Ease them into a difficult shoot for the perfect picture

Point a camera at me and I freeze – I loathe having my photograph taken. Odd then that I should be a portrait photographer. It hasn’t always been this good but ‘of course’like all skills, you learn from your toe-curlingly embarrassing disasters.

Like the time I turned up for a corporate portrait and was greeted by the chairman demanding that I must be quick. I needed at least 30 minutes to set up, to which he replied: ‘Good, I’ll see you in 15″. I turned to my assistant, ‘Well, let’s start with camera position…’– my assistant looked at the floor, cheeks reddening – we’d brought film, lights, tripods, everything except THE BLOODY CAMERA!

Identifying the uniqueness of each commission is key to a shoot. Will the military precision of a corporate portrait simply add angst to the gauche teenager, for example?

One day, comedian Spike Milligan’s people spoke with me to arrange a date for a portrait. One of their messages/warnings was to be sure to arrive on time.

Dutifully, I arrived early… very early. So did Spike. There we were, just the two of us, more than an hour ahead of schedule. We introduced ourselves, and immediately fell into easy conversation. We laughed and joked, and somewhat conspiratorially decided to do a few photographs before anyone else arrived, just for us, not the official ones ‘they’wanted. This is more like it, this is how I dreamed it would be… but I still had a lesson to learn. I quickly loaded and rattled my way through a roll, finishing just as all the bigwigs started strolling in. Spike rolled his eyes at me, ‘Here we go”.

Change of atmosphere, official pictures, lights up, a quick test shot, line-up, line-up, click, click, click – thank you very much. I’ll be off then.

But I had loaded the WRONG FILM – aaaargh! Not for the official pictures, they’re all fine – it’s MY picture of Spike where I’ve loaded the wrong film. I trundle to the lab, utterly disappointed, even though the commissioned shoot went like clockwork. My friend Simon at the lab tells me not to worry, he’ll see what he can do. Three sweaty hours later, Simon phones to tell me: ‘It may be OK… just”. Well, I have to say, the results were AMAZING. It is one of my best pictures ever. The film was processed for much longer than is advisable but the result is an award-worthy image that still grabs people’s attention.

Top Tip? Concentrate ALL the time, and just when everything seems to be going well… watch out.

And of course, the most useful tip of all is that which I’ve learnt from my very own reaction to having my photo taken is – put the subject at ease, whether royalty, or the beloved children asked to sit patiently for a portrait for their grandparents. That, and being utterly flexible in terms of whatever situation you may find yourself working in.

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