I consider portraits my main photography genre. One thing I’ve come to notice is that no matter how great a photo I technically produce, the client will only be pleased if I’m able to authentically create their image in a way that is personally pleasing to them.
It’s the human condition: Most of us are dealing with decades of complex, personal “issues.” I believe it’s our job to take that into account when we are creating portraits for our clients. This can be as simple as a gentleman not liking the wrinkles around his eyes, or as complex as a woman’s deep-seated disdain for her entire face that stems from being teased in middle school.
Admittedly, I tend to forget that people don’t love every inch of their face, as I see everyone’s features as unique, beautiful details that make them who they are. However, when anybody gets a photo taken — or even looks in the mirror, for that matter — there’s a good chance that they are focusing on their personal insecurities.
So how do we help our portrait clients see how awesome they are?
Remember that women are often tougher on themselves than men
After shooting with a lovely female client recently, I delivered a set of professionally retouched photos to her that I felt very proud of. Both technically and artistically, I felt it was a great set of photos that anyone would be thrilled to display on their website. It was a no-brainer that she would be as excited as I was, right? Wrong. In fact, when it came time for the big “unveiling” of her portraits, her reaction was, shall we say, less than enthusiastic. I believe her statement was something along the lines of, “Oh, it’s OK for a portrait. I just don’t like the way I look.”
Needless to say, that took the wind out of my sails. However, it also caused me to realize that I should have taken more time chatting with her before the shoot to learn more about what she felt were her physical strong points and weak points.
This takes me back to a magazine I used to work for. We’d fly in some of the most beautiful women from around the country and complete our cover shoots in our studio. More often than not, no matter how breathtaking the model appeared, she almost inevitably had some criticism about of her body, be it the shape of her thighs, the roundness of her hips, or simply her facial features. It never ceased to amaze me how much we can nitpick ourselves.
I could go into how our society has put high, downright unrealistic expectations on the appearance of women, but that’s another article. Ahem.
So for women especially, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s essential to learn about their opinions of themselves before the shoot happens, so that you can use that knowledge during the shoot when you decide which angles to use and how to pose her.
Listen for cues and ask questions
Fast forward to today, and I’ve learned to listen for cues from both the female and male clients I have the pleasure of shooting. Most people will tell you what you need to know if you just listen. And if they don’t offer the information you need, simply ask them about previous photos they’ve had done before, and what they liked and didn’t like about the results.
If all else fails, I’ll (gently) ask them point blank if there are any areas of the portrait they would like me to focus on. The information they divulge helps me know what to watch out for when shooting, and what angles we should be using, etc.
The more you improve your ability to pick up on the personal needs of a portrait client, the more you will look like a superhero in their eyes. An added bonus is that it will improve your listening and observation skills, which has its own set of benefits that extend way beyond the realm of photography. Remember to use your ears as much as your camera.