One of the biggest challenges for a portrait photographer is achieving an emotional connection with your subject. Having now spent nearly 17 years photographing thousands of people, I’m familiar with just about every type of face that people present to the camera, from the completely blank stare, to the polite social smile and the cheesy grin. And it’s easy to think that all a person has to do is smile when they’re being photographed, and it will be fine; but there’s a definite difference between a fake smile and the genuine article, and the latter doesn’t necessarily involve a broad, tooth-revealing grin either; quite the opposite in fact.
Sarah booked me recently to take some actor’s headshots for her portfolio and the first thing I noticed when I met her was what a great personality she had; the second thing I noticed was that her personality didn’t immediately disappear behind a fake expression the moment I lifted the camera to my eye. Obviously, the photographer has a role to play in maintaining that emotional connection with their subject: as Lord Lichfield once said, “Remember that the person you are photographing is 50% of the portrait and you are the other 50%…. If they don’t want to help you, it will be a very dull picture.” However, while I was photographing Sarah, all I could see was these beautiful, unforced expressions that would change very subtly without ever becoming stiff or unnatural, and the result was a series of shots that really captured her character, which shone through her eyes and the intensity of her gaze – she looks completely engaged in the whole process, and it was great fun to photograph her.