Today I’d like to talk about something that I feel is really important in the portrait photography world: and that’s consent. To start this off, let’s begin with the story of how I was taught to originally take portraits. Years ago in photojournalism class, my professor asked me to pose someone for a portrait using his camera. I started off giving her (my subject) an idea, and like every other awkward person who doesn’t know what to do, I went in to try to move the subject. Then my professor told me to stop. He told me to instead ask her to do something. So I came up with an idea and asked her to move her hair, etc.
“Do you know why I asked you to do that, Chris?” He asked.
“No, it would’ve just been so much faster if I did it.” I retorted.
“Yes, but it’s not respectful.”
And he was absolutely right. So for the next few years I refined my methods and came up with concepts, ideas and ways to visually communicate with someone exactly what I wanted from them in a portrait. When you consider the psychology behind portraiture, it makes a whole lot of sense.
Consider the situation:
- You have a camera and an idea
- You have a subject
- You need to get your subject to do the idea because they have no idea of what you want
- How are you going to do it?
Are you going to turn them into the equivalent of a puppet? Or will you treat them like a human being and ask them to do things? With time, I got better and better while I studied and better understood how the body, lighting, and angles all work.
Constant Conversation and Communication
So the big question first off becomes “How do you get someone to do something in a portrait without touching them?” The answer is to simply ask. But before you do that, it’s best to honestly have some sort of creative vision in mind. You know, exactly what you want them to do and how you envision the scene looking.
If you don’t have that, come back to that. When you’ve got that, talk to them about what you’d like from them in the photo.
I completely understand that sometimes verbally communicating an idea can be tough; especially when it’s totally original. But if it isn’t then I can guarantee you that you’ll find it on pinterest. So when you’re trying to communicate an idea to them, it’s sometimes best to show them a starting point and then modify from there.
Visual Hand Cues
Here’s a video that I did years ago when I was a fair bit younger. But take a look and see; you’ll probably learn more about visual cues.
Asking for Consent to Come in and Move Them
Of course, sometimes all of this won’t work. So what do you do then? What I learned from photographing so many strangers is that if someone truly understands that you’ve got genuine intentions when it comes to creating a portrait, all you need to do is ask if you can come in closer to fix them.
What I’ve done is this: “So you’re pretty much perfect and I’d like you to not really move. So can I come in and just adjust one thing with (insert blank here).” And typically they’ll say yes. It’s usually a piece of hair or a shoulder or something like that. Then we shoot.
Now maybe I should end all this with the obvious fact here: Have genuinely good intentions no matter what. Don’t be that photographer that just likes to touch pretty girls; you make all of the rest of us look bad.