|Left: an online photo I found. Right: my portrait on the train.|
I have been on the road for a week with my cameras, and on the way back to NY from DC, I met this man on the train. Because I had so much editing to do, my equipment was everywhere....cameras, hard drives, CF cards, a card reader. Asking if I was a photographer wasn't much of a stretch. But this man, a doctor, asked a better question: Did I think I could I make a nice portrait of someone unphotogenic like him? My answer? "Of course!"
We talked a bit about the necessary evil that we call 'social media'. He hates it. I'm not a huge fan either. But I know that you have about 3 seconds, maybe less, to make that first impression with your photo. From there, people will often decide whether of not to read further. As we spoke, I was noticing all of the other stuff I see as a photographer.....the light, the background, the comfort level of my subject as we talk.
In a portrait photograph, one of the first things I notice is whether or not the person seems engaged. Is this a person I could connect with? Did he or she connect with the photographer (we are people too...not just our equipment)? Did he or she put up some sort of guarded 'photo face', you know the one that says "I'm standing here with a stupid grin on my face, what more do you want?" While technically competent, I find most professional headshot photos completely lacking in personality and I think we have moved beyond this in the world of social media today. People want to feel who you are, not just see what you look like.
From the minute we met on the train, N. and I were chatting easily, so connecting with the person wasn't a problem. He is clearly a smart man, with a kind and gentle side that he thinks never comes through in photographs. He told me he usually looks scary in photos. He also told me some interesting things about cancer that I never knew (he's a pathologist), and within ten minutes, I picked up my camera and made the photo on the right.
He was worried he hadn't shaved, and wasn't wearing a tie. Those were the last of my worries and that isn't what I saw. The hand gesture was all his. I saw him do it, asked him to hold it, and picked up my camera all in one motion. I knew I had something in the eyes, and when I looked him up on line later I found the photo on the left.
If you ask me, no amount of shaving or wardrobe will help people connect with you if you don't have a connection through your eyes, or some sort of feeling in your portrait.
So yes, I can meet a random stranger on a train, and make a nice portrait without anything fancier than a bit of conversation.