It Happens Every Time
It never fails to happen… ever. Not even once.
Every single time I do a photoshoot for Honeycutt Photography I go away knowing I’ve made a friend — or, at the very least, a close acquaintance.
The reason is simple enough… for me photography is fun and I think it should be for everyone — behind or in front of the camera! It’s truly amazing to me how uncomfortable people can be when they’ve got a camera lens trained on them. It’s almost as if they’re being held at gun point. At least until we start talking. That’s when the fun really begins. I like talking and telling stories and listening to stories and learning about my models.
The Photographer and Model… A Relationship
I’m now going to make the most obvious statement that’s ever been made (well, at least one of the most obvious). If you are being photographed YOU are a model.
See? That’s pretty obvious isn’t it? Most people don’t think of themselves as models but, if they’re being photographed that’s exactly what they are. One of the most important things a model has to learn is how to ‘act natural’ in an unnatural setting. I’m convinced that this lack of training is why most people are convinced they don’t look great in photos. And that’s probably true. Most people don’t look good in most of the photos taken of them. Why? The answer is very simple: they don’t have a trained photographer taking the photo. A professional photographer ‘knows’ how to help people relax. Once a person is relaxed the rest is, as they say, history. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a trained model, a corporate executive or a ranch hand… if you aren’t comfortable with the person snapping photos then you are going to look uncomfortable in the photos. On the other hand, if the photographer is polite, upbeat, excited and comfortable with their models, their models will mimic the same attitude. Sure, it make take a few minutes to settle into a hand-helping-hand relationship but it doesn’t take as long as most people think.
Smile vs. No Smile
Many (if not most) people honestly don’t think they have a pleasing smile. For most people that’s simply not true. Everyone (people who have no teeth or bad teeth or missing teeth) laughs and smiles around their friends. It’s something that’s as natural as breathing. So, why not smile for the camera? In most cases it’s because the model has had a photo snapped of themselves that isn’t complimentary. But, as I assure all my clients, if something is wrong with the way they smile I can help fix it. In some cases I’ve actually taken the time to teach people how to smile for a portrait. Believe me, as with almost everything in life, there is a right way and a wrong way to smile. In other cases I’ve had to actually show the person the difference between how they look not smiling versus when they smile. One thing is certain… when a person first meets you the first two things they notice are 1) Your eyes (whether they are bright and responsive or dull and squinting) and 2) Your smile (or lack thereof).
As an example, look at my friend Melvin:
The most obvious is that in the one to the Right Melvin looks more approachable. Why? His smile and his eyes.
Look at the difference. A small, nice smile gives Melvin a softer, friendlier looking face. Don’t get wrong… regardless of whether or not Melvin is smiling he’s a VERY nice fellow… it’s just that when he smiles you can TELL he’s a nice fellow.
By the time I’d taken these to photographs, Melvin and I had known each other for a total of, maybe, 10 minutes (at the most). It was probably more like 7 or 8 minutes tops — if you include the time it took us to walk from where we’d first met to the location I’d set-up to do our session.
As we walked together to the ‘studio’ (this was actually shot in a room barely larger than my living room) we chatted and smiled and talked about nothing in particular with the exception of one thing… his name. Melvin just happens to be the name of the man I affectionately refer to as ‘Dad.’ Dad isn’t my biological father but he and his wife are surrogates for my biological parents and, as such, hold a place that is near and dear in my heart. I told Melvin this and we smiled and laughed more. Then, something strange happened. When we I sat him down in a chair to snap his portrait, he stopped smiling! No joke. It was like someone had hit a switch and he just kind of stared at the camera. I took my head out from behind my camera, smiled at him and said, “Can you give me just a little grin?”
He smiled, I snapped and then showed him the difference. That was all it took. From that point on, unless I told him not to, he smiled.
In certain photos a smile isn’t warranted. ‘Power photos’ (those photos in which the person needs to look stern or in control) sometimes lend themselves to a no smiling option. Or, if you’re going for a classic portrait look (the kind you see in paintings) then a full-on toothy smile simply won’t do. In this case, a ‘composed smile’ looks much better.
My friend, Kilo (to the left), has one of the best smiles I’ve ever seen (it’s toothy, broad, full of energy and it makes his face light up) but it just isn’t appropriate for every situation. So, when I took this photograph of him I asked him to gently smile so that some teeth were showing but then to let his face kind of ‘settle’ as if he were looking at something pleasant rather than funny. As you can see, it worked.
Really It’s Up to You and Your Model
Ultimately, the type of portrait/photograph you end-up with is up to you and your model. If you are asked to help the person or group decide, remember that everyone has an opinion. And, thankfully (as long as your photos are good quality), there isn’t a ‘wrong’ decision when it comes to ‘most’ situations. However, if you have a corporate executive who has expressed the need or desire to present a strong image I’d usually suggest throwing your weight behind a composed smile image rather than one that looks too happy. Even in the case of the executive who wants to present a strong image there is some wiggle room. For example, I’d normally encourage a bank president to choose a composed smile portrait whereas the president of a kid’s party company should probably be encouraged something that looks less like a principal and more like a friend. Opinions abound but, in the end, the customer is always right!
Until next time…
Blessings from Lonnie and Honeycutt Photography, Mobile, AL (Alabama)