There's a marked difference between stalkerazzi shots of celebs in various stages of undress and tasteful, emotionally-charged images showing the vulnerability which makes us all human.
When I say I want to photograph someone in a vulnerable way, I don't mean caught unaware as they scarf down fries while leaving In-n-Out. Instead, I'm referring to those moments when they aren't quite sure what happens next. The seconds between, "I've got this" and "My fake face is on, and I'll pretend I've got this."
The image which first influenced my candid, caught-in-a-moment style was a snapshot of my cousin Melissa. Black and white, cropped closely, the composition showed her glancing pensively into the distance with windswept hair. It wasn't posed or practiced. She was blissfully unaware of the camera.
She died in an auto accident just months after that photograph was taken, and I first saw it on her parents' bookshelf years later. I had always remembered Lissa as the life of the party, jubilant, telling jokes, and sharing laughs with everyone in the room. Most photos of her highlight the gorgeous grin as she smiles with her eyes, knowing she's being captured on film. Seeing this contemplative shot caught me off guard. It was like glimpsing into her inner psyche for a brief moment. What was she thinking? What would she be thinking today?
Photographers, how do you elicit such disarming scenes?
In a portrait session, I'll say, "Just tell me about your morning. I need to check the light." Then I snap away. The resulting images are raw, unpracticed, and, often, the best of the day. Or, I'll strike up a more engaging conversation: "Tell me about your last vacation with your family." As they delve into the best memories, I begin shooting, telling them to keep on with the story as I go. As they recall details of the trip, they lose awareness of the equipment, and their real personalities emerge.
Similarly, when shooting sports, I often gravitate to the moments just before and after matches, between points, or during quiet practice sessions far from show courts. These are the times to find Maria Sharapova without the crutch of fashion, Roger Federer without the adulation of 13,000 fans, and, as shown above, Argentina's Juan Monaco down a set.
It's been my experience that those who present themselves as steely competitors, confident in the limelight, are often softer and far more genuine outside the arenas. And those who are nervous and fidgety in real sports action are frequently relaxed and smiling away from center court.
Photographer friends: as we prepare to change seasons and take on new projects, I encourage you to evaluate your methods for harnessing vulnerability. Whether you shoot family sessions, sporting events, weddings, nature, or -- God help you -- celebrities, accept the challenge of rising above the canned poses and standard action shots. Instead, tactfully and respectfully find the still, quiet moments when your subjects are at their most raw, unpolished, vulnerable, and . . . real.
And if you're the subject? Let go. If your photographer doesn't ask you questions, bring up conversations about your favorite dessert, music, or the last movie you saw. Get your mind off the session. Laugh. Contemplate. Share. The resulting photos will be more . . . you.
Photo of Juan Monaco: Andrea Nay, all rights reserved.