Connections with Your Subject


The Art of Body Language in Portraiture


Lesson Info

Connections with Your Subject

So it looked like a pretty ordinary shoot. But there were a lot of things happening, a lot of dynamics that we were using to each other. One about his body posture and what he was telling me non-verbally and what I was telling him too. So it was all about touch, communication, relatability, listening and communicating. So connect. Good connection starts with good eye contact, a good hand shake, knowing the person's name, knowing at least how to enunciate it properly and asking thoughtful questions along with the body posture we're putting towards them. We'll talk a little bit in a couple chapters down the road about good body posture. I don't wanna get too deep into that right now. But what I also wanna talk about is communication, verbal and nonverbal and how we're gonna use that, how we're gonna observe it. That too we're gonna talk extensively in another chapter. Communication is not just about the body language and not just about what we're saying to them, but what we're listening ...

and communicating back. Making sure we're actually absorbing that. So I'm also going to be discussing the proper use of nonverbal such as touch and energy. Before we get too much in weave. So communication, contact, what's your subject and by that I mean that's through correspondence and contact, physical contact. So to connect and to have some relatability with your subjects. And we're also going to close out with capturing the start to finish. So what I've just demonstrated to you I'm gonna close out with, but we're gonna go through a whole lot of really great stuff between now and then. Okay, so connection. Let's talk about that. From the time I begin correspondence with my subjects, I have just that time to build a connection with them and to understand where we relate to each other and how I'm going to use that information during my photo shoot. By the time I'm actually contacting them, here's the thing, the one thing they always remember, the most times our correspondence will be through text message and email if we don't see them first on sight, that's really impersonal. So remember how you write things, they're gonna lay on their own inflection and their own interpretation about the words that you're saying. It's kind of important to make sure that you are still yourself, but you're reading it from a third party. So go back over your stuff and just double check the tenor of your voice in these emails or when they're calling you. The other thing is going to be courteousness. I know that seems like a no brainer, but when you get the 500 emails from the same client and we are at our bitter end, like oh my word could there be another question? Yes, there's another question. But just remember, it's old hat for us. We do shoots day in and day out. This may be our 500 shoot, but it's their very first so they may be nervous. It's our job to set them at ease and, again, this is the step of that first impression. They haven't even met you face to face yet, so you're kinda laying the groundwork for how much they're going to trust you on sight and if you can't take the time to be courteous and thoughtful and respond in a timely manner, you're probably getting off to the very wrong foot and that leads me to the next one to be timely. To say I'm gonna drop everything else because I care about you. I care that you're going to be at ease. I care that you're going to have a good time. I care enough to answer you and to answer every question that you may have. So 1/10 of a second to make a good first impression. That all starts with how we talk to one another. For me, with the veterans portrait project I typically meet my subjects sight unseen. The first time I have to make a first impression is the moment I'm shaking their hand. So by that when I shake their hand I offer my hand to them palm up. It's a nonverbal greeting that says I am vulnerable to you, I open myself up to you, I hope that you trust me to do that back. I'm not gonna do a death grip and I'm not gonna do a dead fish limp hand. I'm gonna find a nice happy median. So by that, gonna go make good eye contact. Hey, how ya doing? Hey, I'm Stacy. Hi Stacy, I'm Judy. Judy, nice to meet ya. So in a way I'm leaning in. I'm opening myself up and this seems like so fundamental, but you'd be surprised how many people do this. Hi, I'm Stacy. (mumbles) Nice to meet you. But one says confidence and owns the room, owns the experience. The other says, I'm not really sure about myself. So that in turn could be interpreted as you being unsure of me. So all of these dynamics start from the beginning. Now, it all has to do with what we presented to others and how we present ourselves. Dress is a nonverbal. How we dress. Remember for you ladies, momma used to say dress to impress or dad used to say dress for the part you wanna play. All of these things are so important, they don't just come up out of the whole clock. These things really matter. So if I'm a surfer photographer, it would make sense that I would wear board shorts and some flip flops, but not to a corporate shoot. So you're going to dress the part. I'm a horseback rider so I find that my closet is full of tweed and boots, but that's the part I dress. I find it's appropriate when I do public speaking, maybe not necessarily veterans portrait project. So distractions. Eliminating distractions, I don't wanna have my watch on or I don't want my phone going off when I'm interacting with a client because that says okay, my Twitter feed is more important than you in this moment, sorry let me check that. I want to eliminate those kind of distractions. But not only that kind of distractions, but my clothing too. I don't want them so concentrated on my ripped up favorite T-shirt that I wear, not only at night and I just kind of brush my teeth and go to my shoot. I want them to concentrate on the experience we're having with one another and not with what I'm wearing, which leads me to grooming, which is another part and I'm gonna touch on this again. Breath is so important. Like a pop a mint in that dumpster because the nonverbal things, like you cannot listen to anybody if you're Darth vapor. Be yourself. If you're nervous like I am right now, say so. If you're a klutz, fall over and own it. The one thing that is universally accepted is that we're human beings. Not only that, but to know that you are not 100% and that you have faults, that is enduring. And when you can own that and say that as much between yourself and your subject, that levels the playing field. Now you're both vulnerable. Now you're both putting your vulnerabilities out there and hoping to rise above that together and that elevates the experience. Good energy is very important. It's cyclical in the studio. So if you come in, you've had a really crap morning and the coffee pot wasn't working and so you haven't had your caffeine yet and the dog is sick and got messed up in the house and you come in and you're like (growling) the world hates me (inhaling deeply) now I've gotta shoot. Brush it all off, because if you go in with that attitude, that energy you're emitting is gonna bounce right off that individual and come right back to you. So if you're angry, you're going to receive anger. If you're happy, hey I love those boots. So sassy, oh my gosh. So awesome. And I'm genuinely saying that 'cause I love those. But if you come in and you change your mindset and you say okay, I'm gonna make the best of what this moment is and remember that it's about them and not about you. Changing that mentality within yourself is so very, very important. So now you're going to listen, you're going to talk. Once you say, hey I'm Stacy and you're gonna make that introduction, find talking points. Hopefully, you've found some things to establish like with Keith (mumbles) that was a talking point that I knew that I could bounce of right away because of the correspondence I was doing in advance I had some talking points. Remember to talk, open that dialogue and then shut your trap. Let your ears do the hard listening because they're going to give you some cues that we can bounce on later when in the shoot mode. And we're going to use nonverbal cues later in our shoot to help them emote, to help them push through the feelings of nervousness they're having and actually pull through those emotions. To be present and, again, setting aside all the distractions. The cellphones, the watches, all that good stuff. The good first impression will go a long way and it really sets you up for success. I want each and every one of my subjects to feel like they're talking to a friend, that the experience between them and I have been lifelong friends and it's just a moment where I pop up myself and I'm like hey let's do a selfie. I want it to feel like that. I want the picture to later look like something that they're children will be like oh my gosh, how did you capture them? You only met him five minutes ago, but this is so him. That's what I wanna do. That's what I wanna use these nonverbal cues to achieve. So this is Carl. Carl's a World War II veteran. So Carl and I we were chatting and he came into the room and had his son with him. We got to talking and I just wanted to see, I could see that he was nervous. I'm not gonna get too much into that. I found out that he was Army. He was an officer first and that he enlisted. I found out that is father was a World War I veteran. I was like wow that's cool. My great-grandfather is a World War I veteran and we got to talking about that. Then I asked him if he was married and he was like uh, uh, uh, uh. And I was like so you're single and on the prowl and he's like oh no I'm married. What are you talking about? And I was like I like older men. And he was like getting really nervous at that point and then I was like let's go on a date. And he looked over his shoulder and saw his daughter standing there and he was like oh. He was about to like, yeah let's go. But opening yourself and being able to be vulnerable and finding a commonality between and your subject is so very important. Don't be afraid to go there. First of all trust. Trust creates a two way street and avenue to say okay I'm gonna lay it all on the line for you right here, but you have to trust them too. Emotion. Don't be afraid to feel emotion and ask them to be vulnerable and to feel emotion. If they start crying, let 'em cry. Let 'em take all the time in the world they want. Take pictures of it if you can, if you feel comfortable. But that's the thing. You have to be comfortable with emotions. If you're not, maybe portraiture is not really the field for you. You could landscape, maybe something like that. But emotion in portraiture is so very, very important. And last, engagement. That engagement, that two way street that you have with one another when you're leaning in and you're asking them to come with you, that is where the money happens. That's where the magic is.

Class Description

In order to succeed at being a portrait photographer, you must be able to look past the facade an individual presents upon first meeting, and observe their non-verbal language and cues to best interpret who they really are behind the artifice. This pretense isn’t intentional, it’s human nature. Rarely do people bare their soul to a stranger. Award Winning Photographer Stacy Pearsall discusses in this class how to gain your subject’s trust through genuine care, unselfish energy and intent observance. She'll discuss the art of communication, and the signals your subject is emitting, so you can best identify and capture your subjects genuine likeness. Visual perception is everything. Capture amazing and true portraits by learning to see the body language a person brings into your session and knowing how to gain their trust to show the vulnerability within.


a Creativelive Student

Thank you Stacy! I loved the class, it confirmed to me that I'm on the right direction, it's important to bond with your subject, and love what you do is essential to it, you can tell Stacy loves her job and she is passionate about it and a good teacher as well, it was very easy to follow her.


Stacy Pearsall is a communication genius! Her story is admirable, fascinating, and saturated with humanity. I was fortunate to be in the studio class for this course, and I was blown away by her charisma and powerful energy! She truly captures the importance of using unspoken communication strategies to draw out a subject and showcase what makes them special, AND to be mindful of the communication set-backs we can quickly create with our own body language as directors and photographers. This course is a must-have, not just as a portrait artist, but as a human being who communicates with others in general. Pearsall is AMAZING!!!!

Myra Hencher

I just happened across this class as a free video and love Stacy's charisma and knowledge. The communication information makes so much sense and can be used in all personal interactions. Thank you, Creative Live and Stacy!