By Douglas Gritz
That’s the number one emotion I encounter in my professional headshot sessions. No surprise then that the first photo I take of a client often resembles a deer frozen in front of oncoming headlights. The below image is taken from a recent business headshot photoshoot session.
This is my first shot from my session with this gentleman. The first image is always a test just to make sure the tweaks I made to the lighting are doing what I need them to do. So I haven’t asked them to doing anything other than stand by for a moment. But you don’t have to be a mind reader to know what’s going on in this gentleman’s brain. Sure, he’s got a pretty decent smile going, but that man is as frozen as the Siberian tundra and stiff as a tree. The eyes are a dead giveaway—this is one frightened man.
I’m sure psychologists have a a really good answer for why we tend to react this way in front of a camera. They are better trained to answer that question than I am, but I would bet self-consciousness is at the root of it. What happens when we are self-conscious? We become hyper-aware, hyper-critical, and hyper-insecure. “There is the giant lens staring at me. It’s about to take an picture that will be plastered all over the place for everyone to see and could last years. YEARS! How should I smile? How should I turn? And what the hell am I supposed to do with my hands?!”
I think a big part of this internal freak out has to do with an inability to see ourselves. In a mirror, we can see if how we are smiling or where we are turning our body looks good. But there is no mirror and since most of our experiences in front of a camera are ones that are left to us to figure it out, we are deathly afraid of screwing it up because yea, a picture can last a long, long time.
That’s why for me, I think it is vitally important to not only be a photographer, but also a director. One of the first things I say to people when they step in front of my lens is that I’m not going to leave them hanging out there alone. “I’m going to give you direction on what to do with your face, smile, hands and all your other body parts,” I’ll say. Immediately they relax a little. I’ve just neutralized a huge chunk of their fear. “So all I gotta do is follow directions? Phew, I can do that!”
After providing this gentleman with some direction, we arrived at this final shot.
Now this is the look of a man who is confident! Notice how the eyes are more relaxed and the smile feels more genuine. This doesn’t happen without direction.
For more examples of how direction helps lead to headshots you can be proud of, see my Denver Professional Business Headshots Photography page.