Shooting Camera-Shy Clients

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to shoot an engagement session.


A friend of mine from school days (which I don't mind admitting is a while ago now) got hold of me because he had seen some shots I had posted on Facebook. This is one of the few times Social Media has led to actual work for me. I know it really helps some photographers, and I make the effort and put in the time, but it doesn't often pay dividends for me.

More about that in a future post perhaps.

That said, this time it did pay off.

We agreed to meet at Hampstead Heath in North West London, because it was full of outdoor options and happened to be close to where they lived.

I arrived a little early and settled in for a coffee while I waited. I fired up my iPad and googled around for images other people had taken in the area so I could familiarise myself with interesting shooting spots. This is something I now make a habit of doing. It's a way to give myself some space relax before shooting, as well as doing a bit of a virtual reccie of the area. Looking through other people's shots also inspires me and puts me in a 'shooting headspace'.

The couple arrived right on time and we got to talking as we strolled up the hill and onto the Heath.

And that's when she dropped it. The bride-to-be turned to me and said, "I just want you to know, I really don't like having my photo taken."


Now what?

I mean you called me right? You wanted photographs.

It's a strange phenomenon, and it happens a lot around weddings, that couples who really dislike being in front of cameras feel the need to put themselves there anyway because, well, you have to. Everyone does.

So you are faced with people who simultaneously desperately want good photos of themselves, whilst wishing they didn't have to be in them.

They were a lovely couple and we got on pretty well right from the get go, but I knew that I was going to have to work hard to make them both feel comfortable in order for them to come across naturally in the images. I find that a camera picks up discomfort very astutely. The frozen moment gives you the opportunity to more finely observe an awkward stance or expression, and then cruelly preserves it in time.

So I would have to put them at ease.

As the photographer that is my job. I am the one who lives in this space. Photography and cameras are my comfort zone (although I still don't like being in front of them that much either). It's my job to welcome them in to this space, like it would be my job to make them feel comfortable when visiting my home.

I can do this in a few ways:

Act like I know what I'm doing.

I kept telling them, "I'm good at this. I'll make it easy on you. This will be quick and painless, and even fun." That way they know that I, as the professional, will absorb all the pressure. It feels good to be in the hands of a professional in any sphere. If my computer breaks and I take it in to a technician who tells me that he is great at what he does, and he will get my computer working again soon, I feel instantly more at ease. His confidence gives me confidence in him. Admittedly, sometimes I have to fake that confidence myself, but I know it's worth it because the shots will show a more relaxed and natural subject.

Let them know they are doing a great job.

I had to learn early on that I couldn't look at the shot I had just taken and frown. They would assume I was frowning at them. Truth is I was usually frowning at the fact that I had just stuffed up the lighting, but they would assume that I was a professional and that they were more likely the problem. Being in front of a professional photographer's lens is a very vulnerable place to be. Remember that. Cover your mistakes and give them the impression things are going well, even while you're working out a way to make that true. Most importantly, let them know they are doing great.

Spark conversations which makes them talk easily.

I got them talking about their wedding and plans for the future, even while I was posing them. This is when they both became more animated and began to act more like they were just sharing plans with a new friend. At rare moments I think they even forgot they were being shot and those were the moments I tried to grab.

Use the 'testing the lighting' trick.

I do this often. I get my subjects to pose somewhere and tell them to just relax for a couple of minutes and chat to each other while I 'dial in the lighting'. What they don't know is that I am shooting the whole time, hoping to capture less guarded moments with shots they assume don't count. I have gotten some of my most natural moments this way. It's an old trick, but a goodie.

I'm sure you have a load more tricks, and I would love to hear them, but either way, it is your job to put your subjects at ease. Create a professional atmosphere, swallow your own insecurities, absorb the pressure, and make them feel at home

Here are some more shots from the day:


Personal Attention

I was recently contacted by a local up-and-coming actress named Brooke Burfitt.

She was interested in getting some headshots done for her portfolio. I didn't realise it, but actors and actresses need headshots done at least every two years, even more if their look changes regularly, because casting agents are looking for a bang-up-to-date representation when trying to fit potentials into a role. I suppose this is obvious, but it hadn't occurred to me that there may actually be a big market here.

Anyway, as we were setting up on the day Brooke was talking about her experiences with headshot photographers in the past, and how they made her feel like 'just another piece in a production line'. She would arrive at a studio and be given an hour, sandwiched between a slew of other performers. She told me how it didn't feel special, and that after hair and make up she only had about 20 minutes with the photographer, who then smashed out a few shot options in record time, charged her £200 for the hour, and only provided one final shot for the pleasure. Every additional shot she wanted needed to be purchased at a per-shot rate.

As I was fighting to open my old reflector with the broken zip, I made a mental note to ensure that this would be a good experience for her.

The location was a challenge. We were shooting in her friend's small bedroom, which had little natural light, but I had to work with what I had. Time to be resourceful. Whilst ordinarily I would have traded the locational difficulties for a professional studio and gear, I did like the fact that I could give her some dedicated time, and make her feel special, and not just like another item on a conveyor belt of would-be stars.

We had spoken briefly online before hand and she had told me she was looking for something feminine, sweet and virginal. I already had pastel tones in mind, and when I looked around the room I noticed it had an interesting green wall paper, which I thought may make a nice headshot background, and some nice pink bedding on the double bed.

The techy stuff:

Headshots: I ended up using my 50mm prime, shooting fairly close (not that I had an option). I used a speedlight in a softbox, on a monopod, held overhead by an assistant. I added a small handheld reflector just under her chest to give a nice catch light in the eyes. Pretty traditional clamshell setup.

Bedshots: I ended up exposing for the window light and then using a speedlight to fill from the other side by bouncing it off the ceiling from off camera. Even though I knew I would be fighting 3 colours of light in post I decided to turn the bedside lamps on to warm up the scene. I think it worked out quite nicely in the end.

The most important part of the shoot for me was that she had fun. We were there for a few hours (more outdoor shots from this shoot to follow) and we were able to take out real time and make her feel like this was 'her' shoot. I hope that even if I become a big shot I will always be able to build in real time with clients and make them feel valued. I never want people to feel like they are being pushed through Sean Tucker's Production Line.

Personal attention needs to become a value.