I’d be a wealthy man if I had a pound for everyone I’ve photographed who started the session by saying, “I hate having my photograph taken”, or “the camera doesn’t love me” or just, “I’m not photogenic”.
As a commercial photographer in Newbury, West Berkshire, the majority of my business clients come from the ‘baby boomer’ generation. How they see having a photograph taken is dramatically different from that of our social media ‘savvy’ children, who snap everything and everybody with mobile devices, point and click cameras and video cams.
The acceptance of being photographed, by these young people, probably stems from the totally different mindset about confidentiality and privacy created by social media, with many of them sharing images and detail far beyond the comfort zone of their parents.
Many of my clients come from the coaching and personal development professions where a “glass half full” attitude is actively encouraged, yet they are frequently incredibly negative about the prospect of being photographed and how good they look in pictures.
In an attempt to reassure them I tell them to look in any newspaper or magazine where the journalist wants to put a negative spin on a personality, even the most glamorous and photogenic celebrities can be caught in an unflattering pose, and don’t forget the hundreds of out-take pictures that never see the light of day after a photo session.
I also tell them that to achieve a good comfortably relaxed image, the photographer needs to establish rapport with the subject, and this can’t be done in an instant. One of the biggest factors in getting a good portrait is to put them at ease and the simplest way to do that is by talking to them, so they engage with the person, not the camera.
Any photographer who relies on snapping people as a means to make a living must accept the challenge issued by these reluctant subjects and soothe their concerns with reassurance and quite often, empathy – I know a lot of photographers who hate being on the other side of the camera.
Why do we have this inherent fear of being photographed? There seems to be no scientific word to describe it – the closest I’ve seen to give it a name is, “photographobia” which would seem to be a reasonable attempt at an identity.
Across the globe there are many religions and cultures that for various reasons will not permit their members being photographed, not for fear, but because of the fundamental belief that their soul will be damaged or stolen.
The genuine, but irrational fear of being photographed is far more significant in this age of email, the internet and the social networking explosion that the digital youth have enthusiastically embraced, especially with the reliance on ‘photo ID’ in so many aspects of our lives.
For those who just ‘dislike’ having their photograph taken, I suggest it’s the same emotional disbelief we feel on hearing our recorded voice played back the first time?
Seeing a picture of you, as others see you, appears unnatural and the experience can be a shock and may be a key factor in the discomfort you experience in front of the camera.
We’re all used to seeing our reflection in a mirror but it’s only when we’re photographed or filmed that we see the image that everyone else sees, I believe this is the main reason for us not liking photographs of ourselves.
Seeing your face in the mirror every day, when applying make-up or shaving, it’s familiar to you – it’s the face you ‘know’, so well.
When you see this, stranger looking back at you in the form of a photograph your expectations become confused and because of our inherent dislike for change, the person in front of you becomes an unacceptable substitute for the real you.
Maybe we as photographers, should be presenting the pictures we take in mirror image?
Overcoming the reluctance of such a large number of people to embrace the benefits of a really good photographic portrait is any photographer’s greatest challenge. It requires the eye and composition of an artist as well as an understanding of facial anatomy, but most of all the need for patience to establish the most important relationship, rapport.
If you or someone you know is nervous or anxious about having their picture taken, make sure you find a photographer you are comfortable with and believe that there really is a good picture in everyone.
For business and social media portraits for nervous and anxious clients book a photo-session with me today