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I remember my college days, in the Creative Photography Program, and how I struggled with asking strangers to pose for my portrait assignments. Just the thought of approaching some unknown person and asking that they model, no matter how badly I wanted to take their picture, would make me cringe. I was a very shy person back then. Thank goodness, friends and family were always willing subjects, but I eventually reached a point when I needed to move beyond photographing the people I knew well. My favorite people weren’t always appropriate subjects for the assignment. Beyond this I craved the challenge of photographing interesting people I would see in passing.

Through my experience as a portrait photographer, I’ve learned that the keys to taking good photos of people are creating a rapport with the subject, and projecting self-confidence. Without a certain amount of self-confidence it is next to impossible to connect with a subject. Without comfort behind the camera, the person in front of the lens will be ill at ease as well. The strength of my portraits lie in the connection I create, and I am able to get to the heart of the person I am photographing because I desire to capture an understanding of who they are.

The only way to overcome any fear is to confront it, as the thing that provokes the anxiety is often also its cure. If the only reason I’m not trying something is because I’m afraid, than I must do it. Fear is not a good enough reason, especially if it stands in the way of something I really want. It helps if the challenge involves the further development of a skill, such as becoming a better portrait photographer, and the only way to learn or improve is from doing. I couldn’t know if I was a good portraitist if I didn’t try.

I began with asking the friends and acquaintances of my friends. This worked well, because it allowed the inclusion of someone known to both the subject and myself within the session. This created an added level of comfort. The third individual could bridge the gap for me in a way that I couldn’t as a shy and awkward person. If I wasn’t always able to maintain a conversation, or give good direction, then my helper friend could do this on my behalf. This worked very well for me, and helped build my confidence to go it alone in the future.

Asking strangers to pose gradually became an easier task, because people seemed to respond in one of three ways. They incredulously asked, “Why would you want to take my picture?” or they replied with an enthusiastic yes or a resounding no. I’ve found the best way to deal with that first question, is to be honest, tell them I like photographing people, and think they have an interesting look. It usually works. I think everyone has a secret desire to be a model, and it’s incredibly flattering to be asked to have your picture taken by a stranger. When someone responds with a no, I leave it at that. I’m not interested in talking someone into doing something they don’t want to. But it’s not an answer I often get.

Increasingly, I feel my skills as a portrait photographer have been developed through having my picture taken often. It sounds funny, but it’s true. Because of my involvement with a local photography group, I have had my picture taken more frequently than ever before. Simultaneously, I have developed an interest in taking self-portraits at regular intervals to explore various ideas. The result of both situations has been a growing sense of ease in front of the camera. This contributes to how I work when taking portraits, as I now have a clearer understanding of how uncomfortable it can be to have a camera pointed at you. The average person hates having their picture taken, and photographers seem to dislike it most of all.

I love to take portraits. For me, no other subject can compare to the variety of the human face. There is something so uniquely alive in faces, an intangible quality I find nowhere else.

Rachael considers herself an artist rather than just a photographer. Much of
her work is driven by her need to experiment, and she is determined
to try as many photo-related tools as there are available to the creative
photographer. She has experimented with a variety of photo-based darkroom processes, alternative printing techniques, and readily embraces the wonderful digital tools of Adobe Photoshop. Rachael still prefers shooting
with a film camera for the sheer variety that can be found in different
types of both films and equipment. She currently resides in Vancouver, Canada, and is working towards showing her work in 2006. You can visit her portfolio at www.rachaelashe.com.

View Rachael's Photo Gallery

© All photos and articles retain the copyright of the contributing artist. Everything else is copyright Bending Light Magazine 2006. No text or image from Bending Light Magazine may be used without written permission.