Ice Breaking

I’m taking a break from the fine-art ice stuff to say this: I really like doing head shots. There are plenty of terribly boring head shots out there, but it’s not the fault of the genre; it’s the fault of the photographer. The whole point of a head shot is for someone to be able to represent themselves in the blink of an eye to someone who is seeing a lot of head shots.

Think about that challenge: to present someone accurately in that split-second of first impression. A blank stare and an expressionless face won’t do it (unless that person is blank and expressionless…in which case they probably wouldn’t be getting head shots). Peter Hurley, a far better head-shotter than I, has made this point over and over; it seems every time I see or read something by him, he’s beating the drum about having your subject do something or make a facial expression that s/he would actually make when not faced with studio lights and a big piece of fast glass. That’s the photographer’s job to bring out, and doing head shots is as much about coaxing personality of your subject as it is about exposure or pose.

People get nervous in front of cameras…pictures are so permanent and all; they want to be perfect, and perhaps they are feeling the weight of all those eyes that will be sizing them up from that single image. All the pressure! So it takes a while to settle into a session, relax, get past the tension, and start getting the shots that say what they need to say.

I like the process of getting to know the person on the other side of the camera. I like the process of watching the camera and the lights fade away and just become part of the room, not the reason for being there. I like seeing the first drops of personality ooze through (usually somewhere around frame 28) and then give way to unconscious self-expression. And of course I love hearing a client say, “Oh, that’s a good one,” and agreeing.


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