Photographers, Embrace the awkward moment

My favorite journalist is Louis Thoreaux. In my estimation, he’s the master of the awkward moment. He asks a question and then waits. He stares. Then this really akward moment usually happens where Louis could jump in and pose another question or just push past the horrible silence for an extra second and *BAM* that’s when whomever he’s interviewing -be it a Nazi extremist or a Vegas prostitute- spills their guts. I’ve taken a huge lesson from this in my photography:

Push past the awkward moment

It gets easier as you move on in your skill, but photographing portraits for a living can be really difficult because at times, you’re so close to people, so in their personal space that it can feel uncomfortable or awkward. You have a choice: you can either take a quick shot and then move onto something else or you can make use of the close, intimate nature of the moment and photograph more than just their face. You might catch a glimpse of their soul.

I never settle for less than this when photographing children. I don’t want pictures of their face – there are millions of those in their mom’s iPhone. No, I want to get that twinkle, that…you know…that moment when you’re capturing THEM. So how do I practically apply this approach in my own work?

I consider a few feet to be ‘close’

I get really close to my subjects. When I first started my business, I loved zoom lenses because I believed that stepping back and getting out of someone’s personal space gave them the room to breathe and relax. I thought that this was the best approach to getting real & honest portraits. As I evolved and my lens collection began taking shape, I found that they were getting shorter as I was instinctively bringing myself closer and closer to my subjects. And my work was getting better and better. People didn’t feel any less nervous or uncomfortable just because I was a few yards away from them. They just felt uncomfortable and vulnerable.

I focus on a face and then wait for my inner yes -the decisive moment- to tell me when to hit the shutter. With children, I find the spot from where I’m going to photograph, hold the camera to my eye with my focus steady and then I start talking to them. I snap a few photos here and there as their expressions change, but that’s mostly just so they don’t feel like they’re doing something wrong (“why isn’t she taking my picture yet? What does she want from me?”) and then I wait for the moment where they become themselves. Sometimes, it’s just the splitest of seconds. Sometimes it’s a laugh. Sometimes it’s the real smile after a fake laugh. The more I’ve photographed children, the more accurately I’m able to anticipate these moments.

Sometimes I actually create the awkward moment. I’ll focus on them and then say, “ok now don’t smile” while I’m smiling behind my camera. Then I wait. And wait. And wait. And when the moment seems like it can’t get any more painfully awkward, I think of Louis and push past it. And then something wonderful usually happens. Sometimes not. But unless you learn to start embracing the still, silent, awkward moments, you’ll never know the power of just waiting.

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Elizabeth Halford

Elizabeth Halford


She blogs about photography and business with her unique plain English approach. Elizabeth has been-there-done-that with running a photography business that doesn’t profit a penny and loves teaching photographers how to get away from the starving artist model of running a creative business.
Elizabeth Halford
  • Alexandra Leuthauser - LOVE THIS!

  • Ashley Sisk - Great article – I love photographing children. Their expressions are incredible. I just looked at one of my niece. We’d been goofing off but I was able to find one where she was completely still and reflective. The moment was gorgeous and I’m so glad I waited for it.

  • Melissa Burns - Love this!!!  Thanks for sharing!!  Photographing children are my favorite!!  I just did a session with my daughter the other day and I’ve really been working on being patient and not rushing.  Even though she’s my child, when I was right up close to her with my camera, it still took some time to get the “real” her but with patience she came out and I got it!!!  So thanks again for all of the incredible info you share with all of us!!!

  • bri (Holtman) wachsman - absolutely wonderful post!!! You are an amazing photographer and catching that inner beauty and REALISM is what you do best!

  • Aino Shperber - Awesome article! I totally believe in this! 🙂

  • Anonymous - Love this tip. I sometimes just keep click to avoid the akward moment, but when I do that, I don’t get the pictures I really want. Thanks for putting this into words!

  • Rhonda - Love that…”the inner yes” is a gret way to put it.  Thanks for sharing.

  • Mia - I really do enjoy your information and your presentation style. Thought I’d tell you so since I visit often and never let you know. Thank you for sharing all that you know and have learned.

  • Jennifer Michelet Vititoe - Love it.  Great article.

  • allison wright - You never fail to impress me.  Soaking up your tips like a sponge.  Thanks so much!

  • Aapree - Love this post. Thanks for helping me understand those awkward moments a little better and letting me know I’m not the only photographer out there who experiences them! Love all your posts and tips and advice. My email is chuck full of them! Thanks for sharing your talent and skills!

  • Pamelalala - Love it. I do the same thing I just chit chat with the kids, I love a soulful portrait! I never was a fan of zooms, my 50mm is my perfect portrait lens on my D300. Also, Louis Thoreaux. I LOVE him. I was in London earlier in the yr and saw some of his stuff. Did you see the recent documentary when he was in Miami? I was hooked. Oh, I miss UK tv! x

  • Lori - I just found your blog via Pintrest…..LOVE IT!!!!!
    Sooooo much to read and explore….I’m never going to make it to bed tonight!!
    Thank you!!!!!

  • Camsco66 - I Love all of your advice!  Thank you for sharing your awesome talent 🙂

  • Becky - Another reason why I <3 you, Elizabeth ;)… not in a creepy way (or at least I don't think it's creepy haha).   I cannot wait to utilize what I have just learned.  I tell you, this is the reason I get so sick to my stomache before a session, because it is so awkward to get into people's space, but I can't wait to get out there and push past the awkardness!!! Thanks so much for sharing your secrets!

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