Understanding your how your clients feel in front of the camera

It’s very easy for a photographer to forget how scared, anxious and worried some people can get in front of a camera. From just pointing a camera phone at them in a social setting, to sitting in a studio for a head shot or a portrait. It can be a very, very daunting process for some people.

A lot of photographers do light tests were they themselves are the subject. You see them all the time, and some of the results are great, but this is all a very technical affair being just you and the camera. You don’t have someone telling you to raise your chin slightly, tutting to themselves about something the camera has suddenly decided to do mid session that it has never done before, or being completely discombobulated physically when someone asks you to move your right shoulder and you instead move the left shoulder, and then the head for good measure. A photography session can be frustrating for a lot of people, and we as photographers can sometimes forget that.

Now, every photographer on the internet has an opinion. “You should know how your client already feels, what they’ll be seeing, It’s your job to let them know what to expect, etc, etc”. And that is true. But the very personality and humanity we are trying to capture needs to be experienced first hand and remembered. And sometimes as people we can forget what things feel like, and we just assume we know how they felt. But…as we know, memory can romanticise things, so every few months, I sit in front of the camera. Sure I set the lighting up, position the camera, etc, but for me that is always just the starting point. I can’t see what the person behind the lens sees, and how in that instant they want me to look. The micro movements of someones chin, or the slight shift in a shoulder. These are the things that can elevate a photo.

So here I am again, sitting in front of the camera. The person taking the picture of me for this session is my good friend and MUA Victoria Garcia. Victoria can use a camera, has a great eye, and I trust her to take a good picture of me.

Once in front of the camera, I have clearly already forgotten how bright the focus lamps are (light to help the camera focus before the flash) and I feel like a rabbit in the headlights. I feel weird sitting in front of the camera. I can see a big 200mm lens pointed at me. For a few seconds I debate going to make a cup of coffee and then Vicky starts to talk to me. It’s calming and she’s joking. Vicky is an asset to anything she is a part of and being behind the camera, she settled right in and made me feel comfortable, cracking jokes and asking questions of me as she focused the lens. I still feel a bit weird, but it all drifts off as I begin to see the images we are getting on the laptop (we shoot tethered, so what we take a picture of, comes out on the laptop screen straight away) and then I’m comfortable. She tells me to stop furrowing my brow, I do that. Drop your chin, I do that and the session flys by. And as a bonus she took some pictures of me that I really like and will use :)

Ultimately, if I had to boil down the above to a soundbite it would be:

It helps to understand how your client feels when they are in front of the camera
— Andrew Clifton-Brown 2019

Below are the shots taken by Vicky. Number 2 and 4 are the approximation of what I like to shoot for clients.

But… I couldn’t resist messing around with some of the other shots and over processing them!