I've often said (and thought many more times) that photography and filmmaking is so much more than just understanding the technicals of how to operate a camera and all the complimenting equipment. Don't get me wrong, understanding your equipment is paramount, but there's more to it than just that. There's one sure way to stand out above all the rest and most importantly, stay calm and make your subject feel comfortable and relaxed. That's with a genuinely attractable demeanor when you are shooting. Let's examine several ways we can stay calm during a shoot and get the best out of our subject!
Truly connect. Being centered, humble, in touch, passionate, caring and yes, knowledgeable with the tools of your craft makes all the difference in the world. Laugh, play music, smile, tell your story, make eye contact, be confident, connect with your subject. Realize that most people are absolutely terrified of being in front of a camera, not to mention a complete stranger, in dead silence, staring at them saying the words 'Smile! Cheese!" Put yourself in their shoes. If the shoot is documenting a moment of pain, sorrow or loss, be empathetic. Treat them as you would want someone to treat your mother, father, brother or grandmother.
Take authority of the situation. Speak with confidence. This reassures your subject you are a professional and you know what you are doing. Speak clearly. Don't mumble over your words and continually ask for permission to speak. You are the professional. You are here for a reason. Having confidence will put your subject at ease because they will believe "Okay, this person is a professional. They know what they are doing. They will make me look good." Even if you're having an anxiety attack and you feel like your entire world is crashing down - exude confidence. Don't let them see you sweat. Fake it until you make it.
Have a game plan. The day of the shoot you should already have a general outline of the shots / scenes you are seeking to achieve. You should come prepared with all the equipment necessary to achieve these shots. Which lenses will you need? Which camera bodies? Will you be recording audio? What's the plan for lighting? Are all the memory cards and batteries ready? Do you need to pack a breakfast, lunch or dinner? Map out as much as possible, but leave room for the happy accidents. Be flexible enough to experiment, try different angles and explore. Open yourself to the magic of the moment. Be nimble enough to pivot when opportunity arises.
Understand your equipment. It's crucial that we understand our craft and our equipment. Understand how to capture the scene we are seeking to document. That's a given. That's a prerequisite.
If we are fumbling around with the camera not even paying attention to our subject and they see panic and fear in our eyes, this can quickly snowball into a storm of negative energy that can wash over everyone on set. Instead of our subject relaxing and getting into the zone, they could quickly turn to, "This person has no idea what they are doing. This is going to turn out horrible. I'm going to look bad. Why did I even come here today. Etc. Etc. Etc."
Even if we are spiraling out of control internally, because of some equipment failure, lack of knowledge... our job is to make our subject feel calm, confident, in the zone. We are the leader. So breathe, lead and get what we need to get and get out. Do your pregame homework. Experiment. Take notes. Learn from failure. Repeat.
Keep an ongoing shoot evaluation list. Guys, this is a gold nugget right here. I can't not stress enough the power of of keeping an ongoing shoot evaluation list. After we finish each and every project take a few minutes and write down an honest evaluation of the project - what went great and what could have gone better. Odds are there's at least one thing we can do better next time. The goal is not to repeat the same mistake twice.
Perhaps you stayed calm during the entire shoot - awesome! put that in the 'pros' column. But perhaps we didn't bring enough charged AA batteries to the shoot and had to borrow some from the client - record that in the 'cons' column and learn from it. How was the focus? Did we have all the correct equipment? Did we allow ourselves enough time for set up and breakdown? Are there ways we could save time and improve in editing? Did we deliver the final product on time? How was our communication with the client during the entire project? Write it down, record it, share it with someone to hold you accountable!
Last but not least - HYGIENE! As photographers and filmmakers we are going to be getting intimate with our subjects. That means we are going to be face to face, even cheek to cheek sometimes. Whether we're attaching a lapel microphone, fixing hair, giving a hug, shaking hands, patting on the back, lint rolling a jacket, moving in close for a tight portrait... we're going to be in close quarters. So it's crucial that we are showered, teeth brushed, and we're not putting off any offensive odors (and yes, too much cologne or perfume can be offensive).
I recommend carrying some mints in the camera bag, just in case you ate a big onion burger for lunch. Fix your hair (to whatever style that is you). Wear clothes that make you feel good. Be you. Be the total package. Everyone's style is unique to themselves. Embrace your style. Do it 100, whatever it is. Just realize... it's all about making our subject feel great.
To summerize - Listen guys, we are human. We are learning. We are constantly evolving. Hopefully you are shooting because you love it. But even if you don't, and you're shooting because it's your job and just a paycheck... you owe it to your subject to give them the best possible. I'm here for you, hit me with questions or thoughts!
Final Thought - Feeding Our Brain
I'm a big fan of listening to audio books and podcasts that encourage growth, evolution with our craft, self examination, positivity and pursing our natural divine calling. Every episode I'll share with you a piece that's impacted me during the week.
Chase Jarvis 30 Days of Genius! This is incredible and it's totally free! It's 30 different interview sessions with 30 different widely successful creative thinkers. You've got to do yourself a favor and start listening and/or watching this series. Listening to so many, share their struggles and tips for success, it's got thousands and thousands of dollars of value. I love it and listen to the show while I walk, cook, clean, drive, shower and before bed!
I want to hear from you!
What did you think about this episode? What would you like to see covered in future episodes? Please, leave a comment below! Let's keep the channels of communication open.
Thanks guys. I'll see you soon!