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 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.
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.
Latest posts by Elizabeth Halford (see all)
- 3 Things to Know Before Ordering Huge Prints or Canvases - November 15, 2017
- Booking a Client – The First Call - November 13, 2017
- An Hour Before A Session – What am I doing just before I walk out the door? - November 1, 2017