How Using Empathy Made Me A Better Portrait Photographer

“A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.”

Edward Steichen

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The Client That Helped Me Find Empathy (Without Him Even Knowing)

One of my most memorable headshot sessions was with a guy who contacted me last year in the early days of The Headshot Studio. He actually missed his first appointment (this rarely happens), I just assumed that he was busy and it slipped his mind. When he arrived (after re-arranging) I noticed that he found it hard to make eye contact with me.

The more the session went on, the more I realised how nervous he was. He couldn’t wait for the photoshoot to end - so much so, that he left without even viewing the photos, “can you choose a couple for me?“ he asked. He paid for 2 images and left. It was when I was retouching his images, photoshopping out his sweat patches from under his arms, that I realised just how nervous he was.

Funnily enough, his headshots looked fantastic and he even emailed me saying “wow I actually look ok” - I wanted to reach into my monitor and give him a hug.

Although I never had an experience like this before or since (this was an exceptional case), I vowed after that day that none of my clients would ever have to feel like this at my headshot sessions again.

Trust

I think it’s easy to forget that as a portrait photographer, there is an element of trust from my client. Sitting on my stool with the lights, I understand can put people in a vulnerable state of mind. I’ve managed, through empathy, to help my clients ease into the sessions, to feel relaxed and enjoy their photoshoots. Simple gestures like background music, offering tea and coffee, asking about what they do for a living, conversing about current events and pop culture all help my clients ease into the session, which results in engaging headshots and portraits.

On the other end of the scale, some my clients get really comfortable with me, and like to offload, if they’ve had a particularly testing week or even personal problems. I don’t mind at all, I’ve always been a great listener, and if I’m able to make people feel better as well as provide some great headshots - its job done!

A Collaborative Process

I think 20th Century Portrait Photographer, Edward Steichen put it best:

“A portrait is not made in the camera, but on either side of it“

I admire all of my clients as most of them are stepping out of their comfort zones, but they understand the importance of a professional headshot and how it can benefit their careers.

Sometimes my clients even suggest poses they like, either from our portfolio or images they’ve seen around the web, which is great! I do what I can to coax the very best headshots out of people through posing and happily everyone is game!

Apart from my early experience, I’ve never had a client that hasn’t smiled at the end of their session - Long may that continue!