In case you missed it earlier this week we did a post on our experience photographing Colin Hackett for LEAP Magazine (Alberta Cancer Foundation). We also said we’d be posting photos of Lisa, another person we photographed (the photos are lower down the page), but we also wanted to talk about getting people, who may be a bit more uncomfortable or wary of being in front of the camera, to come out of their shell After all, everyone has a story to tell, regardless of whether they feel they photograph well or not.
I have to say that at least 7 out of 10 times when I’m in the process of setting up to photograph someone they tell me either that they hate having their photo taken or that they don’t think they can take a good photo. It’s this level of insecurity and anxiety that we photographers have to confront and defeat head-on, and we do this with rapport.
a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.“she was able to establish a good rapport with the children”
synonyms: affinity, close relationship, understanding, mutual understanding, bond,empathy, sympathy, accord“board members fired him for failing to maintain good rapport with the trustees”
As I mentioned, we recently photographed Lisa, an RN working in Palliative Care in Red Deer. Just recently we got a nice email forwarded from her through the art department at Venture that expressed gratitude for the work of the team, the writer, and the photographer,, for making her feel so comfortable and able to step outside her comfort zone and have the experience of being in the magazine. After this I gave a great deal of thought on my actions during that shoot and what in particular I might have done, if different than usual, that would have had this impact.
In that definition above for Rapport you’ll notice a few things in the synonyms that I think are significant. Empathy/Sympathy, Understanding, and Trust.
So, the number 1 way to develop rapport with your photography subjects is…. *drumroll*….
Because the big dirty secret is that there really aren’t any tricks for developing rapport except for realizing that you have to genuinely care about the subject and empathize with their situation before you can put them at ease.
now it’s kind of funny because you could stop reading there, because CARE works as a general word to describe what you you would do to develop rapport, but I also realized you can also break it down into an awesome anagram of a couple principles… and I’ve always wanted to create my own anagram! So… yeah!
Charisma. Expressing your body language in a way that develops trust.
Probably one of the best resources you can read that will help with expressing a trustworthy and caring demeanour, outwardly, is The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane. Initially I was skeptical of a book about charisma, thinking that it was all about your outer appearance towards people and how to fake it. But quite the opposite, the author’s premise is that their is no real way to fake connection – humans are way too intuitive to not notice you’re a fraud. BUT you can also set yourself up in various ways to make sure you’re not presenting nervousness, for example. Let’s say you’re worried about how your lighting is not turning out the way you want it to – well if you’re sweating and fumbling over yourself the subject isn’t going to think “oh he’s screwing up his end of the work” they’re going to assume it’s related to them. Even if you’re just wearing an itchy shirt or something else is bothering you physically, people will notice, and they’ll associate it with something they did and start feeling conscious. Bad stuff. Buy this book, and learn much much more.
Assurance. Reminding them that they’re doing just fine, and that you’re on their team.
If people are starting off nervous you especially need to be vocal that they’re doing everything right. Even if you need to make a whole bunch of changes or ask them to do a whole bunch of things differently, it’s important to state things like “you’re doing awesome, I just need to change a few things on the light, and why don’t we try to turning more towards that direction for a few.”
Also reminding them of a few realities can really help. One thing I like people to know is that with digital instead of film it’s really easy to shoot a ton of images. And really, you probably just need that one. Now the pressure’s off to make everything single one look good.
I find this especially important to helping people open up and do interesting or downright goofy things. At the same time, I present myself as a trustworthy professional – and I’ve got their back, so even if they’re is some really bad photos in there because they’re doing some kooky stuff, I’m not going to screw them over and use a bad photo.
Research. Research ahead of time, and ask questions and be interested during your shoot. Be conversational.
If you care about a person, you probably would ask them how their day is going, or want to know about how it went with that thing that they mentioned last week. Well with a stranger you’re photographing you want have a modicum of that friendliness, and you don’t have time to necessarily play 20 questions. If you research in advance (praise the internet, and read the draft article if it’s for publication) then you likely know what they do already and can guide the conversation in a meaningful way.
Take this example: last week I did a shoot with a business man and in researching him beforehand I found out there was another guy who had the same name as him, though he was much older, but they had an uncanny resemblance. He was a biologist and also in the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame so there was some info I could relate to maybe (former Biochemist/Biologist, and maybe this guy was a huge Riders fan). Course I didn’t know for sure that it was his Grandfather, but I plainly explained that I do a bit of research before and noticed this guy with an uncanny resemblance and asked if it was, and he confirmed and such and then it was nice for him to talk about his Grandfather a bit, and he even mentioned that there a lake was named after him and his family goes for hikes there. This led to more discussion about being in Calgary near the mountains and spending time with his family outdoors, etc.. It’s not rocket science, but I know it can be intimidating with where to start talking when it’s a complete stranger.
BOTTOM LINE: People like to know that you genuinely show an interest in them, and people LOVE to talk about themselves. So ask lots of questions, but let them do the talking. Side note: You still have to be able to read the situation. Example: he could have had a bad relationship with his Grandfather and then I would have had to change the subject to something else.
Empathize. Listen. Let them know you know how hard it is being photographed, and/or empathize with other things they might talk about.
Research was about how to get people to talk and loosen up. If you don’t get the part of Empathy then you might as well not have them talk. The empathy factor could more or less be described as listening (but then the anagram would suck) to the person and putting yourself in their shoes. In particular make sure that you’re not just nodding and saying yeah, yeah, yeah to stuff they’re saying and instead focusing on your photography stuff. You’ll come off as absent and inconsiderate if you multitask, though I know sometimes you must. Take a second and really be thoughtful about what they just said. Take the time to process it, and then respond. Don’t just be waiting for them to finish so you can say something you were already thinking about. Listening is the most important skill to learn in any business. Consider this heavily.
Alright and here endith the lesson on Rapport and the patented* C.A.R.E. method. I hope you found it both informative and amusing.
Below are photos from the shoot with Lisa.
I hadn’t even considered it until writing this sentence, but it’s so perfect that I’m including her photos in an article about caring and empathy, and listing and having rapport with people – because that is one huge part of Lisa’s job. She works so hard to make sure that people have the best environment possible when dealing with a sad and difficult situation in palliative care. She takes care of the families as much as the patients, and she believes it truly is an honour to be there in their time of need. She was so amazing to work with, and I felt honoured to help share her story.
Working in the tight quarters of a working hospital wing was difficult, and being respectful to the patients and other careworkers was of utmost importance. Lisa felt uncomfortable initially, but her warmth and easy-going nature was quite easy to capture in these images once she eased into the process. Thanks Lisa for being an excellent subject. You can read more about her story here.