Why do I always feel rushed when photographing people?

Q. I always feel rushed when photographing people! What am I doing wrong? At weddings there’s always a time pressure but even on a family portrait shoot I’m very conscious of not keeping people too long and letting the children get bored! – Kathryn W, Yorkshire UK

A. Hi Kathryn, Many thanks for your email, and I know just what you mean! First of all, weddings ARE a big pressure, and they can definitely feel rushed. But I suspect your problem may actually be lack of confidence. You are not alone – many photographers feel the same way – honestly!

You can often rush things because you feel self-conscious, and you feel that everyone is watching you and will work out you don’t always know what you are doing! This is perfectly normal when you first start in photography. It can be a lack of experience thing which often creates a lack of confidence.

And it’s perfectly ok to not always know what you’re doing – creativity comes from working things out as you go along – if you know exactly what you are going to do, how is that being creative?!

Just remember that your clients are coming to you because you can take photos – I assume they’ve seen some of your photos which is why they booked? In which case, they like them, and they want you to shoot pictures like that for them. They have the confidence in you, so you need to have the confidence in yourself. Just believe you can do it! And work out a strategy – a way of working that means you can get those pictures.

The best way to deal with this is to plan everything you can beforehand. Plan your backgrounds, and clothes, and then you can shoot spontaneous things that happen in them. You need to slow down and prepare, so that you can enjoy shooting pictures, rather than worrying about what you are going to do next, which leads to that feeling of pressure.

Here are a few pointers to slow you down at both wedding and portrait shoots

WEDDINGS

1. Do a pre-wedding shoot with the couple in their normal clothes – this will really help them to understand how you work, and you will develop a much better relationship, enabling you to plan the shots they want on the actual day. They are unlikely to have ever had a shoot like this before, and its really good practice for their big day! It will build trust and understanding between you, and make it easier for you to relate to each other and work together. It will take the pressure off them, as well as off you.

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2. Plan the wedding day – design a timetable together. Brides often do not realise how much time things take in the morning – I have written timetables before that start with “7.00am: Get up!” because I have realised she has not left enough time – so we work backwards together. If you help her plan, she will really appreciate it – the trick is not to look like you are trying to control things, but show her you understand how difficult it can be, and if she wants to get certain groups, or other pictures she needs to allow time for things to happen. There are many ways to do this  – all covered in my wedding book (a few copies still available on Amazon – this book was written before digital became mainstream, and the pictures are shot on film, but the planning and ethos of everything is just as relevant today).

3. If it’s a church wedding, drive the route before the actual wedding day, so you know exactly where you are going and can check out anything that may be a problem on the day – remember if you have to drive through a town centre from the church to the reception, it may be much busier on a Saturday.

4. Make sure you enlist the help of an usher at the wedding to find the people for any group shots required – make a list of everyone that is needed – again check out the wedding book for easy ways to do this.

5. Take an assistant if you can. There are plenty of photography college students who will do this for the experience, or find someone you know and pay them a small amount to carry your bags, etc. – it really helps having someone to get you a drink for instance, which will help you slow down! I know you are just starting out, but you will be surprised how many people would love to help you. Of course you will need to add this extra expense onto your wedding prices, but it will be worth it because your pictures will be better as a result – it makes a big difference having someone with you on a wedding.

PORTRAITS

With portraits, you need to think about things differently. If you feel rushed, it may be because you are causing the problem yourself, particularly if you lack confidence.

1. Think of the shoot from their perspective. They want you to be able to take good photos – but these things take time and patience, and if they understand that, they will work with you.

2. You need to talk to them before the shoot about how it will be. I allow between 4 – 8 hours for a photo shoot, depending on the type of shoot. But the clients know this beforehand. Their first reaction can be, “How long? How are we going to fill all that time?!” I tell them it’s a great day out for everyone – its like a personal fashion shoot, where we will choose clothes, and locations, and have loads of fun doing it together. They need to realise its a fun day, not a one hour studio shoot. And even if you ARE talking about a one-hour studio shoot, you should still talk to them about the experience so they understand. (I don’t recommend one hour studio shoots because in this situation you just can’t get to know people properly and it’s way harder to get really good photos of people as they really are.)

If you don’t discuss the shoot beforehand, then they don’t know what to expect, and you come at it cold. They are often really nervous and they are looking to you for direction. You need the confidence to be in control, they are usually more nervous than you – trust me!

3. Many new photographers hide behind their camera and feel they should be spending all their time shooting pictures. Most of my time is spent dealing with people, looking at clothes, locations, talking to them, etc. – 90% of my work is done before I press the shutter. Don’t feel you have to be shooting all the time to justify your job. It’s a process of working with people – relaxing them and having fun. And to do this you need to be relaxed and having fun yourself!

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4. Don’t arrive on their doorstep with a camera in your hand – leave it in the car. Think how you would feel if the dentist greeted you with his drill! Many people are really nervous about a photo shoot. Let them meet YOU first – if they offer you a cup of coffee always accept, because this is a crucial time that you can chat naturally to them while they are putting the kettle on – it makes a big difference. They are often expecting you to line them up and photograph them the minute you arrive – you need to stop that! It takes me at least an hour before I get the camera out of the car – there is so much to do – meet the kids, look at their clothes, walk around the locations, etc. – slow the pace down, let them catch up with you, and then you (and they) will be in a totally different frame of mind.

5. Tell them you’re going to work together and make it all up as you go along – you will find this really relaxes them – because they will be worried that they don’t have the right backgrounds, clothes, etc. and their kids may have been up all night, and the parents are worried they won’t behave – trust me they are going through way more worries than you are! They will be so relieved when they realise you have it all in hand!

6. Children only get bored if they have nothing to do – make it fun for them; make everything a game, keep it short and snappy. If it’s not working in that corner, move to somewhere else – bring in something interesting – like a toy or their bike – anything to refocus their attention.

7. Take lots of breaks to let the kids have a drink and a biscuit (you will need to do this yourself too!). Think of your shoot as sections, rather than one long shoot. It’s amazing how an uncooperative child can be transformed when given a break!

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I bribed Charlie to sit in the chair by telling her she would get an ice cream – her mum asked her how big her ice cream was going to be – and I got some great shots as she showed us!
Right: Charlie takes a break to eat ice cream, and get recharged for the next part of the shoot! (No, she didn’t eat all that – we helped her out ;-))

8. Change clothes several times, and each time you change clothes, change location/backgrounds. So everything is fresh and new. All this builds confidence, and helps you develop a trust with the people you are photographing.

9. Set up your camera the easy way so you don’t have to keep changing the settings – this way you can concentrate on the people not the equipment (it becomes very boring for the client, and they go off the boil if you keep fiddling with lights and cameras).

10. You need to keep up the rapport, and this means working together with the clients, use the camera to record what you do, rather than making it all about the camera.

Annabel x


Feedback

Hi Annabel, You’re absolutely right; I think it’s me and my own lack of confidence that makes me feel rushed! You’ve made me start to rethink how I position a portrait shoot with the client – turning it into more of an experience to get the best pictures. I’ve a family of 9 to photograph soon, so your tips will be so useful. And you’re right they’ve come to me because I photographed their wedding. Must be doing something right then! 🙂 – Kathryn

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