“I have to get the latest gear, my work is going to change so much if I get that new lens, new lights, the new program”… Yes getting new gear is amazing and if we could all afford the new and latest gear that would be great, but in reality, it is never the gear. This is not a post about gear, but about connecting. It is about the connection you have with your client, model, actor, or whoever you are photographing.
Hi Everyone! I am RJ Lewis and I am a Portrait Photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. Making a connection with the person I am photographing is the single most important part of any session that I enter. Really getting to know them, finding out what makes them happy, sad, passionate, angry, etc.… not only gives me more to work with during our session, but also allows me to gain my client’s trust. Once I can gain their trust anything is possible.
Most of the people I photograph are not models, they are just your everyday people and as most people are, being in front of the camera can be a very fearful experience. More so then not, in every session I hear these two exact phrases, “I hate getting my photo taken”, and “I hate the way I look in pictures.” After every session I get this exact reaction, “ I cannot believe that’s me!”
How did that happen? It is because I got them out of their heads, got them to put their insecurities aside and trust that I am on their team and I only want greatness for them and their images. I am not putting on an act for them. I am not giving them a gimmick. I am genuinely interested in them as a person and I find that when they see how truly invested I am in them, that is when the walls come down and their true selves come out.
For me, the connection begins from the moment the client makes an inquiry and books with me. Once booking happens they get my personal cell phone number and know that they can call or text me when they have questions or concerns about their session. I also try to at least Facetime or Skype with them so I can find out everything I can about what they are looking for from their session. I want them to know that I am going to be prepared with a great vision for their session. I want them to know that their session is collaboration and though we will have a direct vision for the session, sometimes the unknown can be something even stronger to explore.
“If You’re Thinking About Your Gear You Are Not Making A Connection”
The atmosphere you set is another huge part of it. I am not as lucky as many other photographers and able to afford my own studio in NYC. Trust me I wish I could, but unfortunately, I cannot and I think that is actually a blessing. I shoot out of my home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and on top of that, I am a stay at home dad of an amazing 2-year-old boy, who is my world. I have found and been told by many people who I have photographed, that the minute they enter my home/studio, they feel like they are home. They don’t feel as if this is all business. They interact with my son and with my dog. This all happens before lights and cameras are even turned on. Sometimes they are taken aback by this new feeling because they had worked up this scenario in their minds, built it as there worst fear coming true and when they enter my place that scenario diminishes and this new energy and possibility are awoken.
Many photographers get caught up in what they are doing or trying to create. They start screwing around with their equipment, muttering under their breath or getting frustrated cause they are trying to create something very specific. They tend to forget that there is a human being in front of them who is actually very nervous about this session. The client does not know nor cares about your f-stop or shutter speed or what the light is or is not doing. You can take your time and even explain to the client why you are changing the light or moving it slightly because they want the image to look amazing as well, so you can take your time and not rush, but talk to them while you are figuring it out. Do Not Leave Them In Silence.
For me, I make sure that I am always talking to them. I am always assuring them of a great job they are doing. Positivity is huge! Tell them what you like and never tell them what you do not like. You can always offer your opinion on how to make something even better. When I nail an amazing image I show them the back of the camera and usually at this moment something happens. They finally see themselves as beautiful. They see themselves in a way they never thought that they could. All of a sudden this weight has been lifted off their shoulders and they are ready to play.
The other thing I have found is to keep your gear to a minimum. Talking with clients they always tell me when they walk into a studio and all of a sudden they see huge lights and equipment everywhere they get intimidated. They walk through that door and that scenario we talked about comes at them full force. Now obviously every session is different and calls for certain equipment, but I say keep it very simple. 95% of my studio work is done with one light, a few different modifiers, and a V Flat. I do not use $60,000 lights. I use my talent and ability to create something that in the end looks like I shot it with $60,000 lights.
Music can also play a huge part in a session, but there are many times during sessions with me that you would hear “Puppy Dog Pals “ on the TV. Clients find it funny, which also relaxes them when they are doing a portrait session with me and they look off to the side and see my son dancing to the theme song. Again, it is all about that connection.
I try to make the client feel as though we really did not shoot, but in reality, we photographed a ton. Time after time I hear, “We are done already?” “Damn, that was quick!” It is because we talked 80% of the time. They were not thinking about getting their photo taken. They were not worried about how their body is looking or the face they are making or feeling awkward. We were making this connection; we were developing this chemistry to capture these intimate and vulnerable moments.
When you can offer your client something genuine and something not out of the cookie cutter mold of photography, it means more to them than anything else because they know you took the time out of your busy day to make it all about them. You took the time to create something they will remember forever. You got to know them as a person and not like someone about to give you money. If you take anything from this blog post hopefully it is this, “We all want to make money, but if that is all you are chasing then it is going to be a tough and unfulfilling journey. Make it about making a genuine connection with others and I guarantee it will be the most satisfying journey you have been on.”
Annie Leibovitz said, “If you’re thinking about your gear all the time you’re not taking pictures.” I say, “If your thinking about your gear you are not making a connection.”