Why am I nervous. I'm the one with all the power. I've trained to do this. I know how to shoot. This is just like I've trained. It's no different than any other shot I've done before this, but somehow as I see my target look back at me paralysed with fear the nerves begin to envelope me. I learned in the Marines and when I went through the Police Academy at Palomar College the importance of confidence. Your target needs to never doubt that you are calm and in complete control, that they have no choice to comply with your commands. As I bring the tool of my chosen trade up to my eye, and align the sight picture just as I've done thousands of times before, I slyly command my unwilling target to "smile" as I watch a tear form in the corner of their eye while I take my shot. Holy shit where did this photo shoot go wrong?
Well, after a bit of thought I figured it out. I was shooting pictures of a friend. She was posing for me with a bit of reluctance because I had asked her to. I wanted to tell a story, and her personal story for me was the perfect way to do it. It was a story about overcoming our own fears and insecurities and giving yourself permission to appreciate yourself just as you are. But this isn't an easy task sometimes.
Kelly was a good friend of mine, and our close relationship had made me forget to do the things that I knew I needed to do to put her at ease. So what should you do?
1. Talk to your subject.
The very first thing you should do when you take someones picture is talk to them. Whether you have a minute or a week, take some time to build a rapport. Ask them questions about themselves, what they do, their family, sports, where they're from,. where they've been, their favorite band, anything. One of my failures was how familiar I already was with Kelly. My normal curiosity was replaced with complacency and it left my subject standing silently following my directions. Instead of thinking about the book she was reading all her mind was able to do was wonder how horribly she was doing posing for the camera and these pictures are going to turn out so bad and why does he stare at me for so long and what else am I doing wrong that he won't even tell me!? AAAAHHHH!!!!
2. Don't say "don't"!
Probably the fastest way to ruin a shoot is to take all of the confidence away from your subject. This is worse when your subject has very little confidence in being able to pose for a good photograph in the first place. I extra failed here. I was starting to loose my confidence and I was getting frustrated. I was super worried that I wouldn't be able to relax her, and I panicked. "Kelly, you have to stop freaking out or I'm going to freak out!" was unsurprisingly not soothing to hear for someone who was convinced that her very involvement was enough to ruin the shoot for both of us. This goes back to my comfort with Kelly, I like to think I would never say this to a client, and now that I've said it to a friend and seen how completely it fails I'll be sure to never do it again!
3. Don't show your work.
Like I said in my blog post How to take better pictures in 2 easy steps I take a lot of bad pictures. I might catch you with your eyes closed or your tongue out, or I might just put you in an unflattering pose that doesn't work. I'm getting better and better, but if I take 180 photos of you, it is totally possible that 165 of them are crap. I'm not looking for those, I'm looking for the 15 good ones. If you look at a gold mine they will move thousands of tons of dirt to get just a little bit of gold, but they don't go out looking for the dirt. If your model is less than confident and you show her a dirt pile she will never believe that it's really a gold mine. I have a few friends I've shot in the past who can sift through the dirt with me and not be affected by it, but when someone is struggling pick out only the best shot to show them and don't scroll through the dirt while they can see it.
I have an aunt who is deathly afraid of having her picture taken. I used to think that this is unusual, but I've learned otherwise. I've had big strong construction workers who if they couldn't effortlessly kick my ass the best chance I'd have would be to pack a lunch and make a day out of it in a fight tell me that the night before I was to take a picture of them they couldn't sleep and were throwing up. I'm a pro, I know that I can get an amazing shot of them, but I'm the only one with the skills and experience between the two of us to turn their fear of being shot in the face with a camera into a fun photo shoot where you get to be the hero. If we don't take good pictures it's my fault alone, so I'm going to do better and better at those 3 things next time, and instead of shooting you in the face with a camera I'm going to make pictures that will blow your mind away!