When I look at a picture of myself, I can point out a million things I hate: my hair is always flat, I hate the ptosis in my left eye, I hate the shape of my brow bone, I have a bad complexion. And I’m a photographer! How can I expect women in front of my camera to feel any different than I do when I have to endure having my photo taken? I know that some men hate having their photo taken, too, and many of them probably aren’t as easy to admit that they hate their complexion or the shape of their brow bone, but I’m sure they think these things.
As in any situation, we photographers just need to start by asking ourselves…what would we want? How would we want a photographer to treat us? It’s a pretty simple, solution, really…to behave in line with the golden rule.
Women usually aren’t afraid to offer criticism about themselves. In fact, we’re downright professionals at criticizing ourselves. So if a woman truly hates having her photo taken, she usually says so upon making the booking with you. At that point, I would first congratulate her on coming to the point of actually making the booking in the first place. That’s a big step!
I wouldn’t have a questionnaire for her to fill out about the things she hates about herself. And I wouldn’t make promises and I definitely wouldn’t mention the word ‘Photoshop’. The instant you say ‘Photoshop’, I guarantee that 90% of women instantly begin thinking of Madonna, Kim Kardashian…any and every celebrity who looks NOTHING in real person like they do in magazines. And they may expect/require you to edit every last hair on their head, freckle on their body, roll of fat on their hips. And before you know it, you’ve aged 10 years infront of your computer editing one session.
Instead, this is how I would proceed:
Upon the first conversation and placing the booking, just assure her that having photographs taken by a professional is different and if she’s never done it before, she will probably love it in the end.
Simply ask: “what do you hate about it?” This will probably lead on to things she hates about herself. But don’t let her dwell on it too long. Ask what she loves about herself. Make notes about all this and keep them to yourself.
When you start shooting, she might behave or seem awkward and uncomfortable. If so, talk to her as you’re shooting. Ask if she feels a certain side is her ‘good side’. Get her laughing. Tell her she looks great. But don’t patronize her. I mean…I know my left eye is droopy from Ptosis. If someone said it wasn’t, that would make me more uncomfortable.
When I edit, I will subtly smooth and ‘suck in’ bumps and bulges. I won’t eradicate them all together because that wouldn’t be natural. But I just do a little work that she won’t even notice and I’ve never had a woman ask to get her muffin top put back the way it was! Of course, I understand that this is a controversial topic and doesn’t work for everyone.
Some tips on photographing women:
For goodness sake. Please PLEASE be responsible with low shots. I very rarely see a photo of a woman taken from down low (looking up) that doesn’t make her look totally unattractive. This isn’t a good angle no matter the size or shape of who you’re photographing. Friends don’t let friends get photographed this way so beware that a loving friend may tackle you at any point should you choose to proceed with a low shot.
On the opposite side of the spectrum. shooting from above (or even a slightly down-angeled POV) can be very flattering for a lady, particularly a fuller figured one. But also beware that this is the calling card of a large lady – this trick has become so well known. Don’t overdo it or you’ll be kind of highlighting the fact that she’s larger rather than minimizing it.
Learn from the red carpet – those poses aren’t accidental. Celebrities have training for how to handle the red carpet photographers. Learn their tricks so you can guide your subjects through poses that will highlight their lovely long legs or help minimize their post-partum baby bulge. And you don’t have to tell them what you’re doing because naturally, that will make them feel self conscious.
One hour with a sensitive professional can change a woman’s view of herself forever.