Finding Your Photography Soul
I admit it. I’m out there. I mean, OUT THERE. Some are tactful and call it a “big personality”. Others less nice, and just roll their eyes and hide in the corner when I’m around. Of course they can’t hide. Of course I sashay over to them and (in COVID-19 free times) proceed to drag them kicking and screaming into a conversation.
My sister says I’ll talk to a tree.
My mother says I’m a chip off the old block. When we dine together, people get up and move. They glare at us. We are loud. Whatever.
My partner, Matthew, says, “SHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! It’s quiet time.”
I say, “QUIET TIME IS OVER!” Every time I take over a shoot from Matthew.
I was once told deaf people could hear me.
“No, they can’t”, I replied. “The definition of deaf is you can’t hear.”
“We can hear high pitched, squeaky things,” came the reply. Humph.
But one thing I’ve learned over a twenty years of shooting — be yourself, and engage with those you are shooting. If you are saying, “Mike, my self is shy and I hate people!” I’m afraid we’re in trouble.
My mom and I both started at the US Senate, as Gallery Press Photographers. Those are the photographers you see down in the well of the Senate or House of Representatives, on the floor, wedged between the front of the table of those testifying, and the stepped dais the members of congress sit at as they ask questions. The goal for every photographer is to be invisible and silent.
I sucked at that. I was always forgetting to shut my cell phone off, and in the middle of a hearing it would cluck like a chicken. Senator Arlen Specter, the former Republican from Pennsylvania (not known for a sense of humor or bubbling personality), nearly had me thrown out of more than one hearing.
He’d lean over the dais, peer down at me over half moon glasses. “I know it’s you,” he’d sneer, “Who else would it be?”
“Who me?” I’d say, my face a tableau of innocence. “Not me.” I’d frantically try to hit the silence button on the phone’s side through my dress slacks. Unsuccessfully. CLUCK CLUCK CLUCK CLUCK CLUCK COCK-A-DOODLE DO!!!! I could barely contain my laughter. I thought it was funny. I was alone.
But photojournalism aside, when you’re working capturing people, letting your personality shine is the biggest tool in your arsenal. I call it “Instant Intimacy”, the ability to connect with a participant, put them at ease, and get them to relax in front of the camera in a few seconds. Sometimes it’s through joking, sometimes by coming up and having a quiet word. Whatever works for you, a few moments communicating with the model you’re about to shoot will work wonders.
(ASIDE) This is a video I found from another photographer, who talks about interacting with your participant. He’s my brother from another mother. One thing he says that I loved: Everyone always asks about my gear. It’s not about your gear. Learn more about Tony on his YouTube Page.
Then, when the camera is raised to your eye, keeping the conversation going — all during the shoot — is important. As soon as I stop talking, I realize the participant tenses up and isn’t sure what to do. Deathly void of silence. Awkward stilted photos. Delete. Delete. Delete.
Having your photo taken — whether it’s a green screen photo booth image captured at an event, or a new headshot taken during a convention — is stressful. Immediately connecting with your participant is vital. That said, I can’t tell you how many photographers I see behind the camera silent as church mice. Awkwardly, they capture stilted photos.
“Make your head…. yeah….um….maybe something else….?” Isn’t the kind of direction you want to give your model. Silence is even worse.
“Yeah, BABY! That looks hot. Tilt your chin down just a bit. Right there. BOOM! You look fantastic. Now turn to the side a bit. Yup. That’s it. Now, tilt your chin to the left. Other left. Perfect. ”
A little Zoolander? Well, yes. But there’s a story, there, too, for another blog.
Having music playing while shooting helps. We carry a Sony bluetooth speaker, and my playlist ranges from John Denver to Lady GaGa. When we run an experiential photo marketing event for HBO, we play theme music from Game of Thrones or Westworld. It’s amazing how blasting — um, I mean playing — music sets the vibe, relaxes the participant and the photographer, and keeps me jamming throughout the day. True, we run into a few clients who prefer the Sounds of Silence, but not many. Most get it. Experiential marketing includes experiences. Music is a great experience.
Even during this COVID-19 hell, we’ve ventured out, masks on, Sony speaker under arm, into our Baltimore neighborhood for “stoop photography”, capturing families in front of their row houses from a 6′ social distance. We’ve printed the photos for the families. All free, and all part of our outreach to support where we live. We’ve asked for volunteers who want their family photographed on our Facebook page.
We don’t live in a rich neighborhood, and during a time of Black Lives Matter, giving a little back to the community keeps us sharp, and lets families celebrate their neighborhood lives. I’ve gotten more out of these simple shoots than all of the time at the US Senate, combined. No one has told me to shhhhh. Except Matthew.
A family outside their Baltimore Row House during COVID-19. Our neighbors.
Every photographer approaches Instant Intimacy differently. Matthew talks to the subject, telling them how much he likes what they’re wearing, or what a beautiful smile, or cool hair — something, anything — that is unique to them and sets up a road to successful modeling. I tend to crack jokes, because I’m naturally funny.
No, really. I’m funny.
It doesn’t matter what you say, let you shine through. Let your personality win the participant over. Let the music play. Dance. Dive into the shoot. When you connect, your photos will connect. Let your soul shine, and your images will go from technically great to spiritually fantastic.
You’ll rediscover why you love photography, and that people are beautiful.