Directing Subjects


Capturing Authentic Portraits


Lesson Info

Directing Subjects

The direction is coming from considering the person. This is another friend. It's not random direction. What I mean by that is, it's like well I direct everyone the same, I'm kind of casual and down to Earth. Like you said, it's mapped out. Jeff Lipsky, he's a great photographer. I know these things, He's traveled to east Italy recently. He lives in Venice Beach, he has daughters, he's a ski bum, he's a fly fisherman. So all my directorial tone and voice is coming from that space, are you with me on that? Because I'm thinking of knowing. There's times when you don't know, but I try to find out as much as possible and then that shapes the direction. So here are a couple things from the guide. I'll read 'em from here. I know we can't see them there but you guys can get this stuff, you can get it online. So let me do this direction area. One of the things I'll say to people often is there's nothing that you can do that's wrong. And people really want, 'cause it's like is this okay? Is it ...

okay if I stand like that? What about, and I'm like, you know say it's a guy, I'm like bro, there's nothing that you can do that's wrong. And sometimes I'll tell a story. I'll say like sometimes we'll do something that will be silly, like I'll ask you to click your heals. And you'll go like this. You know and maybe I'll even take a picture of it just for fun. But here's what will happen, you'll click your heals, and then you'll kinda reset like that, and there'll be a really cool photograph. And so we'll just try things out. And I also let them know, if we do something I'll give you permission to delete it, like if we do something silly. You know and I'm asking him within range. But I let him know it's okay, you can be you. We're gonna experiment. I'll say things like I don't need you to be a model if they are a model like models are really tough to work with for portraits, and we'll work with a model later today. 'Cause what models do is they have a look. They practice the look, they've seen it. They're like pros. So what models will do, they tend to do, I'm way exaggerating here, but they'll tend to give you the look. And they'll move a lot 'cause they know that really reads on camera well in that space, but usually models aren't hired to do portraits, right? So if you don't work with a model, just think of someone who moves a lot and in their insecurity, they're like well I need to give Chris range and looks and all this kind of stuff. And say I just want you to be you. And let's try to get there. I talk about the eye contact. I'll tell them, you know too much eye contact, glassy eyed and tired, get them to look away. Ask the subject to breathe. Every shoot I think I've ever done, I'll do breath and think about breath for a second. You know people say like, I think maybe Kenneth or someone said to me before Kate went on, they said take a deep breath and do your best job. Great advice. Let's do it now, take a deep breath. You know, you're more centered, more in tuned. If you look into the studies on meditation and breathing I mean it's scientifically proven that kind of breathing shapes the chemistry of your brain, your everything. Getting people to breathe, my secrets probably are conversation, breath and movement. If you want to know all my tricks, that's it. I get people to move, because when they're too stiff, then you just get them to move and that loosens them up. Breathing gets them centered and conversation gets them somewhere else than just self-consciousness. I did actually ask it, ask them when they faced a difficult situation and how they got over it so if you're looking for that kind of strength and you can even talk about that. Yeah, I had to file for bankruptcy. How did you get over it? Well I had this one person who helped me out and that's how I recovered. You don't always go deep and dark but sometimes ask them to think about someone they care about. My friend Chris Lieto the triathlete guy, those triathlete guys what they do is they swim two miles, bike 110, and run a marathon. It's intense. So in the marathon, that was the weakest link of his race. He's one of the best in the world. I would say, what would you do when the race falls apart? You get a blister, and the blister can put you out of the race. Because you've been going so hard and so far. He said, "It's cheesy, but I think about people that I love and that love me. I love my son, I love my wife. My wife loves me." Getting that gets you from falling in that rut and pulls you out, so you can do that. When I'm excited about something, the lights, or the location, share that enthusiasm. Like, Oh my gosh, this stuff, this is so good right now, wait stay right there. So you want to share some of that. And resist the temptation to show them the LCD screen unless you feel it will help. Most people want it out of insecurity, and you don't want them going there because it doesn't ever look good on a small screen. Whatever you see. And I'm going to say 50% of photography is post-production. I try to get it on camera right as much as I can and I'm talking post-production it's the little icing, it's the little thing you do. You resist that. You get them here, not down here and in the self. And then I say lastly, you gotta have some hope too that you can do it, you gotta believe that you can do it. John Steinbeck wrote about one of his characters Doc Ricketts, and he said, Doc Ricketts, he was at ease with the world that put him, excuse me. He was at ease with himself, and that put him at ease with the world. So if we are at ease with who we are and our world, it puts people at ease with us. Law of attraction, all these kind of things that people talk about. But that is our task. Even at the lunch break is to say I'm just comfortable in my own skin. Talk to someone, it's very different then like, Oh my gosh, I can't believe I'm here, I don't know what to say. But that's reflected in how we do this stuff. Alright, Directorial Style. There's a lot of different ways we could caricature how we direct and provide feedback to someone. This stuff's in the guide as well. Let's just talk about this for a second. It could be you're kind of zen in how you direct someone. Maybe you do meditate a lot and you do practice Buddhism and you're just you're very at peace with you and the world and if that's your style, to usher someone into that, do that thing. Or maybe you're kind of like an adventurer, like Yeah we could do anything, let's go up to the top of that hill there and we'll do something, or maybe you're more of a conductor. And there's a rhythmic nature to your style. Or maybe you're like a tree, like the giving tree. Or like a tree that just provides shade and shelter. Or maybe you're like a painter. Painters when they paint a portrait, it's very calm, very slow. Very still. I think some of the most common ways that we direct are perhaps like puppets, animal trainer, or trying to sell or convince someone of something. There's good and bad with all of these. So the puppet thing, occasionally you'll hear people say it's like there's a string attached to their shoulder and you pull on that string, or a suction cup on their face you tilt their face this way. I think that can work in certain types of photography. But if someone did that to me, photographing me, and said, I'm going to put a suction cup on your face and tilt it I'd be like, okay, like it was nice this was fine, I'm out. I'm not giving anything. But you can direct of course. There's different things like shoulders, you know, are very easy, you can say, hey there's shoulders here, why don't you tilt one of your shoulders to me and so that is a puppet move, right? But it's a little bit more of like the old guy with the puppet who loves his- you're like hey let's do this little dance together. You want to think of that spectrum, that swing. The sales thing, you're trying to convince someone of someone, we've all seen photographers, oh yeah, they kind of lay it on too hard, too much, too thick. But you can say, hey I have this great idea. It would be wonderful if we did this thing together. Here's why I think it would work. So finding that pitch and timber, and then finally the animal trainer. I think sometimes, I probably would get in trouble for saying these things but who cares. Sometimes people will be like, sit there. Alright, turn your head, sit up pretty. Good girl! If someone ever said Good Boy to me, I'm out. I literally walk out the door. I would not work with that person. If it was fashion, sure. If they're trying to create my portrait for something, I would feel like whoa, whoa, wait. But they could be an animal trainer in a different way. And this is where one of my secrets came in. The Horse Whisperer. And if anyone's seen this movie, but the real horse whisperer, the guy the movie is modeled after is this guy named Buck Brannaman. And this guy, what he does is he works with troubled horses and brings them to a better place. And he doesn't actually whisper to them but here are a couple things about this guy we need to know. And if you watch the movie on him, or look him up on YouTube, you'll learn more about portraiture than anywhere else so that's the secret source. And what he'll say is, he had a father who was abusive. He knew what it was like to be terrified to have someone who could inflict pain or harm on him when he was he was adopted by another family who had horses. Because of that hard experience that he went through in his life, he has this really unique way to connect. He says, instead of roughing them up, think of a horse as a partner. I think that's true in portraiture. Instead of, I'm going to do this, no, we're collaborating, we're partners here. It's not pushing and pulling. It's understanding, honesty. He says I don't ever use gimmicks, martingales, tie downs, hinge nose bands, all these other things, he doesn't use the gimmickry. Like you can use in photography. Annie Leibovitz, the great portrait photographer, says I never ask someone to smile. Which is a fascinating question. We all ask, say smile, say cheese, whatever. I never do that. If they smile, she captures it. She doesn't use gimmicks to get there. And he said you can't just give horses carrots. In the long run, bribery doesn't work. You can't bribe them, they see through that. And try to translate this to photography. Understanding, he has a lot of that. He said, I'm still making a lot of mistakes but not the same mistakes I was making 30 years ago. The progress or the growth is one that in this space, if you decide to adopt like, I want to do this kind of thing, you're always going to make mistakes. But you'll grow past the ones that you used to make. And that's the beauty of it. This isn't about perfection. I think studio photography is a little bit more like that. Lights here, boom this is it, I got control. And that's an amazing art. You can use that. But we're kind of shifting this in a little different way. And then he's really grateful for the chance of what he gets to do, this sense of gratitude. I think all of those things, if you watch him interact with horses, and these are horses, people will come to him and say, this is our last stop. If this doesn't work, we're going to have to say goodbye. And he brings the horses back from that and reconnects them, it's beautiful. I like to think of that in portraiture. This was in jest but someone said to me once, You're like a horse whisperer with a camera. What's the horse whisperer? So then I had to look it up and I was like, Yeah I want to be like that. Maybe it'll be the person who will say, I'm not photogenic. I don't believe that. I believe we all have some light in there. And I believe it's our job to figure out how to find that, bring that, draw it out. There are other ways to make the connection. This is a classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. I'm just trying to give you these weird perspectives on it. A lot of people right this off because it's cliche. But the cliches have these deep hidden truths. Become a friendlier person. Show respect. Begin with praise and honest appreciation. I think if we go back to some of these type of things, we'll gain some stuff. This is some content from that book. We all hunger for appreciation. Isn't that true? We forget about that. Just appreciate people, it's really simple. Flattery is counterfeit, it doesn't work. Flattering people may give you that quick look but normally you're not going to get there. Everyone we interact with we can learn from. I like this one- ask questions that other people enjoy answering. I had that photo shoot last week I was telling you about and I started to ask about these really deep questions. It was a great conversation, but it didn't translate to photography, because she was so troubled by the questions. I was like yeah I need to shift this, I'll ask that after the shoot's done. And there's ways to ask questions that people really enjoy answering. This where we keep in mind that empathy aspect of what we do. This is a picture of me that someone took after my kids buried me in leaves. And the way to develop that empathy is to be photographed yourself. All photographers say I would rather be behind the camera. Of course! But how can you ever learn how to connect unless someone photographs you? So if ever anyone says, Hey Chris can I photograph you? I'm like, sure. Because I am learning. And I'm reconnecting with, oh my gosh, I was so nervous because I had this cut on my face, thinking like, are they going to see the cut? I'm like, wow, I totally forgot that's what it feels like. And the empathy we gain through that experience, think of the horse whisperer, he is empathetic because of his life experience. The more we have of that, the better off we'll be. A lot of times people say, how do you find people to photograph? We talked about that, your interests and everything, how do you approach them? This again is pulling from the guide. But most importantly I think the thing to keep in mind here is be who you are. Be yourself. Your authentic self is always better than an imitation of someone else. Be casual, don't over-do the pitch. When you find someone you're trying to photograph and you say, can I capture your portrait? You don't have to over-sell it. Can I capture your portrait because I really need it you know, people kind of freak out at that. Wow, you're a fisherman. I've always respected fishermen, could I capture your portrait? Or have an excuse. Have something to blame it on, and I give some examples in here. Hey I'm taking this online course with this guy named Chris, he wants to create these portraits, I need to do five of these, I'm supposed to create a portrait of someone who works in an industry that I really expect which is ranching, that's what you do, could I photograph you? Once you blame it on someone else, all of the sudden, could you ever help me out? That gets you that connection. Be clear, explain who you are, what your type of work is. If I approach someone, say, Hey Kenna, can I capture your photograph? The next question is, for what? Why, what does it look like? I know all those things, I want an authentic portrait, I want someone I admire and respect, it's like, well, I'm developing a new portfolio. And I'm doing this one which has to do with people who I think are thought-leaders. I think you're one of those. The type of portrait I'm thinking of is really clean and simple, black and white, you in maybe a black dress on a black background so it's just really focused on your eyes. I don't know, I'm making this up. When you're giving that much information, it's much easier for that person to respond to it. If you just say, Hey can I take your picture? They have no idea what that means. You know what that means. So you have to bring them with you. Be thoughtful, honor their response. A lot of times you can do this, in here you'll see I have some suggestions which are things like ways to pitch, some scripts to follow. Let me read one of them. Hey I'm working on a photography project photographing people I admire and respect. You're one of those people. If you're up for it, it would be an honor to be able to photograph you in this workshop. Would you mind coming up? It says if you don't currently have the time, or you're not interested, no big deal. So you give them the out, and if you give them the out, they'll feel respected, right? Same thing too with people who want your time. Like hey could we meet? Could we meet in the next three weeks? Usually the answer is yes. Can we meet right now? The answer is always no. Give them that out, be thoughtful. Be bold. I think you have to be bold. You have to take the risk to approach that person that you think is intriguing or interesting and you have to say, you know what, deep breath, I'm going for this. Otherwise, portraits just don't happen. They don't happen passively. They don't happen across the street. They don't happen a long way away. Couple non-verbal things. With this, there's this guy named Joe Navarro, he has this book called What Every Body wait what is it? What Every Body Is Saying. Every and then Body. And he's an Ex-FBI agent. And he's an expert in non-verbal communication. Some of the things that he'll talk about with this is is this idea of there are all of these things which are conveying tension or distress. Let me go through them quickly because you got to identify these as you're shooting with people. Whenever we point a camera at someone, we freeze. My friend was talking about, she was hiking recently and came upon a bear, and she froze. When we know that's a natural response if a big lion walked in the room, we would know not to move fast, we would freeze. So freezing, or holding tension in, is something we naturally do. If you're to go to your boss, imagine this, or friend, for a big project you have, and you have to say I failed at it, it didn't work. So and so, I failed. We tend to brace ourselves a little bit your core actually tightens. Because you're bracing for impact. And so often we're doing that, we're getting ready for something to happen. So how do we identify that? Ventilation, that means this. We've all seen that. If someone does this. And it's usually casual, it's not that obvious but they're like okay yeah I'm ready to shoot. Kind of do that, you're like, okay. I need to work on getting them at ease. Guarding. Whenever someone touches their neck. They're guarding, they're kind of protecting from you so you can even do things just to, with their hands and whatnot. And their chin dropping down is often a sign of uncomfort obviously if someone isn't comfortable what happens they tend to go down. Gravity when you are happy, everything opens up. In meetings, they've done all these studies that in a conference room, when you're more at ease, your fingers spread. When you see a friend, you go up. Obviously we know that when you win something, all those TED talks we've watched, people even who are blind, you go up and high. We're thinking about that. Lungs expand when you're relaxed. Breathing two people when they are in sync with each other their breath is the same. This is true with romantic partners or just in life. That's where I was talking about rhythm and connecting with people, even the breathing. So I'm paying attention to how they're doing that. Can you imagine the horse whisperer? Is he doing that with those horses? You better believe it. He is doing all this stuff. He's reading that amazing animal. Pupils are dilating, expansive behavior. Sometimes if someone isn't quite there, you can lead them there, right? So, posing, strike a pose. You could just be like, hey, put your arm up on that wall. Sometimes you can read, they're not ready to put their arm up on that wall. Or that gets them there. Even if it's a bad picture, or just stretch out your hands. I think I did that with you guys, didn't I? Breathe, roll your shoulders, that's just an opening, relaxing, thing. So non-verbally approaching subjects, this is an art. This is worth reading about. That kind of book, it's about, it's kind of a business book. But whenever you can rip off truths that you can apply to your craft, you do it because it gives you an edge over other people. I talked about this idea of Isopraxism this is mirroring. This is, whether we do this in breath, movement, rhythm, posture and tone. If we mirror each other's postures and behaviors it leads to amazing places. Richard Avedon in the American West the way that he photographed those images, is he would, and I talked to one of his assistants who worked on that project, eight by ten camera, white backdrop, and you have these subjects who are just real people from different walks of life. What he would do is he would go under the camera, pull off the dark cloth and just throw it back so the person would catch it. He would stand there and he would look at the subject. He wouldn't say anything and he would just kind of assume posture. The person, not knowing what else to do, would assume the same posture. He would do these things, if you look at his postural or posing work, I don't like the word posing as you can tell, it's brilliant. It's all done by the sense of mirroring. We are the mirror for what we're trying to create. The more we can do that non-verbally, the better. Here's a quote by Avedon. I've worked out a series of No's All those no's force me to the yes and here's what it is. No to exquisite light, and this is for the American West. No to apparent composition. No to seduction of poses or narrative. And what I have is a white background, I have the person I'm interested in, and the thing that happens between us. What's interesting I think about this is that our No's are as important as our Yes's in this space. This is about becoming you. What are your No's? Maybe what your No's are is, yeah I'm not going to this or that, or yes I am, I know posing so well. I know it better than Chris, like way better, you probably do, that's one of my Yes's. I'm going to use that plus this, but I'm not going to do these things. You with me on that? Articulating our No and Yes. To be authentic, we need to be free. Free of the constraint of what other people think, free of imitating other people, imitating ourselves. We also need to breathe. We need to move ourselves. I love that Emerson quote. When we breathe, when we move, we become more of who we are. Essentially, who we are really affects the photographs we take. This is that photographer Keith Carter the portrait of trees guy in his studio. His work, if you look at it, it's all autobiographical, it's all who he is. The object isn't to make art. But it's to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable. That's where it flows, right? That's where it comes from.

Class Description

It takes a true connection between photographer and subject to create powerful portrait photography. A portrait doesn’t have to be dramatic or glamorous to be compelling. In fact, the best portraits often showcase people expressing their vulnerability or discomfort. It’s the photographer’s job to evoke and capture authentic emotion by establishing a genuine rapport with the subject.

Join veteran portrait photographer Chris Orwig to learn how to take meaningful portraits and use them to make your transition from amateur to professional. In this class, you’ll learn:

  • How to confidently approach a stranger and convince them to participate in a shoot.
  • How to connect with and pose your subjects naturally
  • Which lenses, camera settings, and light considerations to keep in mind during a shoot

Chris Orwig has created images for companies like Google, Adobe, and Patagonia, and his work has been published in Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Surfer Magazine. His experience has taught him how to keep a subject comfortable, authentic and engaged throughout a shoot. He has learned to deal with the technical demands of a portrait shoot - lighting, setting, constraints of time and budget - while also staying focused on the story he is trying to tell. 



Wow. This course was about so much more than "just" portraiture. Chris Orwig is a fantastic speaker and teacher - very engaging, down to earth, wonderful photo examples and live demonstrations on how to interact with the subjects you are photographing. I love that he brought in quotes and artwork and poetry, as well as some really great personal stories and experiences, to make his points. Fabulous! This man is an expert in capturing that spark in others - and you can totally see why. Really great.

Martin Backhauss

Amazing class and what a great AND inspiring trainer. Thank you Creativelive for giving Chris Orwig the stage. Perfect choice! Learned a lot but more importantly, I got so inspired by his presentation and that is what matters the most .....for me. Super grateful. THX CL!