art director

Nervousness and Photo Shoots

Everyone has it to some degree. Some people claim to never have it, while for others, it can be debilitating. But nervousness is often a very important participant in a photo shoot, for good or bad. Photo shoot subjects, unless they are professional actors or models, can come to a shoot bringing a suitcase for of nervousness; baggage in both senses of the word. People generally bring their nervousness to a shoot because they are unsure of what will happen, often feeling as though they will be responsible for knowing what to do.

As I have mentioned on a couple of occasions, I was a musician in a former life, and so thinking about nervousness has always been a part of my life. When you perform, whether it be musically, verbally, or some other way, you might have feelings of doubts or inadequacy, which manifest themselves as nervousness. I know that when I performed, especially when classical music was involved, I brought along with me the years of music teachers who had criticized my "sound" and technique. I still have the New Hampshire "All State" evaluation form from one of my auditions in high school which labeled my tone as "harsh". Yum! So in my typically defiant way, I went on to study the trumpet at Berklee, always putting myself into situations where my sound was of primary importance, eventually developing it to the point where it was the best aspect of my playing. But if you aren't aware of it, when you stand in front of an audience to perform, those old criticisms can come swirling back. Never mind that your audience has no idea that you have brought such baggage.

Getting back to the subject in a photo shoot though, it is often the case that the nervous person that arrives at your studio or location to be photographed has brought years of such baggage, but in this case, about themselves; their appearance, their behavior, etc.  The absolute worst thing that a photographer can do is to have his or her own baggage on display as well. Your subject has to feel that you are in charge of the situation. You need to make the person feel that they will be told, every step of the way, what to do, where to stand or sit, how to do so, etc., and that you will be sensitive to their discomfort and will be certain to alleviate it.

That being said, there is a certain kind of nervousness that is good for the photographer to have. It's really important to leave the destructive, baggage kind of the nervousness at home. It won't help you, the photographer, or your subject to feel as though you are in control and know what you are doing. It will signal to your subject that their own feelings of nervousness are validated. When I doubt myself, I use the recommendation of the excellent photographer, Zack Arias, that you just need to show up at every shoot as though you are shooting for Rolling Stone or some similar gig. As I said, I used to get really nervous as a musician, when performing classical music because of my feelings of unworthiness, but I found it helpful to step out of myself and imagine that I was Maurice Andre. I think that experience has helped me a great deal as a photographer to do likewise. It's really important to realize that there is a positive kind of nervousness though that need not adversely affect your abilities to shoot well, nor the ability of your subject to be themselves, but will, in fact, enhance your performance. That "edge", which I always feel before a shoot, and don't suppress, helps me think in that same out-of-body way. Rather than getting bogged down in what to do and how to do it, I start to think as I imagine Arnold Newman, Richard Avedon, or even Joe McNally would be thinking in that same situation. The difference that I can see in the faces and the demeanor of clients when I calmly control the situation on a shoot is pretty amazing. If you are a photographer, use this edge! If you are looking for a photographer, I would urge you to find one who has it.

The Portrait Conversation

Melissa said that she was nervous. I couldn't tell. But we talked about all kinds of things as I arranged lights and modifiers. Melissa works in health care, and her friend Matthew, who came with her to the shoot, works on a sustainable farming project, so we had lots to talk about. She even asked about me, which was really nice, so for a while we talked about music and photography. I was hoping that her nervousness had dissipated by this point, and I was happy to hear her say a little while into it that she was enjoying the shoot.

I think sometimes that a subject's nervousness is actually excitement. Excitement about the event, the process and the whole idea of being literally and figuratively, the focus of attention for that short time.

There are times when you get a chance to photograph someone who is really excited to be photographed. I think this was the case that evening because in these shots of Melissa her personality and beauty just jump out at you. When I do studio shoots like this I rarely photograph two people the same way. After we interact for a while, I start to develop a direction in my mind of the way in which I want the shoot to go and how to capture that person in images. With Melissa, I knew somehow that I just wanted a simple, almost monochrome theme, and that I was working with someone with whom I could use relatively hard light, and would absolutely glow, contrasting with the starkness of the scene in a really significant way.

Andrew - Playwright, journalist and general writer

As you might have guessed, I am working on a project to capture images of people that I meet around the Lowell and Merrimack Valley area of New England. I asked Andrew Wetmore if he would sit for me several months ago, but time has a tendency to slip away if you aren't attentive. We finally got to it during the recent holiday break at my studio. Andrew is a playwright, journalist, high-tech nerd (and I mean that in the best possible way - I was one myself ;-), and Canadian, in no particular order. As you will see, he has a very interesting and character filled face!

David - The Artist

I photographed David Barton, a mixed media artist, recently. I set out to capture a side of David that is not often apparent in the photos that I had seen, or taken of him in the past. A fascinating personality, David creates sculpture that he calls 3D Paintings. I'd give you his web site, doesn't have one yet!

Not just any gym

Last week I worked with independent film maker, Bridget Driscoll, of Mill City Studios, photographing her at the famous West End Gym, in Lowell, Massachusetts. We were after environmental portraits of her shot in this unique location where she has been documenting the gym, the owners, staff and athletes, and how they all contribute to the community.

Mill City Studios produces all kinds of videos for the academic, business and public service markets. The idea with these shots was to put Bridget in the ring, a central theme of the studio's made-for-TV documentary, "Fighters: Road to the Golden Gloves".  I also had the pleasure of meeting the gym's owner, Art Ramalho, and seeing the location first hand. I can attest that this is not a movie set, but the real thing. I really wanted to capture the real look of the gym, so nothing in the scenes was moved and I lit Bridget without gels and allowed plenty of ambient light into the shots so that I could get the color of the fluorescent lights around her.

Bridget Driscoll at The West End Gym in Lowell, MassachusettsAn environmental portrait of Bridget Driscoll at the West End Gym

Not just another corporate headshot

...It never really is. Who wants to just paint by the numbers? Every subject is unique and you need to approach every person and their shoot differently. You want to get a special look or gesture that seems to be the special thing about that person.

I recently worked with the excellent graphic designer, Geralyn Miller on one such project with Anthony, a finance guy. It was a lot of fun! Anthony is a great guy, and I think it comes across in the shots. We worked in the renovated 19th century mill building where Geralyn works, and Anthony was very patient as we dragged stuff from place to place looking for just the right atmosphere.


Geralyn took her own shots between holding light stands ;-) Got to love shooing on a staircase!


Kerry can be serious...really!

Lindsey's friend Kerry came in to be photographed too. Kerry is a commercial landscaper and is one of the happiest people that I know. I wanted portraits of Kerry to capture that aspect of her, but I also wanted to get a range of emotions because she seems to have an inner happiness that comes through no matter what her demeanor may be at any given moment.


But this is the Kerry we know!

My Halloween Resolution

I've been struggling for quite a while with my blog and all of the other social media that we all are telling ourselves we need to exploit. The thing is, I am constantly thinking that I need to say something profound, compelling, deep... or be the expert at something. But then I start to think about my audience. All photographers love and appreciate the praise of other photographers and want to be thought of as someone who does what they do well. But we also know that other photographers aren't exactly our "target" audience. It's great to have their attention, and all attention to a blog has a beneficial effect on our search engine rankings. But the people we really want to interest are the ones who may hire us to continue creating that work that got us the attention in the first place. Right? Be honest!

So I'm not going to play the expert. I know stuff. But that isn't my point here. The reason that I blog is to show off my work and to hopefully create interest in what I do, so that I might do it for someone. So here's my Halloween Resolution, the concept of which I think I just invented: come to my blog to see my work, whatever it may be at any given time. There may be no point to the blog entry other than the fact that I want to show off something that I have created. There may be words. Maybe not. I will have event-related posts, as I have done, and I may have guest bloggers (email me if you are interested). But it's about the pictures!

Lindsey's an aspiring photographer. I don't think she understood why I wanted to photograph her. It seemed clear to me.

Keeping the Headshot Fresh

Like it or not, we all change. Change is a part of life. Change is good...right? Well, in any event, it also means that images of ourselves that we show to the world, which are meant to represent ourselves as we are today, need to be updated periodically. We've all seen the business headshot or talent headshot that was either shot in a style that looks dated now or that features the subject at their ideal age - however long ago that might have been. I don't exclude myself from this category! Recently, I had my son, who is a very talented photographer, photograph me for my web site, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. I feel that professional photos of ourselves are an essential part of building an online personality. You can see my new images by checking out any of these sites. Please do! :-) The buttons are to your right.

Last week, one of my favorite Boston area actresses, Kristin Smith, asked me to do just such an update of her acting headshots. She wanted an outdoor setting, so we dodged the raindrops and braved the unbelievable black fly onslaught to get some great stuff. I haven't retouched these headshots, but clearly Kristin needs no improvement!

Now when I say "professional", please don't equate that with "formal", or "school-picture-day" style. While a certain style is often dictated by the usage that you foresee for a portrait, in many contexts, you and your photographer should feel free... be creative! These photos of Kristin are actor headshots, and therefore do need to have a certain look. But they can always have beautiful backgrounds, colors and lighting. Seamless background paper is easy and fairly fool-proof, but there are certainly more interesting ways to handle headshots. When you have your corporate or acting headshot done, definitely get the prerequisite style of shot done. But also try to do several different looks, backgrounds, outfits, and if possible, venues.