great skill for finding the humanity and humor in both young and old faces. She doesn’t emphasize or exaggerate people’s best or worst features, but represents them as who they are at a deeper level; she does not distort, but distills.

5. Mike McGee can make you look like a model

Mike McGee takes fashion-forward portraits. His headshots are known for being both sexy and subdued. And he’s not against playful, colorful lighting, which fills his photographs with a magnetic joie de vivre. He’s got a really nice studio space in the Bay Area and is more than willing to travel throughout the Bay Area to photograph on location. Take a look at his website, as it’s curated a bit more towards portraits than his Instagram. But check out his Instagram if you want to get a complete impression of his work and day-to-day process.

6. Anna Wu has a knack for capturing love and kindness

A good chunk of Anna Wu’s business is wedding photography, rather than portraiture –– but her family portraiture work is equally magical. She has an obvious gift for capturing innocence, as well as the bonds of friendship and love. And this gift extends to her photos of individuals, parents, and children and their favorite pets. She also captures joy-filled candids. If you’re looking for a photographer to capture the most magical time of your life before it’s gone, Anna’s the person to call.

7. Nancy Rothstein is a patient, skilled photographer of everyday people

Nancy Rothstein is a San Francisco portrait photographer who is a master at creating photos that are both posed and improvised. This lends her photographs all the technical elements we all naturally look for in visual art — symmetry, classical framing, and narrative composition — while also showing us the real people in front of the camera — and not just the smile they conjure when they say “cheese.” Take a look at her website and Instagram for an overview of her work. There, you’ll find photos of everything from sleepy toddlers, to sassy 70–something fashionistas, to corporate headshots, and everything in between.

8. Jeremy Cortez of JCo Studios takes playful, fun, and fierce photos

Check out Jeremy Cortez’s Instagram to see what he’s really capable of. His website doesn’t really do him justice. Keep in mind there are a few photos that border on NSFW — so don’t look at his Instagram while at work. His photos are sexy, playful, and have a delightful ’90s quality. His clients range from everyday people and big corporate clients to fashion and fitness models. His online reviews indicate that people love working with him. He’s adept at putting clients at ease and getting them to take natural, comfortable photos.

9. Russ Levi fills his photographs with drama and contrast

Russ Levi describes his photos as “baroque-ish.” And he really does lean into the dramatic, decorative, and narrative. His photos are colorful, making ample use of shadow, highlights, reflection, and over- and undersaturation. This lends his posed photographs a sense of timelessness, of being from an earlier, more gilded age — and gives to his candid photos an incredible sense of dynamic motion that is difficult to capture. Like Anna Wu, a good bulk of Russ’ photography work is for weddings, but that just means you know he’s great at taking once-in-a-lifetime photos under pressure. This makes him one of the best portrait photographers in San Francisco.

Parting Thoughts

Smartphones have made it so easy to take above-average pictures –– the software has become particularly smart about how to frame and light the human face –– that most of us laypeople have almost lost the ability to distinguish between good and great portraiture.

But there is, of course, a difference between the amateur eye and that of an artist, as well as between the photos you can get on your iPhone, and those a professional can get with a top-notch DSLR and the right lighting.

If you’re looking for the right photographer to take your portrait for a corporate bio, online profile, or book jacket, or are looking for someone to take your family’s portrait now that you’ve added a new member –– these nine photographers are without a doubt among the best portrait photographers in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Do yourself a favor and check them out.

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