I Wish Not To Appear Fat
The man walked into the room and the air evaporated. I turned, not quite certain at what I was seeing. Tweed Herringbone double-breasted jacket. Black and white polka dot bow tie. Horn rimmed glasses and a pocket handkerchief. Self-expressing. Without care for convention. It was vintage chic; a way of dressing that you could only pull off in a major metropolitan area such as New York City or Los Angeles.
This was the chief executive officer.
The day had been a long one but thus far productive. I had just finished shooting portraits of the management team of this multi-billion dollar investment firm. Only one portrait remained; the top dog himself. There he was at the door, looking like some 1940s Hollywood mogul, inspecting the room with an unmistakable air of power.
My first thoughts? Ah-oh, Deloache. This could get tricky.
“So, you are the photographer,” he queried.
“Yes, sir. I am.”
“I do not wish to look fat.”
I would have laughed had I not known better.
“I certainly understand that, sir. I have photographed myself for years and if I can get it to work for me, I know I can make it work for you.”
His response was a mere frown. Clearly, from his point of view, the jury was still out on my answer. And after ten minutes, I was beginning to wonder. No matter what I did, this CEO remained stiff as a board. I pulled every trick out of the hat but nothing worked. I was starting to a little concerned around the edges. I might actually flop on the most important shot of the day.
I kept fixing lights, talking to myself and trying everything to put him at ease. Suddenly, I heard myself saying, “I have to tell you, sir, that I am so very impressed by the way you look. You have an air of a Hollywood mogul and the ambiance of a JP Morgan.”
With that, he looked at me down the barrel of those horn-rimmed glasses and said, deadpan, “George, you are full of shit.”
“Yes, sir,” I shot right back. “All the way up to my big brown eyes.”
Suddenly he laughed. The ice broke and for a brief moment, this hard-nosed executive let me see behind his façade. What I say didn’t surprise me. Truth was that the man dressed in tweed wasn’t the least bit hard-boiled. He was actually a bit of a character who dressed had such confidence that he dressed exactly the way he wanted. So much so that it said, “What do you expect? This is who I am.”
Over the next few minutes, we had made a connection and I got the shots. Although he never really smiled, he did say at the end of our time together, “This has been a very pleasant experience.”
Later, after he saw the portraits, he sent word to me. “I like the photographs. No one has ever made me look good.” What could have turned out to be a disaster ended up being a memory.
Such lessons come with experience. When I paid him that compliments, I was sincere but I was seeking to put him at ease because, without a fundamental level of trust between photographer and subject, the end result will fall short of the mark. Skill with people, listening to what they are saying behind what they are saying and understanding what is uniquely motivating them, often sets an experienced portrait photographer apart from someone just starting out.
It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what your job title is or whether you have no title at all. None of us want to look bad in a photograph. We want the best “us,” the unique individual that we are, to be captured in a way that makes us look fabulous. The camera doesn’t care what profession you have. Nor your history. A good photo simply captures the best “you.”
To capture that kind of shot requires trust. The responsibility for building that kind of trust lies on the shoulders of the photographer. In this, I seek to go every extra mile, even seeking to see what my clients see about themselves. For example, if I know that a potential client had some shots taken already but is not happy, I will say, “O.K. I am going to give you some homework. Send me the photos of yourself that you hate and tell me what you hate about them.”
After they send me the shots, I tell them, “Then I want you to get on the Internet sites, such as Google Images, and find some photos you really love. Send them to me and tell me what you love about those images?”
When they ask “Why,” I tell them, “I want to see what you see. All of us have some image in our mind that we believe is the perfect image.”
Invariably, as they tell me what they like and don’t like, I start hearing what they are seeing. “I like how this shot makes me feel free.” Happy. Strong. Successful. Youthful. Adventurous. “I like how that head is turned.” “The dramatic lighting.”
My goal is to understand that their vision. Once I see what they are seeing, I can create the best photo they have ever in their lives.
As my clients and I do this homework together, what they often don’t realize is that I am always a few miles ahead, envisioning the shot. In fact, I have found that the perfect portrait is usually already created in my head before the client sits down in front of the camera.
Homework? Of course, I do this with my clients at no charge. It is all part of the customer service and building trust. Being best in your field takes this kind of commitment, understanding and effort. For me, it is sheer joy. It is what I love to do.
Horn-rimmed glasses included.