19 November 2008

subtlety, or the art of teasing out a smile


I'm nearing the end of this last blitz of free photo shoots with strangers, and I have to say it's been a fantastic learning process. It's frustrating at times to try to put people at ease, especially considering they've just met me (and how often do you feel at ease with a stranger who is pointing a camera at you?). I'm learning a lot, however, about working with people as well as about photography.

And though it's really satisfying to finally get the perfect lighting, or find a great new location, I'm always the most fulfilled when I've learned a new way to make someone feel comfortable in front of my camera. For portrait photographers, the rapport with a subject is paramount.

That being said, sometimes the subject isn't holding up his or her end of the bargain. This actually happens a lot, when a client, who has actively agreed to be photographed, strangely acts like he or she has no interest in being there. It's bizarre, especially when it's a client who has sought me out.

But I've come to realize that what comes across as disinterest or aloofness (and sometimes even rudeness) is, more often than not, shyness or a lack of self-confidence. I can't fault a person for that.

So I make it my personal mission to help this shy person have a bit of fun. At the risk of seeming like an absolute nut bar —which I'm sure I must upon a first impression— I do whatever it takes to get a person to crack out of their standard "photo face." Everyone has one or two photo faces that are pretty much set in stone, coaxed into those set positions through countless Facebook profile pics or contrived self portraits.

Photo faces show me how a person wants to appear, and it also shows me what they are hiding. When people tell me to shoot only their "good side," or that they don't like to smile with their teeth, or when they refuse to move their features that are permanently glued in position, I start to go to work.

It then becomes my mission, from the second I identify their photo faces, to break the mould. People, please listen to me. Photo faces are not where the magic happens. They make you look like an odd mannequin! If you want to look hot, react genuinely to the situation you're in. If you happen to be standing next to a weird douchey guy who went heavy on the Axe, laugh at the oddness of the situation and your real smile will make you glow. I promise!

I worked hard during this photo shoot to make Pam smile. And though I never got quite the reaction I was looking for, the subtle changes in her demeanor as our photo session progressed were enough to satisfy me on a cloudy Saturday morning.



Eric said...

My photo face: pouty lips and eyes so deep they pierce the souls of all who gaze into them. My real face: much less interesting.

But in all seriousness, I agree with you here: the magic happens when the subject drops their comfortable mask. We tend not to like our 'real' expressions because we're not accustomed to seeing them ourselves (these do not, as you point out, appear in profile pictures or in mirrors).

Anonymous said...

Great Post!