On Encouraging Comfortableness

"People tend to freeze up so much when the camera is pointed at them, but in your photos they're really expressive. How do you get them to feel so comfortable with being photographed?" asked my new friend, a San Francisco videographer http://vimeo.com/fennykuo.

I thought this would make a nice blog topic. Well, when it comes to baby photos, babies aren't self conscious yet. Their happy expressions are a optimal combination of: Full Belly, Clean Diaper, Post Nap, Silly Parent Faces and Fun Noises. I do join in the antics, but I'm afraid I must credit parents for the best baby smiles. On my end, it's all in the timing.

Tots are similarly not self conscious. But they are often incredibly suspicious of me. I get incredulous looks from tots. I frequently sing songs for tots, make animal sounds, and in one unique case, I've quacked to an anonymous duck on a cell phone. I think once tots see that I am a silly harmless person, they are less shy. Same with kids, except the silliness is more verbal, such as asking: Do you see a dinosaur in the trees behind me? Is there a bird on my head? Or asking names of stuffed animals and such, or suggesting: Why don't you give Daddy a bear hug? Do some jumping jacks and I'll take jumping jack pictures! In short, with kids, it's making the shoot fun on a kid level.

Grown-ups. My first contact is most often via email. I try to project friendliness and openness through my introductory emails - every first email is personally written; not some form in which I switch out names. I'm pretty sure potential clients can tell (I can tell when the photo request is a form email, sent out to several photographers). I keep my writing style as informal as possible without being unprofessional.

Upon meeting, Adults are the hardest to get to relax. They've spent decades accustomed to posing for pictures, and are well aware of how they look in photos, have high levels of self-consciousness. Often parents with babies are quite happy to be silly with their children and pets. In this case, I have babies/ kids/ dogs to thank for making adults smile.

When it's just grown-ups on their own, photo personalities vary from Identical Facial Expression With Frozen Smile In Every Photo no matter the camera angle, to Um I'm Still Here You Can Stop Smooching Now. Most of course, fall somewhere in between (though more often, men fall into the former extreme than women). I try to converse, more than just weather small talk. Find some commonalities - for instance, a man for whom I did head shots was happily surprised to learn that I too play ultimate, and another that I am a UMich alumni. For others the similarity is growing up in Asia, having a dog, enjoying craft fairs, or liking my mod patterned rubber boots (Kamiks, they're awesome for San Francisco weather!)  Finding commonalities makes everyone feel more comfortable. Maybe that's obvious for friendships, but it's good for photog-client relationships too.

I enjoy opportunities to joke and laugh at embarrassing situations, like when I accidentally leave my lens cap on, stumble over stuff while backing up, wind up standing in the ocean when a wave comes up the beach unexpectedly, crouch in uncomfortable positions for a shot, get licked on the teeth when the family dog sneaks into the room and I'm peering through my camera, or when my ill-fitting flash diffuser is flung across the room and rolls under a credenza (yes all of this has happens, perhaps even regularly). In short, I think that My being comfortable relaxes my clients. Photo shoots are Not Stuffy with tightly controlled direction on my part, with piles of expensive equipment on tripods that your kids could knock over. Much of the nervousness comes from such preconceptions. Getting clients to forget about ideas of what a shoot is Supposed To Be Like - and instead, Having FUN, is reflected in the candidness of the photos I take.

If all this fails I say: Do you have a cat / dog? Think of him / her.

(Mode Change) Cute kid and babies! This was a mother's day special, a series of mini-shoots for a mother's play group. They're smiling because of their moms, of course.