Particularly when you’re shooting portraits of celebrities or public figures, it’s important to understand that you’re adding to the story of their brand. It’s obviously a big part of their commercial life so there’s a lot of added pressure, but the process is much the same whether the subject is famous or not.
It’s important to build trust quickly and one way to establish that is to never ask your subject to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself. If I want to photograph them standing on the piano, I’ll ask them by standing on it myself.
This does two things: It demonstrates that I’m prepared to take the same risks I’m asking them to take and it also allows me to understand exactly what it feels like for them while they’re standing up there, so I know how far I can or can’t push them.
A portrait is always a collaboration so it’s also important to make a connection quickly. I usually look for something we have in common: a place, an idea, an interest in something, and I’ll often weave that into the portrait somehow.
To involve them in the creative process, I need to understand what kind of person I’m dealing with. Are they a performer or a thinker? Will they jump up and down on a trampoline for me? Do they hate having their picture taken?
Finally, an important thing to balance is how much of me do I want in the pictures? If you think of a portrait as being like a conversation – how much should I speak and how much do I let the other person’s voice be heard?
It’s true to say, every picture you take is a picture of you. The choices we make, our opinions or points of view, are present in all the work we produce. Sometimes it’s subtle and other times more obvious, but it’s true for all of us.