Headshots – A view from the other side of the lens – 5 lessons I learned as a subject

Oct 17, 2016

Alex Lagarejos

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Oct 17, 2016

Alex Lagarejos

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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As a photographer, I’m incredibly lucky to have had many experiences on the other side of the camera; it’s enabled me to have a greater understanding of a photo shoot from the subject’s perspective and has massively shaped the way I handle photo-shoots. If you are in the portrait or headshots business then the vast majority of your clients won’t be professional models and for everyone else a headshot or portrait shoot is a totally alien experience so having some insight from the other side of the lens is hugely helpful for photographers.

1. Take the time to welcome and talk to your subject

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I can’t tell you the amount of photographers who have said a quick hello and then started shooting away, leaving me feeling that I’m playing catch up throughout the shoot. I know that it can be awkward to know how to start a session – I use the opportunity to talk through what we’re going to do, to make sure we’ve discussed what they want from the shoot. I then physically show them how I want them for their first position – it gets me out from behind the camera and breaks that barrier that can seem intimidating to people.

2. Make sure the technical side is nailed down

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Nothing made me feel weird and more nervous than a photographer constantly needing to fix things and fiddling with equipment. If I felt that a photographer lacked certainty then my confidence in them dropped and in turn so did my energy levels.

From a photographer’s point of view I make sure everything I do is definite, even when things go wrong – which invariably they will – I make sure I have backups and redundancies in place to make everything go as smoothly and seamlessly as possible. I’ve sat down and gone through every worst case scenario of a shoot and made sure I’ve worked out exactly how I can put it right quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

3. Don’t shoot in silence

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It can be a lonely place in front of the lens, you feel exposed and nothing about it feels natural – silence only serves to reinforce the awkwardness. Those shoots I’ve been on where the photographer has barely spoken to me apart from occasional movement direction are a horrible experience

As a photographer you’re asking a lot of a person; to expose something of themselves under the glare of studio lights to a complete stranger – you have to give something back too. During a shoot I never let the conversation drop, I find a subject that my client will become animated by. Everyone has a story – your job is to unlock it and listen to theirs. Some people will be trickier than others to get talking so I have quite a few stock stories that I know will get most people laughing and engaged – it may seem contrived but it has been a game changer for me on those shoots where I’m struggling to spark a connection.

The other thing I have is several carefully curated playlists of music for my shoots, music is an invaluable tool when used right – it energises your subject and helps to put them at ease.

4. Schedule your sessions properly

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This has happened to me many times (and is the biggest gripe I hear from my clients about other photographers) – I’ve turned up for a photo shoot and the photographer is running late and then the session is a rush as they try to get back on schedule. I’m already nervous and feel rushed in the door and rushed out. If my photographer is clock watching he’s not fully invested in me.

Personally, I’ve purposely overestimated the time I schedule my sessions for and added a half hour buffer between clients – I know that I could probably squeeze in another client every day if I tightened up my schedule earning me more money but that wouldn’t allow time for clients who are running late or those clients that need longer to warm up. I’d rather make sure that every single client has an incredible experience than chasing the extra money and having to sacrifice my standards.

5. You have to be ‘on’ all the time

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As a photographer, you are the conductor of the shoot. Every aspect of the shoot is in your hands and your client will reflect the energy and mood you bring to the session. Had a bad day? Doesn’t matter! Not feeling well? Deal with it! You have to bring your A-game to every single session; if you don’t feel tired at the end of the day then you’re doing it wrong! If you sleepwalk through a session then your client will too and the results will be average at best.

As technical as photography is, once you introduce the variable of people into the mix then all bets are off. You can have everything perfectly set up but if you don’t make a connection with the human being in front of you then everything is flat. Personally, I love getting to hear people’s stories and love the chance of getting to see a glimpse into their souls, none of which would be possible if I had my head down, stuck staring at the back of my camera.

About the Author

Alex Lagarejos is an award-winning photographer based in South West London. Originally from Glasgow, Alex moved to London as a teenager and pursued a career in the arts; to fund his way through drama school Alex was lucky enough to work as an assistant to some of London’s top photographers where he honed his craft. Now Alex has managed to forge his way as an acclaimed photographer; offering first class headshot sessions in both the acting and corporate world. Commercially, Alex Lagarejos Pho

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5 responses to “Headshots – A view from the other side of the lens – 5 lessons I learned as a subject”

  1. Clinton Blackburn Avatar
    Clinton Blackburn

    This is a good piece. As I tell many folks, my job when shooting headshots is about 10% technical and 90% psychological. When I started, that ratio was inverted, and I would spend way too much time fiddling with camera settings and lighting. My two pieces of advice for new photographers:

    1. Experiment. If you’re shooting headshots, try different lighting setups and poses. Also, work with models of different skin tones so that you understand how your lighting works with lighter versus darker skin tones.

    2. Take notes! Once you’ve nailed a lighting setup, take notes of your settings. You can even (gasp!) take a photo of the setup. This gives you a reference when you forget, and makes it easy to replicate a setup if either you use a common setup for your headshots, or a client really wants his/her photo in a previously-used style.

  2. Dave Avatar
    Dave

    How about no weird catch light in the model’s eyes as in #3?

    1. Angunnguaq Malik Sethsen Avatar
      Angunnguaq Malik Sethsen

      I think a lot of photography is subjective, and even though some lighting setups don’t work with everything, it certainly worked well here, at least in my opinion. As far as I know, the donut-shaped catch light is much more appealing to a lot of clients, since it really draws your attention to the eyes.

    2. Kriztoper Avatar
      Kriztoper

      I would probably do the same thing. There are few clients out there that doesn’t want their wrinkle showing. Ring lights are good in that situation. Less editing, more shooting :)

  3. Michael Roberts Avatar
    Michael Roberts

    Great article! Put me in front of a landscape and I’m all set but put a person in front of my camera and I freeze up.