PHLEARN MagazineSubject First

Subject First

You’re in the middle of a photo shoot.  A plethora of prime and zoom lenses fill your bag, quality lights and multiple modifiers rest by your side and the latest full frame camera hangs from your neck.  Sounds like a golden opportunity, right?  Yet, just before your finger presses the shutter button on that expensive camera, you realize you forgot the most important tool in your bag…

We often get so wrapped up in G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) that we forget about our main method of creating good pictures:  Ourselves.  In other words, you can have all the best equipment, but if you cannot connect with your subject, then your photography will suffer.  You can avoid this needless suffering by implementing the following:

No. 1.)  Build Comfort & Confidence

Take the extra time to get to know your subject before you ever take their picture.  This may involve meeting them in person to learn about their personality, style, likes and dislikes.  You can learn valuable knowledge to find common ground with them.  This way, once they get in front of your camera, you won’t feel like a stranger to them.

No. 2.)  Know Your Gear Beforehand

As artists, we all want to create something unique and extraordinary.  And, we’re all guilty of pushing the envelope and trying something new during photo shoots.  However, these “new techniques” should be mastered long before the shoot begins.  Want to create Rembrandt lighting on your model?  Master it at home with your kids/spouse so when you get a paying client in front of your camera, you’ll get the quality results you desire and they expect.  Want to try high speed sync on your subject? Practice in your backyard during mid day sun before you ever go on a real photo shoot, this way you’ll work out all the “bugs” with this often-complicated lighting method.

No. 3.)  Create Natural Results

The prettiest poses mean nothing if they don’t “fit” your subject’s personality.  Ask yourself: “Are you photographing a person or photographing a pose?”  Avoid wrong and unnatural-looking posing by studying your subject.  Watch their mannerisms; how they stand, smile, sit, etc…

During every photo shoot, I constantly watch my subject, and without fail, every photo shoot, I stop them and say things like, “Hey, wait, do that again…I liked how you were standing and what you were doing with your hand.”  They usually give me a weird look when I tell them this, but then I explain that they can take all the credit on how great the photo is going to look because it was “their pose” that made it so great.

No. 4.)  Have Fun

Most people don’t like to feel worked or rushed.  So, if your subject feels either they will subconsciously reflect that emotion into the pictures you take, and that’s never good.  One way to avoid that common pitfall is to stop, breathe and recall why you became a photographer in the first place.  We all got into this profession because at one time or another, we had fun.  So, make the shoot fun even if all the pictures you take are horrible and your client is upset.  Just smile, enjoy the time, crack jokes and your attitude will more than likely rub off onto your subject.  If you’re excited about an image you just took, then show that excitement.  Chances are your subject will reciprocate.  

Our job as photographers is to create meaningful art for our clients.  As artists, we have to be able to connect with those whom we photograph.  If not, every image we create will feature a disconnect.  Our pictures will appear as if, we, the photographer, just went “through the motions” to create our final, sub-par results.  That’s never a good thing in this industry.  So, remember, going into any photo shoot, make sure your most important method for creating quality portraits is ready.  

Subject first, you second and gear last.

Justin Waybright

Justin Waybright is a professional photographer out of Charleston, West Virginia. The father of three has provided senior, wedding, engagement, family, children and real estate photography for clients since 2006. When he’s not taking pictures, Waybright enjoys unwinding on the river, teaching the art of photography to his students and taking it easy with his family.

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