I always wondered why I found it so difficult to take portraits of people. Maybe because I failed to be persistent in my conversations.
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I’d Rather Photograph Birds
“Mom, could you take the photos of our wedding?” our youngest daughter, Sarah asked.
“Sure,” I said. “But remember that I don’t have a lot of practice photographing people.”
“But you’re such a good photographer, you’ll do fine,” Sarah assured me.
Secretly, I wondered. I had taken photos of family members before, and it always seemed like such an awkward affair. Taking photos of people differed wildly from photographing, say, birds or bears. With animals, you just have to wait patiently for the perfect shot.
I felt awkward when photographing people. Something about standing in front of people with a camera tied my tongue and wrapped my creativity into a knot. I’d acted as my niece’s wedding photographer, and managed to laugh and have fun, but I felt clueless. And awkward.
How did photographers decide how to help their subjects pose? What should the subjects do with their hands and feet? How did photographers handle big groups? What about lighting?
I didn’t want to fail my daughter on her big day, so I decided to do some research. My search on the web led me to discover two wonderful wedding photographers.
Two Top-Notch Wedding Photographers with FREE Classes
From Katelyn James, I learned how to act as a persistent cheerleader. This doesn’t come naturally for me, but she shows how it’s integral to making your subjects feel comfortable.
From Amy and Jordan, I learned this:
“Be more than a photographer. Be a coach, an encourager, an advocate, and a friend. Let your first instinct always be to love and serve. Love and serve.”Amy and Jordan
In addition, both of these photographer duos offer free mini classes. I took everything they offered for free and felt armed and adequate for Sarah and Henrique’s big day. Despite my natural reticence, I kept up persistent chatter while I posed my subjects, shot photos, and moved around Sedona, AZ to catch the best light at our chosen locations.
The snow-covered ground offered further challenges, but we (including our oldest daughter who acted as my assistant) managed to have fun. I felt exhausted from the persistent need to direct my subjects, but the ways the photos turned out really energized me.
Tips for Persistent Interaction
I discovered the answer to the question posed in the title of this post. Yes and no. While you don’t have to talk without ceasing, you do need to have a script in mind and take persistent steps to carry it out. I used these strategies when I took senior portraits of one of my students a few months after acting as wedding photographer.
- Ask your subject what kinds of shots they want—full body, headshots, close-ups, long-shots. Make sure to take a variety of photos that include their express wishes and the ones you know will look great.
- Make your subjects feel comfortable and at home. Ask them questions about themselves (but don’t get creepy-personal).
- Praise your subjects. Affirmed people act happier. Katelyn James praises them for getting up early, making the drive, dressing nicely, or just about anything else that pops into her head. If you make them feel like rock stars, they will project confidence and joy.
- Have a script of poses memorized ahead of time. Practice this on willing victims (um, family members or friends). Know what you will ask your subjects to do (how to stand or sit, where to put their hands and feet, how to interact with each other). You can find lots of free or low-cost posing guides online.
- Remember you exist to serve. Ask questions to show you care and want to serve in any way possible. If you love the people you photograph, it will show in your photos.
Research posing guides for the age of the subject you plan on photographing. Here’s a guide for posing children and one for posing senior girls. If your subject will be a teenage boy, check out this posing guide. Want to try photographing some family shots? This guide will help.
Find a willing subject, and practice interacting with them while you take their portraits. I’ve discovered kids will actually smile and have fun if you call it a ‘photo shoot’ instead of saying, ‘Hey, can I take your picture?’
You’ll discover your ability to interact and direct the scene while taking photos will improve the more you practice.
Come Back Tomorrow
In tomorrow’s installment of 28 Days Behind the Lens, I’ll talk about patience, the photographer’s best friend.