I’ve been meaning to write a blog about new things going on at Billy Sheahan Photography for some time. It’s been difficult though because of all the new things going on at Billy Sheahan Photography.
One of these new things, or at least more than usual is that I’ve been shooting a lot of people lately. It’s not that I haven’t been a people shooter in the past, it’s just that it seems like I’ve been getting a lot more assignments to shoot people these days. A lot!
It’s been fun. I enjoy the challenge of creating an image that someone is going to use to represent themselves. I like trying to come up with new ways to shoot a portrait that feels fresh to me. How I inject my Billy-ness when making each photograph is the most important thing.
Sometimes the Billy-ness is simply how I run the set. I always tell my subjects I understand that having your photograph taken is quite possibly a very unnatural feeling for them. I’m with them. We’re going to get through this together.
“Where should I look?”
“What should I do with my hands?”
Those are usually the most asked questions I get when beginning a photoshoot. Good questions. I want to make my subjects feel good and not self conscious about having their photograph taken. There actually is something to the feeling that primitive tribes have about it. That having their photograph taken is stealing their soul.
Yes, I am trying to see into their souls or at least their sense of who they are, but it’s only for a short time and I promise I’m not stealing their soul, just borrowing it and documenting what inspires me about them.
Just give it to me to hold for a moment. I’ll give it right back. Promise.
I sometimes give people something to think about while I’m shooting. To answer the where should I look and what to do with my hands question, it’s usually, try to not think about anything. Clear your mind. Or think about being at a party. You’re waiting for someone to bring you back a cocktail. How would you stand? What would you do with your hands?
On more than one occasion they’ve responded by holding out their hand for their forthcoming drink. And we laugh. And now we have a connection. We’re on a level playing field. Everyone is more relaxed. Anything to get them to stop thinking about my making a photograph of them.
But that connection is so critical to make a good photograph of someone. Sometimes I only have a few minutes if it’s someone with very little time. I laugh. They laugh. Find the comfort zone. Make it feel less unnatural.
I make a few exposures and then stop. I have them close their eyes and breathe. Okay, now open your eyes and look at me again. Trying to avoid the photo smile you get when someone is trying to hold an expression for too long.
Shake out your hands and your legs. Sort of like what swimmers do before a race. Trying to get rid of any tension about what we’re creating here.
And all along I tell them what I’m doing. How many photos I plan to take. How many more I want to do before we’re done. Now they can see the light at the end of this unnatural tunnel. Getting closer to being done and having some fun along the way.
Sometimes if they still seem apprehensive about the whole process, I’ll walk over to them and show them a good frame. It’s a last resort because I want to keep everyone focused and stopping to review breaks the rhythm. But sometimes it’s necessary.
See? You look great!
I photographed the CEO of a large European company the other day and at the end, even though I was delivering the photos to his team later that day, he slipped me his business card and quietly said, “I love these. Can you send them directly to me as well?”
It’s moments like that when I know the Billy-ness is working.