I feel uncomfortable getting my picture taken

My world revolves around studios and photography. When I’m working, I have a camera in my hands, and when I’m playing, I have a camera in my hands. The lines between work and play are blurry. I’m around cameras, lights and sets all the time. The darkness of a photo studio interrupted by flashes of strobes; the silence on a set shattered by beeps of flashes recycling and camera shutters clicking; It’s home for me, familiar, comfortable.

Most of my photography work now, is portraiture, and a significant percentage of that, is glamour portraiture. It all started when one of the parents at my kids’ school in Shanghai, asked me to shoot some portraits of her that would make her ‘look young again’.

I asked her what she meant, to get a clearer understanding of what she was looking for, and after a couple of brief conversations between meetings, figured I had the gist of it. She didn’t want to look young, per say, but wanted to look glamorous. She was turning 40 soon, and the shoot was to be a birthday present from a group of her friends. One friend in particular, but others were chipping in too.

I’d done a lot of portraiture over the years —making photos of people has always been the most satisfying thing for me to do with my camera— so this seemed like it would be fun! I didn’t have a studio in Shanghai, so asked if she would like to come over to our place, where I could convert one room into a temporary studio. She countered with doing it at her place, because then her wardrobe, make-up etc would be at hand. We both kept getting more and more excited as we talked about the possibilities and how we wanted the shoot to go. 

On the day of the shoot, she invited her friend (the one spearheading the birthday present) to be present for moral support. Seeing that she was there, I suggested she join in as well, they were of similar builds so clothes would fit. And, if I can shoot one, I can just as easily shoot two! It actually makes things easier and more efficient, because while one is in make-up or wardrobe, the other is in front of my camera. 

The girls had the time of their lives – They broke open the bubbly, and were giggling and laughing their way through the afternoon! It made my job a lot easier because they were so well-known to one another. I hardly had to direct them, or pose them, they just were being themselves, comfortable in their friendship and camaraderie. 

This got me thinking: When I’m on set, I’m always laughing and joking around, I’m in my element. Some of the best pictures of me are those that my wife has taken of me behind my camera. It’s my place to be me. It’s my natural space.

But I hate to be on the other side of the lens. Put me in front of the camera, and I become awkward and uncomfortable. Where do I put my hands? Should I stand straight or lean on one leg? Will someone tell me what to do?

In hindsight, this seems utterly basic, but it came as an epiphany to me. That’s me. When I’m behind the lens, I need to be able to tell my client what to do, how to pose. So I did some research and signed up for a course with the guru of posing, the incredible Sue Bryce.

It opened my eyes.

Hitherto, I’d depended on my interest in people, and my sense of empathy, to keep talking, engage with my client, get them talking, and in between the conversation, laughs and poignant pauses, I’d get my shots. I’d done a course with Peter Hurley, many years ago, and this approach has been inspired from him. 

Sue’s approach to posing is very different. She’s spent years going over fashion magazines, layouts and photographs, and has created something she calls ‘flow posing’. She starts from one position, and then moves the model through a series of small adjustments, resulting in several distinct poses. Consider:

Stand upright, weight on your rear leg, one hand on your hip, and the other behind your back. Don’t drop your chin, keep it level.

<click> Got that shot. Sassy and confident.

Now, leave the hand on your hip where it is, push your hip out to accentuate your curves. Bring your other hand forward and rest it on your upper thigh. Elbows back, and in. Smile, eyes to camera. BIG smile. Beautiful.

<click> Got that shot. Playful and fun.

I’m going in close now, face the camera directly, one hand hanging free, the other gently touching the nape of your neck. Slight pout, a bit of a smile, eyes to the camera. Lovely!

<click> Got it. Covergirl.

So she runs through this flow posing, changing outfits and backgrounds, props and positions, and is able to create a variety of poses, that make every woman in front of her camera look amazing. In Sue’s approach, while she also is engaging with her client, she keeps them so busy focusing on what she wants them to do, that they forget about the camera. The results, of course, are fantastic.

So over the years, I’ve kind of mixed these two approaches together in my own strange brew, and it works! I know this, because I get a fair amount of repeat business, and almost all my new work comes from referrals. One of my clients, after looking through her images, laughed with delight and said “Andy, your tagline needs to be from moms to models!”

Modesty forbids! 

See you next week!


An afterthought:

Now, if I had my act together, I would have written THIS post a few weeks ago, and done a social media campaign on gifting a glamour shoot to the women in your life for Valentine’s Day! Arggh!!!

(You still can, click here!)

Happy Heart Day, here’s a rose.