You Get What You Give

10 12 2009

Every time you photograph someone, you tell them, “You’re important enough to remember.” Make the most of it.

What if we, as portrait photographers, approached every session this way? How would it effect our interactions with our subjects, and therefore our work?

There is so much emphasis these days on getting “cool” shots, on trendy post-processing, on getting shots that sell. For the professionals and aspiring professionals, it’s easy to focus on building portfolios and bodies of work that will further our careers. While I’m not suggesting those things are bad, I sometimes feel like we’re missing the point most of the time. It’s good to step back and ask, “What is the subject getting out of this session?”

When you point your lens toward another person, you are telling them that they noteworthy; that of all the people in the world, they alone have your attention at this moment in time. You have the golden and rare opportunity to transform the simple act of photographing a person, into the forming of a human connection that didn’t exist before. If you’re photographing an experienced model, perhaps that doesn’t sound very important, however when you’re photographing someone like Bill, the experience can be profound.


Bill, the tavern regular

Bill is the sort of guy who nobody really notices, except maybe to feel sorry for. He’s the guy who sits quietly on his bar stool, and probably has a lot of great stories to share, but nobody asks. Bill was the reason I began photographing the regulars at this bar. When I asked to photograph him, I expected to have to talk him into it. Much to my surprise, Bill lit up like a Christmas tree and was very happy to sit for several frames. He told me all about himself, and we became friends instantly. It wasn’t photographer / subject, it was human / human. Although I love the resulting image, Bill never even asked to see it. The photograph was completely unimportant to him; the act of giving him my full attention was everything.

Challenge yourself to make all of your subjects feel as important as Bill. Be generous with yourself. Slow down. Learn something significant about each of your subjects, whether they’re two years old, or eighty-two years old. Make a connection. Remember always that you get what you give.




24 responses

10 12 2009

Absolutely wonderful sentiment and a super image. Thanks for sharing.

10 12 2009
Todd Walker

But doesn’t the corollary make you a bit queasy? If I DON’T photograph you, you’re not important enough to remember?

10 12 2009

Todd, I don’t think that statement can be deduced from mine. That’s a bit like asserting, “If I don’t say that I love you, it means that I hate you.”

We can’t photograph everyone in the world. What we CAN do is make sure that everyone who we do photograph feels valued and respected.

10 12 2009

i adore this message cheryl. still has my mind spinning. i have also photographed a man like Bill. it changed me & he has become a friend, of sorts. you can read my experience & see the photo here:

10 12 2009

beautiful. thank you.

10 12 2009

Todd, I think you are missing the point. We are encouraged to have a one to one relationship with the subject of our efforts. We can’t possibly photograph everyone. It isn’t an insult to those that we have not yet managed to find the time to have a relationship, however fleeting. It doesn’t mean that we have judged anyone. I’m rambling.

10 12 2009

i came to your blog through deb s, whom i adore and must thank for sharing you. i have only read this one entry and i know i will be reading on.
i, too, have photographed a man like bill and it is to this day one of my deepest connections with a human being….just wanting/needing someones undivided attention. beautifully put, thank you for sharing and i look forward to reading on. g

11 12 2009

Wonderful and though provoking, as usual.

11 12 2009

Cheryl – I love you. Thanks so much for the reminder.

11 12 2009

I love love love that idea, that when you photograph someone, you’re telling them they’re important enough to remember. I noticed that in your photo tips yesterday too, and have been thinking about it a lot since then. What an amazing way to look at the people we photograph!

11 12 2009

Simply perfect. Everything.

11 12 2009
Deb Schwedhelm Photography | blog » you’re important enough…

[…] below is summarized from cheryl jacob’s amazing post on further exploring this […]

11 12 2009
Aisha K

Thanks for that. I’m participating in tomorrow and your post is exactly what the event is about. I’m glad I read it.

12 12 2009

I had a similar experience with a gentleman of no fixed address in NYC while visiting in August. Juan made a huge impact on me. I’ll never forget him.

12 12 2009

Just found you through Deb – words can’t express what this article means to me. Thank you.

12 12 2009

I love it, thanks so so much!

13 12 2009
Marie Long

I linked to this site, and very happy I did. You have reminded me that photography SHOULD be between human and human. Thank you for that.

14 12 2009
JB White

This is so true! Its also easy to forget or overlook.
Thank you for the reminder.

14 12 2009
Rachel Slepekis

That was beautiful, thank you for having shared such a lovely and thought provoking post.
That connection with people is what I love most about shooting, connecting with who they are on the inside, capturing that soul looking out at me. It is such a special thing, and such a privilege to capture as a photographer!

16 12 2009

Amazing words. I always say that there has to be that “human” exchange between the photographer and subject in order to get anything real to show up in the photo. What a great way to do that by asking what will the subject get out of the session.

21 12 2009

If there were an award for the best blog post of the year, hands-down-and-up this would be top of the list!

Excellent words of wisdom — thank you.

21 12 2009
Important Enough to Remember » Diane Schuller Lifestyle Photography

[…] blog post by another photographer that completely blew me away. PhotoDino’s post entitled, “You Get What You Give” set me right back into the crook of my chair with the reminder of why I began taking pictures in […]

5 01 2010

Such wonderful words. Love your blog 🙂

24 09 2014
You get what you give - every time you photograph someone, you tell them “You’re important enough to remember” - a photography link from simple_iso_v4

[…] You get what you give – every time you photograph someone, you tell them “You’re important… […]

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