Professionals know capturing photography as art is about observing and being in tune with your surroundings and your subjects. It’s not about snapping away and seeing what you get later. In order to really be present, a photographer must slow down and wait.
I compare it to surfing. You must take the time to spend time on the ocean, to feel the surge of the swell lift you up and lower you down.
You have to wait.
You cannot catch a wave unless you are in tune with the waves. In photography, you can’t make magnificent photographs if you are running around out of sync with your subject and your environment. You must take the time to watch, wait and see what happens: with your client, subject, the light, the shadows, the wind.
Until you learn to do this, you can’t make photographs that take your breath away.
Get to know your subjects.
Talk to them. Find out what makes them feel comfortable-look at how they react to your suggestions; read their face and their body language. At a session, I remind myself to take deep breaths and move in slow motion. I didn’t used to work this way when I first started doing portrait work. I was too worried about my subjects seeing me as a busy person who looked like she knew what she was doing. But, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was too busy rushing through our time together that I always missed something special-always. I noticed that whenever I did personal work, I didn’t work this way. I was more in tune with my environment and my subject than what I was “supposed to be doing.” Now, at every portrait session, even during a frenetic Frisbee game on the beach with a family of 14, I am in slow motion. I quietly observe and wait patiently for the perfect moment to click the shutter. It is a more rewarding experience for me and my subjects and it shows in the photographs.
You don’t want to just take their photograph.
Offer an experience for them; give something back. This is your gift to them and to yourself. Bringing a present serenity to your portrait sessions will set your clients at ease and in turn make them want to continue to do sessions with you. It will be a relaxing, memorable and fun experience.
What keeps less experienced photographers from being in the moment during a photography session?
Why are they frantically clicking the shutter at full speed?
Three key factors that keep photographers impulsively shooting rather than purposefully creating photography as art.
Not comfortable with our equipment:
Digital cameras have made photography easy. Some photographers rely on taking numerous free images hoping to get the desired shot. It doesn’t cost them anything to take a hundred unnecessary frames (except a lot of editing time) and they can check to see if they have the right exposure before leaving the session. As a beginning photographer in the 1980s and 1990s, I learned how to photograph using film and, because of the high price in both time and money to develop film, I had no choice but to be selective and purposeful in my sessions. Through practice, I learned how to use my equipment and trust myself.
Experience and practice work hand in hand to make working with your equipment second nature. But, it’s only when you are truly comfortable with your equipment that you can take your head out of the settings triangle and into the moment. In the moment is where you will find the precious photos, the ones that stop people in their tracks, creating photography as art.
An exercise to try:
Take a meter reading and set your exposure. Then stay in one place and only photograph in that particular area. Set up your shot before clicking even one frame: adjust your angle, composition, framing but nothing else-don’t change your settings or your location. Only concentrate on what you want in the frame. Look at the edges, look at how the background touches or affects the foreground subject, look at compositional elements, look for beautiful or interesting details, an emotion or moment between your subjects. Don’t think about exposure: your ISO, shutter speed, aperture-as long as you remain with the same set-up you don’t have to worry about them. Just concentrate on the details that are in the frame. Practice this whenever you get caught up in the frenzy of shooting away. Stop, frame your image, wait for the ideal moment, then take one perfect shot.
An Unclear Vision:
To take control of your own photography, you must set aside time to figure out what you want to say in your photographs. Imagine what you want your portraits to look like and be clear about your vision before creating something new.
Make some decisions before you start photographing. Write down your objectives. Create a mood board with images and then go in with a final plan in mind. Personal work is critical to growing in photography and will help you gain a clearer vision of what you want to say and what type of images you want to make. You will stagnate as a passionate artist if you don’t push yourself outside of your paid portrait sessions. Professional athletes don’t just show up to the games; they practice and work on their own personal strengths in between competitions.
What to think about:
What are the objectives? Are you trying to make an authentic, in-the-moment portrait that is more about your subject’s story than your’s? Or do you want to create a formal portrait that is posed and styled and has a bit of you and a bit of your subject’s personality in it? Or is it a conceptual portrait with subject as model that expresses only what you have to say? What is the focus of your project? Is it for a client with personal objectives in mind or is it for your own growth?
Most professional portrait sessions are a combination of the authentic and the imaginative. Personal work can be any of the three (real, ideal or conceptual) but should come from your gut.
A fear of missing the moment:
It’s happened to all of us: your subject does something really delightful and your finger hits the shutter a moment too late. You miss the decisive moment by a fraction of a second. You are disappointed and determined to catch it next time. You are tempted to keep shooting continuously and maybe get lucky. The important thing to realize is that if it is natural for them, it will happen again. Be patient and watch. Take your camera away from your eye and reconnect with your subject; take your attention completely off of them and come back to it; get a parent or sibling to do something that may encourage them to do it again.
What to think about:
Only if it is a natural reaction for them is it relevant for you to capture. Don’t force it. If you never see it happen again, let it go. Something else will show up and this time you will be more in tune with your subject. Patience and observation are critical to seeing the world around you with your own eyes. Sometimes I see things happen two or three times at a session or with my own kids before I am actually ready, in collaboration with great light, to make the image I have in my mind. Remember, photography is about light. Great light is what makes great images. The rest of it is icing on the cake.
She has taught photography at local universities and will be offering her first workshop retreat, Loupe Photography Workshop, this May.