I had the awesome privilege of shooting my youngest brothers senior photos last month. My (not so) little brother Noah is very possibly your typical 17 year old in that he doesn’t like to talk much, is pretty shy, and is very concerned with not looking cool.
I shot images of our second youngest brother Samuel last year, and Noah assisted me on the shoot (he only did it because I paid him $20 an hour). Samuel is really outgoing, loves the camera and is the exact opposite to Noah, so you could say that he had his preconceived ideas about what a photo shoot was like because of watching me shoot Sam. And let me tell you, he voiced those concerns right away when we started his shoot! He told that it was crazy how long we shot Samuel’s pics (1.5 hours total), he asked me if I was going to make him smile (which he prefers not to do, at least on purpose) and that he didn’t want anyone else to see him getting his pics taken. Piece of cake!!
You would think this would have been one of the hardest portrait shoots I have had to do, but it ended up being one of the easiest. I did two things to reassure Noah that this was going to be a cool experience. And remember, EVERYTHING is about the experience. It doesn’t matter how “cool” the shots turn out if my client had an awful time. They will never like their shots if they don’t feel good during the shoot.
What I did first off, was simply agree with Noah every time he voiced a concern. If he said Sam’s shoot was super long, I would agree and say “yeah, that was crazy long!” If he said he didn’t want to smile, I would tell him “yeah, smiling shots are the worst! I can’t stand those when they look super cheesy.” And Noah would nod in agreement (and smile).
The only other thing I did was give him something to do in the beginning of the shoot. He plays ball and is the 3rd highest scorer in his division. So we just brought his ball and had him hold it for a few shots which made him feel at home. The funny thing is, we ended up shooting LONGER than we did for his brother Sam, he wanted to do one more set-up after I was ready to end it (the house shots at the bottom), and we even got a few smiling shots with him wearing a dress shirt to boot (which I would never dare post online for fear he would see them:).
One of the most important tools you can posses as a photographer is not great lighting skills, or knowing if you should use the 85 or 100 mm lens during the shoot, but rather it’s how to make your client feel at ease. As soon as you put that camera to your face, it can do some weird things to people. They change from who they are into who they think the camera sees, and it can be a truly strange experience for many. My job is to try and get them back to who they are, and capture some of that in a real way, but also make them feel important, their voice heard, and their opinions validated.