What can I even begin to say about my afternoon with Laura and Zoe? The opportunity to photograph them was so wonderful it sparked an idea for me to do a series with mothers and daughters. You might be thinking that this idea has already been done…and it has, many times. But it’s not an idea I ever thought I would have pursued as part of my growth as a photographer.
You might think that as a wedding photographer I consider myself a portrait photographer, but I actually don’t. My approach to photographing weddings is about being ready to capture fleeting moments as still images that will last a lifetime. As a result of this style, the images I end up delivering to my wedding clients portray moments that happened (for the most part) organically, and emerged (almost always) without my direction. Portraits, in my opinion, are fundamentally different. They often require a lot of direction and interaction with the person or people in front of you. Though neither task should be neatly packaged–and some of the most exciting images come about when rules are broken–it might be helpful to think about the distinction like this: wedding images are (more or less) captured, whereas portraits are (more or less) created.
Part of creating a good portrait is creating a good relationship with the subject. I’d say I am pretty good at talking to just about anyone and making them feel comfortable, but–here’s my dirty little secret–getting one’s professional portrait taken can make one (myself included) regress into an awkward and painfully shy kid. And all that kid wants to do in front of the camera is act goofy and make kissy faces (again, myself included). Although it’s perfectly natural, I don’t want my clients to feel nervous in this way because it constructs a barrier to creating a good portrait. So, ironically, creating a portrait can make me, as the photographer, extremely nervous for the very reason that I don’t want my client to be nervous. It’s a conundrum!
My job, when approaching portraiture, is to quell my own nerves so I can focus my energy on making my client comfortable. Ideally, I want them to be so comfortable that they are even comfortable with me making them uncomfortable–which is one way to break the rules and create a fascinating image. Because one of the great things about portraiture is that when the nerves settle and when all the kissy faces and fits of nervous laughter have subsided, there can be a moment in which the subject’s authentic self emerges and you can get a beautiful and honest portrait. Those moments are a newly welcome creative challenge for me, one that pushes me as a photographer and as an artist.
So on this day–a day on which I was supposed to do a simple, straight-forward head shot for Laura for her upcoming real estate website and then grab a few photos of her with her daughter, Zoe–I had a little photo epiphany: there is something here for me, something more.
I look forward to seeing what this burst of inspiration brings. A very special thank you to Laura and Zoe for being my muses!