There's something about being behind the camera that makes you see the world in a different way. The people we meet and the expressions captured is what makes this art form so loved and adored. But being in front of the lens is a whole other ball game. For some reason when we switch from being the observer to the observed something shifts in our minds and we tend to act differently. Models use the "look" and the inexperienced generally freeze up. That's why it's so important to be more than just a technical photographer. The best photographers bring out and capture something that is hidden and in that instant, it's revealed. So how do you do it? What makes people open up in such a way in front of the camera? To make it simple.... it's all about you.
Getting to Know People
One thing I've discovered in my photographic journey is that the business of photography is fundamentally about understanding people. Unless your a landscape or wildlife photographer then this doesn't apply but to all the others out there, it's one of the most precious pieces of wisdom you'll find about the art. The face alone can express hundreds of emotions and stories just with the movement of an eye or tightness of the lip. The amount of change is subtle but is still so vast in all its expressions.
One of the best exercises I've had in understanding people is by practicing street photography. There's just something you tune into when your on the street and looking for that shot that makes it quite zen like. If your thinking about something else while prowling the streets then your bound to miss that moment only calm awareness can capture. Of course street photography is a whole branch on its own but it can be a great tool to build your skills in understanding humans in a passive manner. Plus it can be rather scary as well since it will test your comfort zones when meeting complete "strangers".
Another person who's been really inspiring me at the moment is the work of Peter Hurley. Not only does he take beautiful head shots, he also coaches and explains the art of bringing out the best photographs in everyday people. And one thing I've noticed from him is that he's a very relaxed and confident guy. Not over the top just enough to make you feel good about yourself around him. As a photographer you want to bring out the best in people and show them how beautiful they are. The more you make people feel good about themselves the more they will give you that golden shot.
Know Thyself Young Grass Hopper!
I'm gonna be honest with you. It took me a while to be as social as I am around people today. A lot of introspection, trial and error led me to picking up the camera and being totally ok with it. I still got a lot more room to grow and I'm 100% sure this applies to all of us who want to become a better photographer and even a better human being. If social situations make you nervous then it's time you get yourself into it a little more just to break out of the shell. Your never gonna be a great photographer if your uncomfortable with yourself. Even if your subject in unaware of it, they will feel it subconsciously and the result of your work will show. You can always fake it in the beginning until it becomes your way of being. But always remember to be authentic about it and come across as a genuine person. We have enough fake people is this world so you'll definitely stand out and be way more respected if you simply be yourself or the greater person you want to become.
So remember to take the time to learn about yourself and get to know what drives other people to do what they do. The minute you start to understand people and be in tune with your subject, you'll be miles ahead of many of the photographers out there desperately trying to understand why they just can't get their subject to connect. Connect with yourself first and then create the link with other people. That's the secret to having great work.