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 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.