Photographing Personalities by Leigh Caraccioli 2/4

by R27 CREATIVELAB on Monday, 16 November 2009

The second of a four-part guest blog series.

Take pause for a moment to think why you do what you do. {don't worry...we'll wait...}

My idol David Jay, a photographer savant with a rare periscopic vision in our industry, got me thinking recently about my true intentions. Why do I take pictures? Why do I want to make a living taking pictures? For me, the answer kept coming back to the same place. The reason I do what I do, day-in-day-out with unbridled passion, is that I need to craft stories. As soon as I could talk, I was telling stories. My camera has become my quill of choice.

I've spent the better part of my life as a literary geek, a creative writing teacher, a sales and marketing executive, and now I am a photographer by trade.  I'm still learning my way around my Nikon D300 like a pubescent teen but, I've been studying characters my whole life.  People I know. People I see people purely. Illuminating them with my camera is both my natural ability and my greatest creative challenge.

This blog is geared toward giving you a method for conjuring personality of your subjects. Your task is recognizing when personality appears and depressing the shutter artfully.  No magic wand here, I just want to share some exercises that have helped me hone in on the essence of the subjects I photograph. For those of you who know me, you won't be surprised at how simple these are...

3 words
Prior to my photo shoots, I ask my clients to come up with 3 adjectives to describe themselves and email them to me at least a day before their scheduled session.  This homework functions in two ways. First, I see how they see themselves. Critical but if you have had decades of literary training you know that not all narrators are reliable (ie; Huck Finn.) Hear them, but place more weight on their gestures, mannerisms, and actions.  Character and personality can be found in the subtleties.  Second, the three words they give me help me to mentally formulate setting, stances and feel of the shoot. A session photographing a playful person is much different than one with a introspective person. Set the scene.

A great exercise in sleuthing your subjects personality for photography is to watch a stranger and figure out their three words.  For decades I studied and taught character development. It's 99.9 in the tiny details. Look for what's true in your client and then press the shutter.  I did the same exercise with a pair of dogs in a shoot last week, Brock & Berdy.  There personalities clearly were unalike and I feel it shows in their images.

At ease
Putting your clients at ease and allowing their personalities to emerge is a hard skill to teach. I am lucky that I am goofy, unassuming, playful and daring. Do what works for you to allow the client's guard to come down. My best recommendation is for you to have a comfortable air in your session as approachable begets approachable. I always share my 3 words with them so they know what to expect of me too. (ie; sporty, creative, energetic)   

Many photographers will disagree with me on this one but I regularly show my clients an image or two from the camera. Kids having grown up in the digital digital often say "Lemme see" during their shoots.  Share the LCD with them. Most of my clients come in with the mentality that they are not photogenic. Dispel that misconception of the bat.  Let them see how you are crafting their session, how good they look, and you are likely to see them relieved. This gets my clients fired up and willing to participate.

Tween shots
Some of my favorite photographs are of the moments when the person in your viewfinder doesn't know your watching, let alone firing away. I call these "tween" shots. Chances are when you tell your client to relax for a minute, tell them you're going to fire off a few tests for exposure, you catch them off guard just being themselves. I've been known to boss my clients by saying "stop right there, that's you, do not move." Then we laugh. Sometimes letting your subject get the practiced smile out of their system can be a warm up for some genuine "tween" shots. Be patient and look for the moment when your clients shed their armor...and keep shooting unbeknownst to them.

Photographers who can take a beautiful photograph are everywhere.  Photographers who can show the essence of their subjects are rarer still.  Telling your subjects story comes from a great awareness about people, the ability to make people feel comfortable being themselves, and knowing when to keep the camera rolling. These three things are a part of virtually every one of my photo shoots. I hope this helps you to gain a better understanding of how to capture personalities in camera.  I appreciate your feedback and as alwayd I love hearing comments :)

Thank you, Rajesh, for the guest spot once again. I am truly honored. I look forward to writing part three of the blog series coming soon: "Photoshop fun. How I edit."

Leigh Caraccioli coins herself a hybrid, social-write-tographer. She owns fleur de leigh photography, blogs for the photography community, speaks on social media, and spends all available time frolicking with her family in Dayton, OH.

You may also like to read:
BEHIND THE LENS By Leigh Caraccioli (1/4)
Leigh Caraccioli - A Still Moment...

Leigh Caraccioli

fleur de leigh photography
blackberry 937.422.3361

writer - NEW - OLD
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blogger, social media guru -
mischief maker -
photographer -

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Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Best Regards Rajesh