Why Connection is Important
So we're gonna talk about connection. The last component. This is super important. Like I said, this is where photos fall flat. I'll see stuff, or I'm mentoring people, or working in workshops, and everything, they were thinking too much about the technicals. All the technical stuff fell into place and the connection fell short. So what you have to know is that connection starts with you. In order to be able to create connection in a photograph, I think something has to actually have been felt at the session. And so this takes a lot of self-reflection, this takes a lot of thinking about what you actually want out of your work. There's me being a dork at a session. Here's an exercise that I want you to practice. I am using the word clients today, for all intents and purposes of the class, but you'll actually never hear me use the word client when referring to the people that I work with. And when you change that framework in your mind, stop thinking about them as clients, stop thinking ...
about them as moneymakers, it changes. Something switches inside of you. I think of them as humans. I think of them as friends. I, pretty much every time I leave a session, even if it's a new family, I feel like I made a friend. I feel like I have a new group of buddies. It's awesome, I love it. And it's because I allow myself to really get involved with my clients. And you'll hear a lot of people say business isn't personal. Business is personal, for me. So stop using the word client. That'll be something that will change your mindset, right now, if you just stop today. So you have to be relatable. And this might sound like, duh, of course, you have to be relatable. But just kind of like how I opened up this talk today, or this class, I wanted you to know who I was as a person. I wanted you to know that I'm just a human. And when you're working with your clients, you have to be relatable. You have to get in there and it can be quick, it happens at the beginning of the session, and let every single family member know, even those babies, that you care about who they are, and that you wanna relate to them. And people will often say, "Well, how do you relate to Dad?" Like, Dad is usually - I relate, I'll like, high-five Dad, I say, "Don't worry, this is gonna be super easy, "we're gonna get through this really fast, "isn't your wife beautiful," whatever. I will get in there and relate to every single person. And like I said, I only do a couple of sessions a week, because I am pretty tired afterward, because I usually give a lot of myself for my sessions. You have to be encouraging. So I never stop talking. I talk fast, which my producer's like, "Slow down." I'm a fast talker, I am 100% Hispanic, we talk too much, I get it. But you have to be encouraging. If you're just sitting there, and you're quiet, like, I've worked with, I've mentored people and they, like, they pose and then they kinda stand back and they sit there, the family's like, "Now what?" You have to be super encouraging with your families, so that they know what they're doing is what you want them to do. You gotta get comfortable touching your subjects. I know this is a big one for a lot of people, where are my introverts in here? We have some, in the crowd? A couple? I am a toucher. I say that immediately. I get there, and I hug Mom, because we've been emailing. "So happy to see you." I hug Dad, and he's like, "Oh God." And then I tell them, I'm gonna, when I first start I get up there and I say I'm gonna pose them and I say, "Just be aware, I'm gonna touch you today. "I'm gonna put you how I want you to be." And it works. It helps them to relax. And we're gonna go a little bit more into this in a second. You should use humor. Don't be afraid to be a total fool. I joke and use inappropriate jokes, sometimes, I will make silly noises for the kids, I will do whatever I can to help them connect with me. So all of these things that I'm talking about are them connecting with me, their photographer, not even each other yet. We're not talking about that yet. So the next thing that we're gonna talk about is the connection between your subjects. And so this is, we were talking about connection with me, this is the hard thing sometimes for people is to take this family, and you don't really know them that well, and to create connection within their family that is gonna look good on camera. So there's some really basic ways that you can create connection. This is with the subjects and this is with the viewer, right? So eye contact, of course, is a lovely way to create connection. So you can get eye contact from somebody, it has to be genuine eye contact. But that's gonna invite the viewer into the frame. Body language is an amazing way to create connection. So if you think about, you know, if you think about, even just like, something less complicated than family photography, like fashion photography, you know, the models are doing these amazing things with their body. Well, that's what I do with my families. I want every part of their body to be interesting. And I am sitting there, moving their hands around, moving their shoulders, moving their faces, because you want that body language to help create connection between the subjects, but also from your viewer. Close body contact. So you probably already noticed that my clients are like, always on top of each other. I like them to be very, very close. Just looking at a photo of people close together creates connection for the viewer, and putting the families together creates connection for them. Okay, so close body contact is a great way to create connection. And then the human face. I love the human face. I think humans are so interesting, and so beautiful. Think about all of the different ways that you can photograph a human face. Above, from the side, it doesn't have to be that direct eye contact. That's gonna create a layer of connection for your viewer. Movement. Movement is a fabulous way to create connection. When a family is having a hard time, which sometimes they are, get them moving. My clients are usually almost always doing something, we're usually like, moving or telling a story, and movement just allows the body to relax, allows them to kind of feel at peace with what we're doing, and then it also creates an amazing layer of connecting for your viewer, because it's interesting. This all creates an amazing - I got ahead of myself. This all creates a pleasurable experience for the viewer. So what you want, you want your work to be compelling. You want somebody to fall on one of your photographs and sit and stay a while, and ponder it. That is what sets you apart. This is what lifestyle photography does. It's like, huh, that's interesting. This is a little bit different, this is pleasurable to look at, I'm gonna stay. You don't want them to look and just swipe, and keep going to the next photo that looks like the one before. You want it to be pleasurable. So a way that I try to explain this, and teach it, and this is gonna sound kind of silly, but I think about a photograph, I think about that there's, I call it like, the map of the photograph. I feel there's a little person walking around the photo, and their eye is kind of looking at all of the different parts. And in this one, the biggest invitation point for me in this photograph is that dad's face. He is looking at you with, there's that human face connection, with a very genuine, loving face. And so you're invited right in to this picture by him. Then you look down, again, human face, and you see this amazing smile on this beautiful mother. And you follow this leading line down to her kid, and there's movement, and he's pulling her, we all know what that feels like, right? This is like, such a real mom moment. And then you come back up, and then there's this body language here. Look at how he's holding on to his hand, or his arm. He's squeezing, and then he's got his hand on his bottom, and it's just like this tight embrace. And then you follow the line down to this other guy, and she's got another one on her arm and you're like, "Wow, this mom's got lots of babies." And then there's also this beautiful light that kind of bathes this family in warmth and just keeps you looking. So you're staying a while. You're walking around this image. It's interesting. It has lots of points of connection. That's what you want. You want your work to have a lot of layers. Okay. So we're gonna talk about vision. We are visionaries, as photographers. Even if you're a family photographer. You are going out there and you are creating your vision. Like I said, you are the artistic director. And this is, this can be hard to do. You can't let fear be your guide. So before I was, you know, just putting myself out there, and not being, before I was not, when I was letting fear be my guide, I would've never posted something like this. This would've never seen the light of my Facebook page, Instagram, Creative Alive, because I would've been like, "Oh, but this guy's out of focus, "and I don't know, like, there's this hot spot on his face," and I would've thought about all that. Now, I don't care. I know that there are gonna be some people that are gonna be like, "She's crazy. "What is she doing, shooting wide open "this close to these people? "This is breaking all these rules." Doesn't matter, because this is everything to me. That big smile, how Dad is just like, you know, if you have kids, like, just mm, rubbing into that guy's face, and even this dude, who's super out of focus, I love it that he's out of focus, 'cause he's just kinda part of the image, but he's not the main show. Doesn't bother me. Fear doesn't guide me anymore. It's a lot easier to put perfect photos on the internet. Because they're not gonna get criticized like this. Someone's probably gonna say something really nasty about this. I don't care. I don't care anymore, I'm not afraid. Because I know what my vision is, I'm solid in that, and I'm gonna put that out there without being afraid. So I want you to do that too. So it's really important to establish your own artistic vision, and you have to be patient with yourself, it's gonna take time. This is something that evolves and changes quite often, right, as we grow and change as artists, this is gonna change. So I'm gonna give you an example. So this is a mom and her youngest of four, and they had such a cute relationship, and Mom and I were chatting as we were walking around the session and I could, she was like, "I can't believe my youngest is nine, like, "I can't believe this is my last baby." Such an awesome family. And so I wanted to capture that really intense moment. I had this vision. These are super cute, I put these in the gallery, but these were like, too giggly. I wanted it to be more intense. I wanted this moment to be, to feel a little bit more like that feeling of loss, of like, I'm just holding on to this baby, right? So it took me a while. But eventually, I got there. And that was my vision. And I could've stopped, before, the other ones are fine, but I was relentless. I had this idea in my mind that I wanted to execute, and I made it happen. And so that just takes having that pause, having that space in your mind to go forth and execute your vision. So one of the things that you can do to start understanding what your own personal vision is is to start understanding your why. So understanding your why is, we all know we wanna be photographers, right? We're all, that's easy. Okay, that's not a why. That's not why you're doing this. Why you're doing it has to be really deeply rooted, it has to be, it has to mean more, it has to be something personal. And I'm gonna tell you an outside of the industry story, about a guy who knows his why, because it's so perfect. So Sandra Cohen and I, actually, we were writing our business class, and we were talking about our why, and she and I are such typical Seattle people it's like Portlandia. I mean, we have chickens in our backyard, okay? And there is, just calling us out. There's this chicken store in Seattle, it's the only one, and I went in there, and this is before I'd actually, my kids were trying to talk me into getting chickens again, and I came home from that experience and I was like, "Sandra, the chicken guy knows his why." When you walk in there and he's like, "Let me show you my latest birds. "These are beautiful birds, "and they're gonna lay this many eggs, "and let me tell you about my organic feed, "I make it all myself, and let me tell you about "how you can spoil your chickens "with these little mealworms." I mean, I, seriously the next day I was in there and I bought three chickens. I bought three chickens. He understands his why. That guy's not selling chickens. That guy is selling his passion for urban farming, for sustainable living. It worked. It was beautiful, it was such an amazing example of what I'm talking about here, which is kinda funny, I'm Seattle-ing myself here, but it's very true. And so for me, my why has very little to do with photography. Like you're probably understanding now. I don't really care about the gear that much, I'm not a technical person, my why is about connecting with these families. My why is about telling their story, because I know what it feels like to have these children and see them growing up so fast you feel like you can't catch your breath. I know what it feels like to feel super stressed out as a mother, and feel like I'm failing every day, and so my why is to show these women and show these families how freakin' amazing they are. That's my why. It's different than, it has nothing to do with photography. So you have to really think about that. Why are you doing this? And like I said earlier, emotional connection is gonna lead to satisfaction. They are gonna be brand evangelists if you are showing them images like this that are making them feel something. They are gonna come back to you every year, they're gonna tell all their friends about how fun and easy the experience was, and how much they love their photos. Okay. So this is how you can start this process, about bringing your vision to reality. It's hard, when you're like, okay, she has this vision, like, how am I gonna do this? So what you wanna do is start thinking about the emotions that you want to portray with your work. So a lot of photographers, they make the mistake of thinking about what they want their work to look like and not what they want their work to feel like. Okay, we're talking a lot about that. I know I'm sounding like this hippie right now. But it's very true. So here's an example. I wanted this to feel like joy. I wanted this to be a joyful image. This would've felt very different, right, if I had another emotion as my end goal. Like, I was showing you that one of the mom and her daughter, I didn't want the joyful stuff. I wanted it to be more intense. This one, I wanted it to be joyful. This one, I wanted tenderness. I wanted this family, they're so cute, I've photographed them three times now, and they're just, they have this, like, amazing relationship, the mom and dad, they're so cute. I met them when they were pregnant with this little one. And he is so in love with his girls, this daddy. And I wanted that tenderness to come off in my work. This would've looked a lot different if my goal was joy, or if my goal was intensity, or whatever, you know? You gotta think about what is that emotion that you want your work to say? Protection. I wanted that feeling of holding your baby and wanting to just protect them from the world in this image. And so I have directed them in a way that would bring that emotion out in the photograph. So her hand is up like this. The little one's head on her shoulder, and Mom's turning in towards her. I came from an angle a little bit higher, so that that would feel like protection. So that was the emotion I wanted there. Romance. This drives one of my, one of my friends, like, "I can't believe you have your clients do this." I do this all the time. I got Dad kissing Mom's neck, while holding a baby and pregnant. Okay, I do this, but this is not for everybody, I know, but I really like to romanticize family. I really like to show the connection between Mom and Dad, because this is where it all started, right? And so I want my stuff to look romantic, sometimes. And it does. And that's because that's the feeling that I want out of my work. Not how it looks, it's how it feels. So that's how you can do that yourself, is right now, you can write down, "What do I want my work to feel like? "What do I want to feel like?" Think about it. Think, maybe pick three emotions, even. Just start small, and see how you can do that with your work, and it's gonna make a big difference. And it's gonna make that vision come to reality.