Intimacy in Portraiture


Natalie asked me to shoot her headshots for business school. She was heading there in a few weeks, and it was this thing she had to do.

I would be happy to, and then, as per usual, I was nervous too. Because — and this was one of the things I need to get over — I don’t like telling people what to do.

Also, because there’s an intimacy in portraiture. I think that intimacy is doubly present for those who, despite their attractiveness and personality, generally do not like having photographs taken.

And so, if they are uncomfortable, so am I. Because that’s how my empathy always seems to work.

I’d be slightly uncomfortable at first, anyway, because it’s having to make many decisions all at once while also holding that emotional space for the other person, taking a piece of technology made of glass and metal and silicon and synchronizing it to their expression, position, and personality. And deciding where they should stand and how to stand. And sometimes that’s a bit overwhelming, in a way that increases my introverted tendencies to be quiet. Which is usually counter to what is required for a portrait session.

Also, because she made it clear not long after we began, and the first photos were taken, that she just wanted it to be over, as quickly as possible. So that was another variable, like the triangular tension between shutter speed and aperture and sensitivity.

Be Over Quickly held in equilibrium with Capture Natural Expression under Even Lighting in front of Interesting-but-not-distracting-Background.

Well, that was four things now, so not even a triangle from which I would be able to adjust two and pray for the third. I’d have settle for the original three, and it would just take however long it would take, within what I could read from her mood. Just because she wanted it to be over quickly didn’t mean that it actually had to be over soon, despite what my people-pleasing instincts pointed toward.

So I talked, and asked questions, and watched her facial expressions, and framed the camera, and moved slightly, and otherwise tried to make her feel comfortable, and together we found the places at her mom’s house that were surprisingly photogenic.

But just as I was leaving, the porch fence between us, hands naturally resting on the boundary her home, the threat of the camera relaxed, was the most Natalie of poses.

I’d have to think about how to get that sooner in the future — make it feel like it was already over, maybe even before it had begun.

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