Instant Intimacy: how great photos happen (With Tourette notes!)

Dear reader,

For those of you who are new to my blog, have forgotten my Tourette notes style, or are just passing through:  a word.  Tourette notes are my way of communicating what is actually going through my mind.  What I’m thinking, but can’t say, because if I SAID it, or wrote it, it might (would) be unprofessional.  And we can’t have that.  So this is my solution.  I am sorry if it offends you as insensitive to people with Tourette Syndrome. (No I’m not, really.) I do understand this is a real disease, and those suffering with it have a medical condition, and should not be made fun of.  (That, I do think.)  And, it’s not my intention to make fun of anyone.  It’s my intention to be able to write an honest blog that is easy to read, with minimal corporate speak.  So, this is my tool.  (I am a tool.  Be the tool.)  That said, these side bars will appear in italic and parenthesis throughout this post.  Skip them if you find them offensive.  (Or skip the blog altogether.  I already have recorded you as a reader, so you’ve helped me out and now it doesn’t make much of a difference if you leave.)

During the average experiential green screen photography event, we create 100 final images per hour.  That’s final images, not participants — remember, each may have two, three, four — or more — participants as groups of friends and family naturally want to head to the front of the green screen.

That means when Matthew and I travel home, I’ll often look at him and say, “Man, I’m beat.”  (Kill, me, I’m exhausted.  I am sick of being on an airplane and tired of the stupid human race.)

“Really!?” Is always his reply (drawn out, though, like R E A L L Y, and with fifty question marks on the end.)  “how many thousands of people did we photographed this weekend?”

That always stops and makes me think.  How many people do we photograph in a year?  I’m willing to bet we photograph more people than any other photographer in the nation (maybe the entire galaxy.  I need to call Guinness.  Is that still a thing?) — simply because of the nature of our events.

But there’s a hitch.  Clicking thousands of photos is one thing, but taking thousands of GREAT photos is something different.  (We’re so great!)  Each participant doesn’t stop and think they are number 1,242 for the day.  For them, it’s their moment, their chance to be infamous.  They may have waited in line.  They may have watched as hundreds of other participants paraded in front and behind them.  But  that’s not what they are thinking when they reach the green screen photo set.  They are thinking:  this is going to be cool.

It’s why they waited in line.

So, as a photographer, you better live up.  You need to be able to capture a great photo in seconds, something that looks like you spent an afternoon with that one participant.  And that means, the people you are shooting have got to like you.  (Again, capital LIKE, with 50 exclamation points after it.)

They have to LIKE (!!!!!!) you immediately.  As soon as they approach.

They can’t be nervous, self conscious about having their photo taken.  They can’t be uncomfortable.  Or irritated.  If they are, that tension will show in the picture.  (And even if they are 2,000 lbs and never heard of the gym, they must look thin.  Or at least, thin for them.)

You, as the photographer, must be able to instantly connect, instantly relax, know how to pose them, and make each feel like you spent time with them, that you care about their photo — all in the space of about 20 seconds.

I call it “Instant Intimacy.”

Some of it is humor — cracking a one liner that relieves tension and is FUNNY.  Sometimes it’s  direction: telling them how to pose (and knowing how to make them look GOOD posing.)  Props help — put something, anything, in a participant’s hands and they instantly know what to do with their hands.  It’s basic, right?  But people don’t know what to do with their hands when they are posing.  Just look at most guys.  They immediately put their hands….

in front of their crotch.

It’s funny.  It’s a guy thing.  Like man spreading.  And it looks awful in a photo.

So, do you say to these (self-conscious hot jock) guys:  “don’t put your hands in front of your penis?”  No.  Not unless you want everyone feeling totally awkward.  What I say is simply, “let your hands relax by your sides.” (Though you KNOW what I’m thinking. Stop giggling.)

As a photographer, take time to think about how you communicate.  Do what’s right for you.  Look at magazine covers — like Vogue, G Q  (Not the National Enquirer) — notice how the cover celebrities are posed?  Reproduce that.  (By reproduce I mean steal.  Shamelessly steal.)

But most of all:  talk as you shoot.  Multitask.  I’m amazed at the number of photographers who are silent as they are setting up the shot.  If you aren’t communicating with your subject, your subject isn’t communicating with you — and the camera.  That means an awkward shot is right around the corner.

Communicating.  Talking.  Laughing.  Smiling.  Being a shade inappropriate, but not so as to be unprofessional or make a quiet, conservative subject awkward.  (Notice I said a shade.  This is my own particular difficult rule to follow.  I tend to step in it sometimes.  But always, just remember…


But talking — chatting — joking — during a shoot is the single biggest skill a photographer carries. If you can’t do it, you’re screwed.  You can have all the talent, all the equipment, all the technical skill, but without connecting with each participant (all 10,000 of them), your final images will suck.

So when each participant finally reaches the front of the line to sit on the Iron Throne.


Grab a prop for the participant, come out from behind the camera.


They strike a dour expression.


They still won’t smile.


They finally crack up.  Snap the photo.  Now think of something funny for the next set of participants, because….they just heard your shtick.  Now you need all new material.  I didn’t say it was easy.

And, one final time: