Originally Published January 30th, 2017
“It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter” – Alfred Eisenstaedt
When I first began in photography I was very shy. I knew how to take a photo. I knew the “hallowed trinity” of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. I knew about composition. I had a decent understanding of light and the way to use it to my advantage. However, the one strength I truly lacked as a photographer was the ability to connect.
As a photographer, there are many reasons why it is important to connect with your subjects. The most obvious reason being that their expressions and body language appear natural. Moreover, when folks decide to hire a professional photographer, its likely because something important is taking place. Creating a comfortable atmosphere for your subjects means that they will have an enjoyable and memorable experience during this special time in their lives.
“Photography can only represent the present. Once photographed, the subject becomes part of the past.” -Berenice Abbott
Photographers take on a great responsibility when they agree to photograph someone. The images we create will hopefully be passed down through generations. It is not just about nailing the technical aspects, we need to capture the feelings, emotions, and ultimately tell the story of the people we have been hired to photograph.
“If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.” -Eve Arnold
We do this by developing a rapport. Ask questions. Get to know your clients and learn about their likes, dislikes, hobbies and interests. Work in a few jokes. I typically do this by making fun of myself. Accidentally stepping or laying down in a pile of dog poop usually gets a good laugh. I do not recommend doing this on purpose. However, making small mistakes that do not harm your credibility is a great way to foster humor and make your subject view you more as a human. Which ultimately creates a more relaxed environment.
For this photo I positioned Mike and Ashley and then readied my camera. Before I snapped I said to Mike, “wow man, you are really looking sexy today.” This instantly caused them to both burst out in laughter. While Mike is a pretty stacked dude, I generally do not make these types of statements to other men. I knew that by complimenting Mike in a way that would catch him off guard would ultimately ease some of the tension.
Another way to capture genuine expressions is to ask your subject to do something out of the ordinary. As humans we generally do not stare into each others’ eyes for long periods of time. This is something that makes us feel uncomfortable. If you ask a couple to do this it will usually result in an anxious laugh.
“It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.” -Paul Caponigro
Remember that unless your clients are movie stars or models, they typically are not used to being photographed by a stranger. It is your responsibility to make them feel comfortable and relaxed.
“We are there with our cameras to record reality. Once we start modifying that which exists, we are robbing photography of its most valuable attribute.” -Philip Jones Griffiths
Another way to help create a calming atmosphere is to photograph your clients in their natural state. Ditch the intricate twisting uncomfortable pinterest inspired photos and just ask your client, “how would you sit here if you just chillin’ together?” Make the necessary adjustments and go from there. If you have the opportunity to photograph your clients in a space that is familiar to them, they will automatically feel more at ease by means of association.
“My job as a portrait photographer is to seduce, amuse and entertain.” -Helmut Newton
When I finish a portrait session, I want my clients to feel as if they were in the presence of a friend. It is my hope that the smiles and joy from our session continue on long after I have left.
For more information on connecting with your subjects check out these books:
“Picture Perfect Posing” by Roberto Valenzuela
“The Like Switch” by Jack Schafer and Marvin Karlins