It’s February, and I am starting to get requests for engagement shoots when the weather turns a bit warmer. For my wedding photography clients, an engagement shoot is normally the first chance we will have to work together. It’s also the time clients express to me how scared they are to be in front of the camera. I like to think that working with clients who are a bit hesitant in front of the camera is a particular specialty of mine, and I seem to excel in getting people to relax and be themselves. Today I wanted to take you behind the scenes and show you how I do just that.
- I understand your fear. Full confession: I’m as afraid of getting in front of the camera as you are. Yep, though ironically I am a photographer, I despise having my photo taken. There’s just something about the camera that brings out a very unflattering biological reflex. For me, one eye closes a bit when I smile, and the sides of my mouth seem to go up at a weird angle. While my mother takes the best photo I have ever seen – seriously, her driver’s license photo is stellar – I did not inherit this gene. So I know what you mean when you say that you hate having your photo taken and that the camera makes you into an unattractive dork. I’m right there with you, your fellow dork.
- Pre-game tips. Unless you are having your photo taken on a regular basis, most people are a little unsure about what to expect during a shoot. To this end, I have a set of tips that I send my clients ahead of time covering just about every aspect of the shoot. The tips give clients the power to know how to look their best, and this in turn gives them confidence in front of the camera. I find that for most of my clients, the fear they have is in simply not knowing what to do in front of the lens. By addressing all of these questions beforehand, clients know that this is not my first rodeo and that I want them to succeed. Bottom line: when clients trust you, they relax in front of the camera.
- This former Girl Scout is always prepared. When we meet for your photo session, I want to be able to totally concentrate on you. That means that all technical and logistical details have to be nailed down before I even arrive: I always clean and check my equipment the night before and double-check that I have everything packed for our shoot, including a backup camera. I always check my venues beforehand to make sure there are no construction issues or sidewalk scaffolding that might get in the way of the perfect shot. I also come up with a shot list to help give you some direction if needed. My general rule is that I want you to look natural in front of the camera, but if you need me to give you a starting point of how to pose, then I am happy to do so. My professional duty is to be as prepared as possible, and I take this very seriously. In turn, I know this helps establish trust with my clients. As I have been told on numerous occasions, once a client sees the shot list come out of my pocket, the couple knows I’ve got everything under control.
- Focus on each other, not on the camera. When we are shooting, the best way to have you forget that the camera is there is to not have you look at the camera. I always want to get you a solid portrait at least once during the shoot, but I sneak these into the shot list. As a documentary-style photographer, I want you two to go out and have fun. I’ll set up the location and lighting, but the interaction between you two should be natural. I often have clients focus on each other by one partner telling the other the story of how they met (usually a different version from the other partner’s version!). Seeing how their eyes light up when they look at one another is always a great shot. I then quickly ask the clients to look at me, and snap, the portrait is done. Furthermore, I’m a long-lens girl and loving it. This means I will often tell a couple to simply focus on each other — dance, hug, whatever — and I will be several steps away capturing the action with a telephoto lens. My Canon 70-200mm lens is the best tool I have to give my clients the privacy they need to be themselves in front of the camera.
- You are not a professional model. You know this, and I know this. Rather, I want you to be the real you in front of the camera. If you’re shy, then be shy. If you’re quirky, then be quirky. These are photos of you, for you – NOT for my portfolio. As such, I am never going to push you to be someone you aren’t or manipulate you into the perfect pose. Certainly, I will help and encourage you to look your best, but I want our time together to capture your authentic feelings for each other as a couple rather than anything staged. After all, these photos are going in your home, not on the cover of Vogue. So relax, the pressure is off.
- It’s all in the attitude. I know what it is to hate your job: I worked in finance as a geopolitical risk research sales rep until 2010. I found my job interesting, but I hated working for someone else and working alongside the egomaniacs that are often found in the finance world. When I quit my job to pursue photography full time, it felt like I was beginning a perpetual vacation. I miss my regular paycheck, and believe it or not, I actually miss dressing up for work every day – but that’s it. The joy I have in getting to realize my dream of being a professional photographer is still there, six years later. There is no place I would rather be than with my clients, clicking away behind the camera. This positive energy (or ‘good mojo’ as I like to call it) spills out in front of the camera and makes for some great images.
The photos accompanying this blog post are from an engagement shoot I did in October of this year with Divya and Abhinav in Tribeca. I had worked with Divya’s cousins previously, but this was our first time meeting. Abhinav was a bit more relaxed in front of the camera than Divya, but both were pretty nervous.
Divya and Abhinav had given me some direction in that they wanted to start off the shoot with photos of them in traditional Indian attire at the hotel, then change into Western clothes for the rest of the shoot. The look they were going for was gritty New York, and Tribeca has that atmosphere in spades complete with graffiti and fire escapes. I plotted out several different paths for us that took in everything from the waterfront to Soho, in case they wanted to head in either direction. In the end we remained in Tribeca, and the photos turned out great.
So what’s your biggest fear in front of the camera? Email me and let me know. I have a list of photo tips I am happy to send you.
If you are interested in seeing more photos by photographer, Kelly Williams, please visit my website.