Photographer’s Opinion

Oh, the struggles of appearance. Does the photographer’s opinion about your appearance hold any value?

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What do you do when you love a photo of a person, but they hate it? A photographer, especially one in the first few years of their business, has to post often to develop interest, and mark their skill. Not only that, but how can you let your client walk away with a sub-par photo? Well, it’s their choice and how they want to look is up to them… I suppose.

“My smile looks too goofy, the expression is too big, I don’t like the furrow in my brow…”

It was a fantastic photo. I think she should have been walking away with that one. Instead, she chose a very safe, somewhat blank, doll-faced expression.

Why are people so uncomfortable with being real?

Honestly, it is a joy to look at that photo, and I think any other person would think the same. It was another business photo for a woman involved with sales/distribution… To be honest I forgot specifically what she said. The photo she chose is just fine, I’m sure it will work well towards her ends, but I don’t love that one.

Another session, a friend of mine, I haven’t even finished editing. Every photo I showed her from it she didn’t seem to like. I haven’t shared any of the photos, either. I would love to add them to my portfolio, but she was so dissatisfied with them that I felt it would be a breach of our contract: “For consideration received.” I wouldn’t be very considerate, posting a photo that they hate.

One that I liked was a just-before-laugh, slightly open-mouthed smile. So slight! Beautiful light in her eyes. She doesn’t like the expression. Another could have been on a fashion magazine, if she had the clout. Kind of a doll-faced expression. I feel like I put three hours of touch up into it. She doesn’t like it. Always the expression.

Another challenge for me is my photo cull. I will see a photo from a family shoot that I would never want displayed in my portfolio. It’s too soft, there’s a background detail that gets in the way, colours are clashing, who knows, but the kid’s expression is so awesome! So real! So fun! I know the parents would like it, and I’m torn as I hover over the “delete” key.

They almost never buy those photos, but I like to show them, at least.

Another frustrating scenario is the person that likes every photo you take of them. They are just so infatuated with themselves that even when their expression is so obviously unattractive, they love it!

I suppose there is a certain type of person that I like working with. Right in the sweet spot of comfortable with their appearance, but not afraid to mention critical details about their preference. The too hard is endless frustration, but lessons learned. Too soft, an easy sell and an uncomfortable feeling in my gut. Every photo shoot should be somewhat of a challenge, I wouldn’t be doing my job if they weren’t, but some have simply been impossible and I’m at a loss for how I could have done better.

There’s no convincing some people.

Sometimes a Perfect Photo Situation Falls Into Your Lap

I did a great thing, as a photographer, and I hope that I can have many more of these moments and master them and condense them in order to have higher value shoots that work out so very well.
It was all wrong up until the finish. I even threw in a creepy phrase, as I’m apt to do, to add in social faux pas to the mix.  Strike three.

I get a call as I am, if I remember correctly, sitting in studio at my employers’, editing a family’s outdoor shoot photographed by one of the regular girls at the studio. 

An Aside: A Very Irregular Lady, Indeed

I say “regular girl” because my studio is across town, but I cover shifts all over the city. Also, it is seemingly rare for a man to work under this employer, perhaps because of all the work with children and negative stigma and all that. When the DM starts the weekly meeting, she says “Good morning, Ladies.” As such, I must be a lady, just not regular to this particular studio.

The call is from a man inquiring about professional business photos, to update his Linked In. I’m very confident with single subjects, and I spoke to him, in my opinion, a little too “buddy-buddy.” Strike one. Luckily, he was comfortable with me and ok with the price.

On account of my lack of wits, I forgot to mention our hours of operation. Strike two. He came on my lunch, while I was out banking. Luckily, he wasn’t upset when I came back. He walked around, did a little shopping, and came back to me at my best: with a full tummy and all the patience in the world.

An Aside: Business Photos

I’ve always been so frustrated with these things. I once got 3 – 5 people all at once, on their lunch, expecting a miracle. One of them was oddly photogenic. The office “pretty girl.” Everyone else was a challenge and desperately needed a different environment, or more time.

The “pretty girl” could have probably had a more “real” photo as well, but in comparison to her companions it was a work of art. They all joked about how great hers looked, and I noticed she was very self conscious when she should have been flattered.

The leader of the group was one with magical, disappearing eyes. Every time she smiled and focussed on the camera, her eyes squinted and went black. Her, I wish I could have spent more time with because her dissatisfaction with the photography could have been scooped out of the air. She was far too polite and said nothing.

That experience was a serious blow to my confidence with headshots.

I worked with him from, I believe, a standing pose into a far more relaxed stool-top with leg support pose. That’s typically my base for business and seniors/grads. That’s where I get their “Money shot.” I always try out a standing pose, though: some people are fantastic standers. Myself, like so many others, not so much.

Visible is only a 3/4: from about elbow or mid bicep to head with plenty of lead and about 1/4 of the frame of background at top to avoid the photo looking like an ID. An elbow resting on the knee raised by the support brings his shoulders up and forward a little, making him seem more full-bodied, but relaxed.

We figured out the pose, we were both in agreement upon review that it was a good one. The only problem was in his eyes. He didn’t have a true enough expression.

“The only problem I see is in your eyes. Let’s recreate this and see if we can fix that,” I quipped, knowing that all too often people are too damn polite to say whether they don’t like something.

He’s a salesman. I read about marketing and sales and the interactions related. I’m a photographer: we wear many hats.
As he was getting into position, I asked him about some of the best clients he’s ever had. Who was it that he wanted to work with, was my question. What was his ideal? He told me a story of some clients that he was very happy with, and you could see it in his face when he came to a rest. A perfect smile. A perfect headshot.

It’s the same feeling I used to get when I finally landed a trick on a skateboard. Y’know, before I gave up being a delinquent and went straight into grumpy old man.

I believe a great portrait photographer is a great conversationalist. Someone of that nature, in that career, must have a very large ammo bag. Talking points can be as fleeting and inconsequential as viral Facebook posts, but the photographer must control where the content leads — to what emotions. Also, trivial conversation like that can fall completely flat with a person who doesn’t have time to prattle. Seems it’s a delicate balance, and a fair bit of luck.

I was incredibly lucky with this man. His demeanor was perfect, even in the face of things that many others are frustrated by he seemed patient. Stowed it somewhere, maybe. I was lucky that we work in similar fields. Further, I was lucky that I was reading Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port. My question was basically derived from chapter one, and it made that man an incredible photograph for his profile.

He liked it so much that, when it was all said and done with, he admitted he thought the price was high, but after experiencing it with me he wasn’t  upset by it

Thank you, James Michael Taylor of Outlaw Photography (I’ll mention him here because he’s way too far out to be competition) for sharing that resource in one of your emails. Though a small success, you’ve helped create a golden staple in my career. Looking forward to more of our conversations.

What is a Good Photo Shoot, Anyway?

I made a mistake. It was a high-paying shoot, at least, for my employer’s business. I’m too much of a perfectionist, perhaps, but it was a shoot I’m not so happy about.

A couple, maybe engaged, maybe together for a long time. Fairly reserved people, they didn’t have an appointment but managed to catch me at a slow time — even still, having no “mental prep” throws me off — and they were in a hurry.

An Aside: Rudeness and Frustration

Not to mention every drop-in looking for document photos, and I should be at there beck and call regardless of whether I have other customers. They stew and fret in the seats we foolishely provide, glaring impatiently into the studio room, upsetting my clients. What would I do if I owned the place? Raise prices on ID photos. Emblazon them at the front of the store with a glowing neon statement: “Yes, they are very expensive here,” and get rid of the waiting chairs.

They were very pleasant to work with, but I don’t think the shoot was worth what they paid. Sure, digital copies aren’t cheap anywhere: if a photographer is giving everything away, they should ask for everything in return. We only really got one angle, though. I mean, we took many different poses, from a few different angles, but we didn’t get past the “money shot.”

An Aside: The Money Shot

“Smile. Make it real. Look at the camera, all at once. *Snap* No one blinked? Good.” Kah-ching!

That’s only really good for a $20 – $30 single pose pack. Well, in my opinion. I feel like I’m going to cause an argument every time I suggest that the subject doesn’t have to be staring directly into the camera to make it a good photo. That thought is so limiting! People who come every month and pay for multiple poses and only want the money shot: I want to slap them. Some people just want the 3/4 headshot of their grandchild in an 8×10 of every milestone. Fine, I get that, but when I think “Full, Professional Photo Shoot” I imagine a more full range of expressions and interactions and eye directions and actual emotions to go home with, not a bag full of headshots from the exact same day.

“See all these different photos in which your faces all look the same? Really, just pick your favourite one and get a load of sizes, it’s less expensive.”

If you are there for business photos, that’s a different story. Something to update your Linked In profile is going to have a very specific look, and it can take working through multiple poses before we get one that is right. Though, often in that sense, one is all you need.

I feel like I’m judging my clients, that feels all wrong. Thing is, I don’t like selling work that I’m not happy with, and I’m not happy with a lot of my work. Perfectionism or an intermediate’s lack of confidence. Who knows.

I feel these people were not looking at the industry of photography accurately, and therefore spent money they should not have. In a more private environment, a more carefully planned event and with less ticking clocks we may have done better. If I had all the time in the world for them we may have reached a few intimate levels, I may have photographed real interaction between the two of them. They wouldn’t be going home with a mundane collection of “money shots.” 
That’s just my opinion, that’s just my style. I hope they’re happy with what they got, I don’t mean to poop on their parade.