When on a location photo shoot with cameras hanging off me like bad jewelry, the question I hear most often is:

“Whatcha doin?” or the variation “Takin’ pictures?”

When shooting portraits, of the myriad comments uttered by the shootee, my favorite and the one I hear most often is

“This is worse than going to the dentist.”

The answer to the “whatcha doin” question is generally easy to solve. I say “I am taking pictures.” This usually clears things up. However, the thing about the dentist is more difficult because we are now in the realm of self-perception and the answer is more challenging. Generally there are two kinds of people – those who enjoy being photoed and those who do not, with very little middle ground.

When I first started this business, a subject looked at her picture and said, “This is the worst picture I have ever seen.”


Since I took great pains with lighting and background, because I thought the shoot went really well and that she looked terrific, I was non–plussed to say the least. I soon came to learn is that she was really saying “I don’t like the way I look in this photograph.”

This is not to say that everyone who arrives for a portrait or a head shot (I will address the difference between these in another blog) has a bad attitude. Most people come looking and feeling good about how they look so it is fun from the getgo.


Almost always I can spot the “I hate to have my picture taken” attitude, but even if I cannot, it is generally shows up with the dentist comment. My solution – have fun on the shoot. I come to a shoot armed with jokes, a sense of humor, open ears and patience.


There are many techniques for lightening the mood, but the overriding principle is the notion that we are going to have fun at your photo session and that you will like your photos.

A sunny personality, being prepared when your subject arrives for the session and knowing which end of the camera to look through (having technical command of the medium) are prerequisites for success. The comments I most often hear at the end of a session are “You made that very easy” or “That wasn’t so bad.” It is fun because I am having fun and by extension so are you.


The same applies to video interviews. Added to the “How do I look?” concern is the “What if I say something dumb?” concern. It can be intimidating to sit in front of a camera, knowing that your words will be captured on tape. We all suffer from this at some level and having patience and taking the time to explain the process will mitigate most of one’s concerns.

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The most important thing I do is to establish a level of trust with my subject. This entails explaining the editing process (you do not have to be perfect in an interview) and most importantly, letting you know that if you say something that you wished had not been said, with me you can take it back. I offer and make good on the offer to “not use things you wish you had not said.” With the knowledge that I am concerned for your image comes a level of trust. Once we have that trust, you are free to say what comes to mind – then we can have fun. If we are having fun, good things will happen. (For perspective, since 1980 only three people have taken me up on this offer.)

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In 2001, I interviewed Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation for the Lincoln Laboratory 50th Anniversary Documentary. With no prompting from me, he started the interview by saying that the most important element to the success of DEC (and any other venture in which he was involved) was making sure that all his employees were having fun. He was not referring to the kind of fun one has at a party, but rather that kind of fun that one has when one is free to explore, to be inquisitive and to feel assured that through innovation and problem solving, quality would result.

When you come to me for a photo or video shoot, you can be assured that you will be received by a cheery, well-prepared me, ready to produce good stuff and have fun as part of the deal.

Can your dentist say that?

Coming attractions:

1- So you think shooting the Olympics is easy?

2- Never say no to your subject – or the model is always right. Can you say that to your spouse or partner?

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