Earlier this month I was photographing someone who was not only a client but also a good friend who is so fun to hang out with. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why they kept saying they absolutely hated their photos. We brainstormed what kind of emotions and feelings we wanted to evoke in their images and we narrowed everything down to two points one that showcased their work with young people and another highlighting their interactions with corporate audiences —an audience they are rarely around.

As we went through the session, I noticed that they did such an excellent job posing for their corporate-facing images. It was the ones where they were trying to create an image of themself for their younger audience where they felt the most critical.

I was so puzzled as this person is such a fun-loving person whom everyone enjoys being in their company and I couldn’t for the life of me understand why something most authentic to them was their biggest challenge. I have a theory. And I feel like this might be something that other people may also be challenged with when being photographed.

Many of us have personalities that naturally fit in a given environment. Fun-loving people usually connect well in light-hearted casual environments. People who are focused and goal-driven do well in fast-paced environments with higher stakes. To me, it seems normal for a person who’s driven to create an effortless casual look in their images challenging and equally so in the reverse.

A Theory

My theory is that we conflate different purposes of how we want to show ourselves to our audiences. In other words, we’re thinking about how we can show our authentic selves BUT we’re also thinking about what messages we want to convey AND to whom. I know that sounds like a word salad but hear me out.

My fun-loving friend can effortlessly create a smile that lights up the room however, I think perhaps they conflated their desire to be taken seriously with their corporate-facing images with their fun-loving personality for young people audiences. In short, they were trying to be serious AND fun at the same time for a casual audience. My theory is that they didn’t like that sort of juxtaposition.

Once we realized what was happening, it was easy to let go of the need to be serious and just have fun and create approachable, friendly, and casual images for their young audience images and keep the more serious looks just for the corporate-facing images.

My Thoughts

Long story super short, I think we get in our heads a lot during our photo sessions. Instead of enjoying the moment of being who we naturally are, we get in our heads about how well we’re doing in the session, how well we’re looking, how well we’re following the directions of the photographer. That absolutely breeds self-doubt and it can show in your images.

What if we put ourselves in the very situations we thrive best in in our photo sessions?

A prompt?

Instead of really thinking about putting your hand here or putting your foot there for the photo, think about a moment that allowed you to casually smile a genuine smile. Who are you smiling at? Where are you smiling like this?

Reliving memories is a great way of creating some authentic portraits and a great way of keeping your audiences in mind.

Role Playing

For a lot of my professional headshot sessions, I often create scenarios for clients like these:

“Your team has come to you with a presentation and you are actively listening and focused on every single word they are reporting.“

“Your team has met all of their KPIs and you as their management leader are pleased with their progress on the project.”

“One of your team members has some concerning news and you want to communicate to them that you are here to support them in whatever they need help with.”

How would your body language and facial expression look in these scenarios? I know many of my clients, would be leaning towards the camera and really focused in the first scenario. In the second scenario, they would create a pleased look of soft smiling eyes and a small smile. The last scenario would show a bit of a subtle and reassuring expression almost nurturing.

Use Your Memories as Your Guide

I truly believe that putting yourself in these situations can truly bring out your most authentic self. Think about moments at your job or in your personal life that generated a real emotion bring those memories to your session and see how natural you look!

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