“Click, talk some more. Click, talk some more.”
This is portrait photographer Lou Freeman’s mantra as two students tightly shadow her on a recent shoot. These young photographers are looking for a break into high fashion portraiture. While Lou knows them to be talented in the craft, their biggest obstacle can be themselves — specifically, their tendency to get shy when they’re behind the camera.
“Most photographers don’t know how to talk to their models,” Lou says in an interview with AfterDark, “They don’t realize that it’s their job to communicate with their subject and bring their subject’s best attributes out.”
Lou, a veteran portrait photographer and the second-ever woman to shoot for Playboy, describes a common occurrence: She thinks her assistants are ready to start snapping photos, only to find that, once the camera is fixed on a subject, the photographers grow silent with stage fright.
Forcing her assistants to overcome their butterflies and “work the situation,” Lou is as hands-on with her mentees as she is with her own subjects. She cuts to the chase — tearing down the barrier between herself and her subject quickly in order to make a stunning portrait.
“You just got to get in there and communicate. It creates a better rapport between the model and the photographer if everybody’s talking.”
Lou notes that as you keep the conversation going throughout the shoot, your subject will relax into poses and expressions that are natural, confident, and alluring. The closer the interaction is to a normal social setting, the more realistic your subject will be in your frame. Necks and shoulders loosen, weight shifts, the head arches back with a genuine laugh. This free movement allows Lou to find the most beautiful angle and bring the viewer’s eye into the image.
Small talk not only puts models at ease and makes for better-looking photos overall, but it also allows the photographer to tap into what makes a person unique — and this authentic capture is what will intrigue a viewer.
Looking to find that special spark, Lou makes sure to listen to what her models say, pay attention to them off-camera, and inventory their quirks. With this strong communication on set, the personality and defining characteristics of a subject more easily shine through the lens. By keeping conversation moving, Lou uncovers the qualities she wants to capture in that person — a wry sense of humor, a playful wrinkle of the nose, or a powerful stoicism.
Lou prods her assistants to dive in and mirror her high-touch involvement on a set. She checks their shots, requests new lenses, and keeps them chatting, hoping to see a boost of confidence when she lets them go to try it on their own.
“Everybody needs a little push,” Lou explains, “and they want to be pushed!”