I’m a naturally rather shy person. I mean, if I know you, I can speak with confidence and at length, but when meeting strangers I’m far more quiet and content to stand back and observe. This has obvious drawbacks when it comes to meeting strangers and shortly thereafter telling them to do all kinds of weird and unusual things. Fortunately, when meeting someone professionally, even in a weird profession like photography, there is a certain assumption about the level of intimacy and behavior that is not normally tolerated in other circumstances. I know why we are here, you know why we are here, so lets do the thing that we came here to do, sorta thing.
I have to dismiss my natural discomfort. I am the professional, I should be calm, cool, confident. When I tell someone to thrust out their chin, it should not be done all meek and mild, but with quiet confidence. That doesn’t mean that I am barking commands at them, just that I am outwardly certain of myself.
Remember always, that your customer is far more frightened of you then you are of them.
Perhaps characterizing photographers as lurking predators isn’t such a great idea. Whatever. Look at that guy! He’s so cute! Also, they’re not exactly afraid of you. They are in an unusual situation which focuses almost entirely on their physical appearance. This is more than a little unnerving, and one of the reasons that I’m glad to be behind the camera.
In the senior portrait session I have been gabbling on about endlessly, Haley was far more nervous than Dani. She was certainly determined to do what needed to be done, but she was initially quite … reticent about the whole thing. In an effort to get her a little more comfortable I showed her two images. The first was of Tony, leaned up against a brick wall looking all sexy, or at least trying to.
The second was the first ‘good’ shot of her that I had taken. It’s one thing to see some one else be silly. It helps, certainly, but isn’t, ultimately, about the person suffering from nerves. However, once I showed her that ‘good’ image, she was much more comfortable with the whole situation. She could see that there was no pressure, thanks to sexy Tony, and that we were able to capture images of her that she would enjoy.
On the other side of the camera was me. I also felt a certain amount of discomfort with the situation. Like I said in the first post in this series, this was an early shoot. I wasn’t entirely sure how to handle myself. Talking with Haley and Dani not only helped them, but it helped me. I was able to act confidently, because I had worked to make both myself and them more comfortable.
For example, I wanted at one point a very natural smile from Haley. So I said, “think of something dirty and giggle about it.”
Wow, that was wildly, or at least mildly, inappropriate. But at that point I felt a certain comfort with the two girls, and I believe that they felt rather comfortable with Tony and I. I got the giggle, and the smile.
Finally I want to talk about two mistakes that we made. Well, the first one was one that we both made, and the second is one that I made. The first is simply this: If your models are going to be wearing thin white shirts, advise them to layer up. I only discovered this later, when editing the images. I now make that a part of my pre-session spiel. No, I won’t be showing example images, or even telling you which young woman or sexy Tony it was. Partly because it’s indecorous to look at a young woman’s underwear, which is about you, but mostly because I don’t think that she would like for me to broadcast those images, which is about her.
On the day, the shirt was quite opaque, but when working within Lightroom there are certain adjustments to the RAW file which can allow you to see through the clothes. In case you are reading this, I almost immediately discarded all work on those images. I say almost, because I did try and find a way to work around the issue, but I couldn’t do so quickly enough, and became deeply uncomfortable. For everyone else, advise your model to layer up when wearing thin white shirts. It makes everyone more comfortable.
The second mistake was entirely on me. I had one of the girls sitting in a wicker chair. During the shoot I had gotten in the practice of moving from a high to a low camera position, or vice-versa. Mostly this was because I had little experience, and wanted as much coverage as I could get. In general I would get from one extreme to the other, request a change to the pose, and work my way back to the other extreme. This saved me effort, and working in such a manner on a hot day led to disquieting levels of perspiration, so any effort saved is a blessing.
I started to do the same when she was sitting in the chair. With a dress on. At one of the low camera angles I began requesting a change in the pose. While I was sitting low down and holding a camera. There were obvious problems to this which I realized as soon as I started speaking. I stuttered my way through an explanation, mind filling with bright red embarrassment and fear.
Luckily her friend understood my incoherent ramblings, and adequately explained things, while I modestly turned my head to the side. This situation should never have happened. I could have simply stood up and the requested the change. If I had thought of it, I would have done exactly that. But I didn’t. I made a fool of myself, which is about me, and almost made the situation deeply uncomfortable, which is about her. Luckily both young woman were mature and far more understanding of the situation than I was. As I said, they bought us a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, so I don’t think that that particular mistake made any lasting impression. But it never should have happened in the first place.
I learned a lot on this photo shoot. I learned about lighting, and posing, and how to make the customer comfortable, and a really good way to make them uncomfortable. I learned that while I need to be comfortable myself, it is far more important for them to be comfortable. They need to be happy, not just with the end product, but during the creation of that product. Indeed, being comfortable during the shoot helps immensely with creating a good final product that the customer will be happy with.
Most importantly, for you, as a photographer, you need to be completely aware of the situation, and think about what you want to do. This isn’t just about capturing the perfect image, but about working with other people. Think before you act, and save yourself.
I have tried to articulate what I learned, and I hope that you understood what I was trying to say.