Some years ago, I was photographing a stunning young woman in her late 20s who’s been modeling since she was about 11 years old. We finished the first look and she was selecting her 2nd outfit. Her husband and I were sitting at the computer reviewing some of the proofs we’d just shot, when she peeks at the monitor and blurts out across the room, “God, I hate my face!”
What? Here’s a woman that would look amazing in zero makeup, torn blue jeans and a smock. She’s as comfortable in front of a camera as most of us are tying our shoelaces. Yet she doesn’t like her face! It made me to wonder, if she’s not happy with her look, how would I ever get ordinary people to like theirs?
“I just don’t photograph well,” is a dreaded complaint we’ve heard from many a customer, or potential customer. My stock reply is usually something like, “Well, that’s because you haven’t had the right photographer yet.” Our number one job as photographers is to reassure the customer that they are in good hands, and that we are not just picture-takers. We are professionals who are dedicated to make them look their best.
Perception is reality to anyone having their photo taken. They know exactly what they look like. They’ve spent a lifetime staring at their face and figure in mirrors. Our own personal vanity drives us to focus in on the features we hate most. So, you’re wasting time trying to convince them that they’re wrong, and that they really look like a supermodel.
Instead, work to convince them that you know exactly how to accentuate the features they like best and mask out the ones they dislike. Talk in broad terms about how the right lighting or camera angles, or even lens selection can showcase their attributes and hide things they’re self-conscious about. Explain to them how you’ve spent your entire professional life studying the human face and form and know how to pose them and handle any body type.
Finally, explain how proficient you are in your own retouching skills. Don’t blow smoke by suggesting that they’ll be on the next cover of Vanity Fair. But assure them that you are confident that they will be very proud to display these photos – the very best they’ve ever had taken.
Follow this up with examples. Bring before and after samples to show them. Talk about how this lady was particularly sensitive about her _____ (fill in the blank). But look how beautiful her final images turned out. Then sit back and watch their fears slowly melt away to delight.
We’re already at a disadvantage when we come to photograph ordinary people. It’s not a natural thing for people to be photographed. They’re immediately worrying about a zillion things like – is he getting my best side, is my collar/tie straight, does this dress/skirt/top make me look fat, oh please don’t shoot my lazy eye! Our job is to get them to forget for a few moments that they’re even having their picture taken. That can only come from your professionalism, confidence in your abilities, and a friendly disposition.
If you’re unsure about yourself or your skills, it will come through – you can’t fake it. That’s why it’s so important to practice the craft, on the technical and creative side, until it’s second nature for you. Your confidence will naturally exude. Then, you’ll be able to say with conviction, “Mam, you just haven’t had the right photographer yet!”
To view Bill’s work, visit his website.