Subject's Primer

Because of the way I take pictures, I've had one-on-one portrait experiences with literally hundreds and hundreds of people.  It's my preferred way to work, and over this time my bed-side manner has slowly been refined for me to get the kind of pictures I want out of the subject. The one thing I can't control however is the subject themselves and how they come into the experience.  So I thought I'd write a subject's primer so that they know what to expect.  Hopefully this will be interesting and helpful to those who will eventually sit for me.

The first point I'd like to make is pretty obvious: Relax. Getting your picture taken should not be a stressful and is certainly not a painful experience. There is no 'doing it wrong'. I for one don't bite, and I have the additional quality of finding just about everyone interesting in some way.  Whether it's what you do, or where you're from, or how you work, where you've been or any number of topics.  So if I chat you up, it's mostly because I'm having fun. Most people are nervous that I'm not going to take a good picture of them, or that they'll look stupid or unattractive.  The thing is, being nervous tends to make all of these things more likely, not less. You can see it on people's faces in pictures. Humans are designed to pick up on facial cues like those. It sometimes takes a good while to get someone from the state they're in when they walk in the door to the point where they open up and we can really get to work.  This is the real problem with really short sessions I sometimes get for magazine shoots.  It's not that I can't take the kind of pictures I want in 10 minutes, it's that I can't always get the subject to the point where they're invested in the pictures in that amount of time, but I digress.

The second point is that getting your picture taken is an active proposition. It's not so much you sitting quietly over there and me 'taking' a picture of you. It's rather an unfortunate word for what's going on. You are not a mannequin, and I will need your attention. It's a collaborative process, and when it's really going well I liken it to a dance. The point is that you need to allow me to take a good picture as much as I need to want to take it. Read that last sentence again, it's important. Sitting for me is a partnership of give and take.  Now that doesn't mean that you have to pose like you're on Next Top Model, though every once in a while it does mean that, but rather that you have to let down your guard and trust me. It's interesting that the simple act of getting your picture taken is sometimes a very intense experience, especially when it's one-on-one, the way I prefer to shoot.  When everything is clicking it can be terribly intimate, and I mean that in the best way possible.  It's that experience that keeps me coming back for more.

Just remember that it's my job to take photographs of you, and I'm very good at it. Letting your guard down is not a bad thing.  I'm not there to take advantage of you, or to trick you into anything. I'm honestly there to take the best photographs I can. My process doesn't always work. I'm also not the combative type of photographer who taunts the subject to get what they want by whatever means necessary. Karsh famously grabbed the cigar from Churchill's mouth to get the scowl he wanted. I can respect that approach, and it's arguable that it can be more consistent, but I think it often misses the magic moments that I thrive on, despite being somewhat less reliable.

As for things to prepare, a change of clothes or two can help if the feel isn't quite right, and for people with longer hair, ways to put it up or back are often helpful.  Most of the time it's really about just bringing yourself and a good attitude.

If anyone has any questions or comments that could add to this, please let me know in the comments so I can improve it over time.