Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Most Elusive Skill

Magnum photographer and Professor of Photography at England's University of Brighton, Mark Power, whose genre of choice is documentary photography, says "Now we can all take pictures with varying degrees of consistency, more than ever before it's about what we do with photography."

For photo-journalists, documentary photographers, and other shooters of that ilk, I couldn't agree more. But what about glamour and fashion and even portrait photographers? Yeah! What about us, Professor Mark?

Actually, I've got my own answer to my own question and, in telling it, I'm going to partially plagiarize the good professor: "Now we can all take pictures with varying degrees of consistency, more than ever before it's about how we interact with our models."

You see, it's like this: Once you've gotten to a certain point with lighting and composition and exposure and post-production and all that stuff, the never-ending pursuit of glamour/fashion/portrait excellence becomes a matter of what you do with your subjects, that is, how you work with, handle, and interact with them.

Sure, there's always more to learn about photo techniques and lighting and processing and all that. And practicing those things will help you become consistent in achieving technically terrific photos. But once your abilities with all those things reach a certain level of understanding and consistency, it becomes, chiefly, all about your skills in working with human beings. How to gain rapport with them, how to motivate and inspire them, how to direct them, how to pose them, how to challenge them and more.

Unfortunately, there are no absolute rules which will automatically help you achieve a higher level of understanding and mastery of these soft, people skills. That's, of course, because people are different. What motivates or inspires or challenges one model might not work on another. Bummer, right?

While these all-important people skills might sometimes seem elusive, and the hard, cold, fact is they are, often enough, hard to come by, the good news is there are some things you can do, some techniques you can hone, to up your people game.

Here's a few obvious people-pleasing behaviors that help: Treat people respectfully, encourage them to get involved in the creative process, communicate with them in effective ways (which includes listening as well as giving directions) and more.

I work with a lot of models. I never assume what works with one model will work with all of them. Still, there's some tried-and-true practices I engage in. Flattery, for instance, is one of them.

I've yet to meet a glamour model who didn't respond well to flattery. The more sincere the flattery, the better they respond. How do you flatter in sincere ways? Well, one good way I know of is to flatter in specific ways rather than generic ways. Models love hearing they're hot. Even more so, they love hearing what it is about them that makes them hot.

I also make it a habit to ask questions which indicate I'm genuinely interested in who they are and what they're about. (I might not always be genuinely interested, but what they don't know won't hurt them.) I have to be careful, of course, my questions don't come off flirty or possibly "pervy" but, when you seem genuinely and non-threateningly interested in a person, they usually respond favorably.

So there you go. If you're already fairly accomplished with the technical side of photography -- heck, even if you're not -- one of the best ways I know to improve your overall game is to work on those people skills. I guarantee the better you are with them, the better your photos will be.

The pretty girl at the top is Roxy. Used a 33.5" Mola 'Euro' beauty dish for my main plus a couple of strips for kickers from behind and either side of her plus a small soft box, boomed overhead, for a hair light. A fan gave some movement to that little lingerie-ish top.

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