I've yet to shoot someone who wasn't nervous to have their picture taken. Something about the camera makes us all feel apprehensive. We all have some things about our bodies that we love, and some things that we don't. Some faces we make that we know aren't flattering, some guarded part of ourselves that we don't want to let the world see, lest it be open to criticism. I certainly struggle with an inner monologue that only seems to get louder when the business end of a camera is pointed my direction.
I expect this when I'm photographing people. There's a certain guarded stiffness that takes some time to fall away. My strategy for combatting this is to try to get people to forget I'm holding a huge camera. I talk, I try to get you to laugh. I try to get him to get her to laugh. I start shooting and keep shooting. After you hear 100 shutter clicks your brain starts to move the nerves to the back burner. Then you're just out in a random field in your high heels, or downtown in an alley at 8am on a Saturday kissing your fiancee. This is when the real magic happens.
The photos that really speak to us, the photos that cause us to feel a moment, rather than just think about it, are authentic. Authenticity cannot be created, it has to be experienced and captured. In the old days, photographers had a limited number of photographs they could take. Even the photographers (and clients) with the most resources had to reload their film after a few dozen frames. Before digital cameras became a viable option for pros a mere decade ago, every click of the shutter had a monetary price. If you had a limited number of images you could afford, you'd want every shot to be posed and lit just so. I think of the piles of Olan Mills portraits in frames on my grandparents' buffet. My aunts and uncles and cousins were all smiling, but it's as if someone had coached them how to move their facial muscles into a recognizable smile shape, yet the emotion--the authenticity--was totally lacking.
I call this yearbook face. I HATE yearbook face. Remember getting your photo taken for the yearbook? How many frames did they take? One. When you only have one shot and it has to be perfect, authenticity is near impossible.
It's not that awkward moments don't happen if you just relax and take a lot of frames. Just the opposite really. Sometimes every third photo makes me look like a yawning cat, or Rosie O'Donnel. It's just that when we're terrified to let a single unflattering photo of ourselves be taken, then we never give authenticity a chance. Imagine hitting pause while watching a movie. Even the most beautiful, poised actress looks seriously awkward when stopped at an in-between.
Some shots, though, are pure, authentic magic. Some images make you want to slap your mama and fall in love and sing in a choir. Some images transport you through someones face and into their heart. These images are hard to get to, but when I capture them, it's the best thing I can image. I'm going to do my best to help you relax and then not stop shooting until I've got something great. Then, when I'm editing, I'm going to get rid of every odd in-between yawning cat shot and let the authentically beautiful ones live.
Meghan and Ben were a little nervous. Of course they were. We all are. We took a TON of photos and you can see their real love shine through in these.
Meghan wrote me this afterward:
Libby these are amazing!! We love them! There are so many great ones to choose from. The best part about them is that we look comfortable and that's because you and Hanna (and a little bit of the mimosas) made us feel that way! We can't wait to shoot our wedding with you. --Meghan (Bride)
Which brings me to another point: Mimosas are a great idea for an AM shoot.
Postscript: How cute are the ones we shot in the arcade? (scroll down) This is the exact spot where Meghan and Ben first became an item. I love shoots that incorporate a great memory.