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Nov 11 2015

Who Shapes a Photo: the Photographer, or the Subject?

Portland Headshot Photography - Heather Arndt Anderson
What does an honest photo look like? It might involve looking confident while NOT having a big, toothy smile.

I recently saw this video experiment (“6 Photographers Capture the Same Person But Their Results Vary Wildly Because of a Twist“) and started thinking about past clients I’ve worked with. Fashion and commercial photography is a different animal than what’s shown here, but much of the photography work that comes through Upswept HQ is professional headshots or personal branding–in other words, a type of photo that is very much about the person being photographed.

One of the biggest challenges of photography (and also one of my favorite ones) is the same goal that was stated by more than one photographer in this little experiment: to say something about who the subject is. All of these photographers are accomplished, skilled in technique, lighting, concept, and all created results that, while different from each other, were consistent with their individual understanding of who the subject was.

A question that I always endeavor to ask, in some form or another, is, “what do you want this photo to say about you?” Everyone has a different answer–maybe it’s about who the photo is “for,” whether it’s the subject or another audience. Maybe they want to reveal or emphasize something that they feel is hidden from view. Or, maybe the subject is fixated more on what they want to hide than what they want to show.

It’s about Trust.

Portland fashion photography - Carolyn Hart
A meaningful moment often comes when we just let go and laugh, instead of being perfectly poised.

Ultimately, there has to be a certain amount of trust. The subject needs to trust the photographer enough to show their true selves honestly, and the photographer has to trust what the subject is giving them is true. So, when the subject isn’t completely truthful (as in this video), that of course has a striking impact on the end result.

A photo is certainly shaped by the person behind the camera, but with a more sensitive and collaborative approach, a photo is also shaped by who the subject thinks they are, and what parts of that they’re willing to share–whether or not that’s who they are deep down. In order to for us to really be photographed, we have to truly know ourselves, to be able to be honest with ourselves, *and* to be willing to share ourselves with our photographer.

Perhaps that’s a tall order for a lot of us. But, if we choose to work with photographers that we trust in, we can find some really beautiful, honest, and moving moments.

 

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