There is one thing you need to learn that will greatly improve your ability to capture stunning portraits. I will tell you what it is in a bit. This weekend, after one of the shoots for The EthniCity Project, I suddenly realized something. I was talking to Charles Hawthorne, a genuine english gentleman and I'd just stopped shooting his portraits, we were still standing in the studio area. He was telling an amazing story about from the 1930s in wich his father-in-law managed to scare of a whole angry african mob, set out to execute a captured native, with just his large leather whip. As I carefully listened to the old mans story, I realized that our faces were just around 30 centimeters apart. So close that I could actually feel his breath when he mimicked the sound from the whip. Much closer that you would usually be to someone you'd met just a couple of hours before. Neither I or Charles felt uncomfortable with the close distance.
There is one thing that counts when it comes to building the trust you need to later earn the trust you need to take someones picture. And you do need to build trust beforehand. This is where the awesome photographers differs from the mediocre. The trust will give you the expressions and looks that you need in a portrait. The one thing I´m talking about? Being genuinely interested in the other persons life, feeling and story. Me and Charles where talking for more than an hour before the shoot. With this guy there was no problem being interested while listening while he told me the story about how he met his swedish wife on the foggiest day in history in London.
Where ever you go, the best way to connect with people will always be by actually trying to learn something from them. We all have stories to tell, lessons to teach. When we encounter a person willing to listen to what we have to say, we'll respect and trust that person. Next time you're portraying someone, be a peer at first and a photographer second.