Like many professions, the things that can be learned or taught in a classroom are often not the most valuable skills a photographer will need to build the kind of career one needs to be able to support yourself on the proceeds from your art alone. Photographers frequently need to be dog whisperers, child psychology experts and a host of different kinds of therapists and counselors.
It’s easy to understand how this is true shooting family portraits; dogs just don’t understand the need to pee before you spend 20 minutes getting the two adults, two pre-teens, a toddler and an infant all perfectly posed; and that toddler – who loves posing momentarily for a random Facebook pic for mom – has no idea why she is being asked to sit still and smile again and again and again for a total stranger. But what about the Bride on her wedding day who, when given some time to think about it while you are shooting her pre-wedding photos, suddenly decides that perhaps her soon-to-be groom sitting in a room just a few doors down is not actually “The One”? Or the High School Senior that suddenly blurts out that she’s 3 months pregnant in the middle of her senior photo shoot?
Like hairstylists, photographers seem to have an interesting way of being made instant de-facto therapists by their clients. Perhaps it’s that photographers, like hairstylists, give people the one thing that deep down we might all want more than anything: to be seen. Not just glossed past visually, but really, truly seen as we are, and for who we are. With hairstylists, it might have something to do with actual physical space – it’s hard to imagine that anyone that close to us physically could not genuinely see us for who we are – and so we open up to them in ways we might not do with even our closest friends and family members.
With photographers, the reasons may be somewhat different but the effect seems much the same. While a photographer might not invade a person’s physical space the way a hairstylist does, they do in fact quite literally shine a light and point a lens at people in such a way as to leave little doubt that they are genuinely seeing everything. But I think what really makes us open up to total strangers like photographers and hairstylists, is that unlike our friends and loved ones, we don’t feel judged by them. We feel evaluated by them, but somehow we know that when they evaluate it’s always for the purposes of helping us be better – which we know (or at least believe) they have the expertise to do. We almost never question our hairstylist’s desire to help us be beautiful or our photographer’s desire to look our very best in our photos.
And maybe there are some life lesson in there for the rest of us. If people practically bend over backwards to open up to those they feel genuinely seen by and even more importantly accepted by, might that give us some key information that helps us in our own relationships? Here are a few things I think we can learn from photographers that might help us interact better from our fellow man:
1. Don’t make a suggestion…
…unless you genuinely have the skills necessary to help make an honest improvement.
2. Make sure the person you want to correct knows that they are genuinely seen and accepted
Before you try to help someone, let them know that what they’re already doing is good–and that you are trying to help them, not change them.
3. When you’re angry at someone or just not “feeling the love” – try and look at them the way a photographer would.
Try to create the very best possible light for them to stand in, and the best background for them to be shown against in a way that showcases and highlights their best features. Chances are good that when you choose to look at them that way, they will start to look better to you in a way that helps you “feel the love” once again.
Featured photo credit: epSos .de via flickr.com