On Being Photographed & What To Do If You Are Camera Shy

06 | 11 | 2009

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I can’t tell you how often I hear couples say to me before their weddings—or even at their weddings—that they are uncomfortable in front of the camera, or even that they are (supposedly) un-photogenic.   It’s difficult for me (as the photographer) because I have mixed feelings on this topic.  I simultaneously understand completely, as I generally do not welcome being photographed myself,¹ but also feel that the portrait process is collaborative one, and therefore not only the responsibility of the subject.   It’s important to note that I felt differently about being photographed at my wedding, though—I wanted great photographs of myself and my husband, and I was willing to stomach being in front of the camera in order to get them.

Fortunately, there are several really doable strategies for improving your wedding-day camera presence:

I.  The best place to start is with a good mindset. 

You already want amazing photographs of yourself at your wedding. (Or perhaps your spouse wants them, but you are at least willing to go along.  A groom once told me he thought getting photographed was a lot like going to the dentist, and was only doing it to please his bride).  Wedding photographs become family heirlooms.  And for most people, portraits are particularly important—those are the images that must be worked for.  Richard Avedon said, “A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he’s being photographed, and what he does with that knowledge is as much a part of the photograph as what he’s wearing or how he looks. He’s implicated in what’s happening, and he has a certain real power over the result.” And your photographer is there to collaborate with you, to coach you through the process.  Sometimes, I think it’s a bit strange how we photographers are there coaxing out of people convincing performances of their own real lives.  But that’s the job.  Or the art of it.  My point is that you have a lot of power over how you present yourself … and that you don’t have to go it alone.  Hire a photographer you trust.  And then trust her.  Work with her.

“A portrait must get beyond the almost universal self-consciousness that people have before the camera. If some moment of reality in the personality of the sitter did not happen, you had to provoke it in order to produce a portrait that had an identity with the person. The essential thing was to awaken a genius response.”      Edward Steichen, A Life In Photography

II. Relieve stress—relax.

This cannot be overstated.  People who are dwelling happily in the moment photograph marvelously.  If you are stressed about the wedding or the wedding photographs, it will quite likely show on camera.  Many of my clients have a glass of wine or champagne before we start.  I swear by herbal therapies, including Rescue Remedy, which I think is probably something most soon-to-be-wed couples could benefit from, whether or not they are shy in front of the camera.  Other folks do yoga, or get acupuncture, or go on a long walk the morning of the wedding.  Figure out something that works for you, and actively pursue relaxation.

III.  Be distracted.

God help me, if I could have an invisibility cloak and a pair of wings when I photograph weddings, all my photographs would be blissfully unaware.  But that’s really just not how it works.  If you don’t naturally ignore the camera, do so on purpose.²  Most of the time on your wedding day, there will be so much happening you’d be hard-pressed to pay too much attention to your photographer.  Really, you just need to focus on ignoring your photographer during portraits.  One easy way to do that is to look at your beloved—laugh, nuzzle, dance, gaze into each other’s eyes, go for a walk—and don’t look into the lens unless your photographer asks you to do so.

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¹ Translation: If I can’t do a thumbs-up sign in the photo, I think the photo will probably be terrible.

² I think I just told you that “what you do with that knowledge” of being photographed is an essential part of the photograph.  Now, I am indeed telling you to ignore the camera.

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