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• pictureperfect.co.za DIY photo newsletter

Sex and the camera

When photographing people, whether in the studio or outdoors, lighting correctly and moodily is only half the recipe for a smashing picture. How you relate to - and, as a result, elicit a response from - your subject is as important. For instance, you cannot be cold and distant to people. They will respond in the same manner, and it will show in your pictures.

How you engage with people is a direct function of how you feel on the day. If you feel daring, adventurous and creative, you'll generate an infectious energy. This is bound to spill over onto your subjects and make them feel the same. They'll start projecting, acting, playing for the camera. If you're feeling down, uncreative, you'll probably get the light right, frame and focus perfectly - but your shots would lack punch, a story or emotion.

Of course, you can't always feel on top of the world. Sometimes you're rushed, the light is fading, you are battling with equipment or the framing of a shot.

All these factors impact negatively on your shooting, because it shifts your focus, your attention and your energy from being projected towards the subject.

You need to shut out the technical aspects, if at all possible, and only have space in your mind for the creative. And for this, you have to dig deep into yourself.

Talk to the subject, be a mirror, tell him or her when they look good, and what it is that make them look good. Give them confidence, and they will beam confidence back at your lens. This shifts the focus, in your mind, to the subject, and helps you forget about your own problems for long enough to enjoy the shoot and bring an energy to it.

But having said all this, can one overstep the mark? For instance, if you could take a step back and listen to yourself while on a shoot, you'd probably think you sound a bit like a pervert: "Yes, give me more pout - great! Right - now lower your head slightly - be inviting, tease the camera, I want to see it in your eyes! Shoulders forward, push those boobs forward, flaunt them!"

On my shoots, it frequently goes like that. I trust and hope my models are not offended. It does not seem so. Why? It's all because of the relationship you build with them, your attention, your focus, your undivided interest in them. Even more so - and this is the point of this newsletter - the degree to which you divorce your personal feelings and emotions from your professional ones. This sounds a bit airy-fairy, so I hope I can explain it better at the hand of a practical example.

My model arrives, her boyfriend or husband in tow. Right from the start, I try to set the tone. In full view of the partner, for instance, I would touch her hair, pat it in place or make a suggestion about what we should do with it for the shoot.

Then I would explain where I want my key light, explaining where I want the cheekbones to model light by creating shade. I would almost touch his or her cheeks in explanation, drawing an imaginary line to indicate where the light will fall. Through all this, I would engage the partner, using eye contact and including him or her in the explanation.

But most importantly - I would be within the subject's personal space. My presence there is asexual, my touch professional, my body language saying I have nothing to hide or no ulterior motive for touching the person. I try get the subject and their partner used to this right from the start, because it sets the tone for what comes during the shoot, the way you encourage them, give them feedback and what you say to elicit a response or get a certain look.

What you do, in other words, is establish from the outset that what you do and say is aimed solely at making the subject look better and feel better about themselves. How you communicate this of course is crucial.

If you have their interest at heart, you will not only compliment them but also sensitively touch on their less flattering features. If they have a double chin, a bit of fat around the midriff or a blemish on their face, don't skirt around the subject. Mention that you would like to hide the mole on her cheek, and suggest she turn this or that way to hide it.

Make it clear from the start that you are aware of it, and trying to make him or her look better by hiding it.

I frequently point out a low cleavage to a model, asking her to show less, or move the fabric on her dress slightly to hide or diminish the cleavage. By bringing attention to it openly, you deal with it in a confidence-inspiring way.

Bottom line: the model has to trust you, and you must deserve the trust. Once you have that trust (read: your intentions are perceived to be pure), it gets much easier to lose yourself in a shoot, to get the model to do crazy things, project, pout, be sexy, outrageous and daring. Being trusted allows you to be enthusiastic, being enthusiastic is infectious, and infectious enthusiasm shows in your pictures. It adds the 50% that really makes the picture pop.

Text and photographs Jaco Wolmarans

Model: Tatum Reid
Location: Derde Steen, Bloubergstrand
Nikon D300, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR

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