Giving Directions and Taking My Time

“You’re not taking enough time with these people.” The Passer says as she looks at the stack of three tickets waiting for her to pick up.

“They’re all Singles.” I say and shrug. “What am I am supposed to do with them?”

“Take more time.” She says as she snatches up a ticket and storms off with it. “I don’t care how.”

When I started taking Assembly Line Portraits I always had four or five sits waiting for me.  Every sitting required a bit of concentration on my part.  I had to look at a group of three and think about what poses I could do.  I had to look at a group of two and stop and think.  I had to stop and think about a single person.  And this was when I had to take five shots, and only five shots, of everyone who came in the door, no matter how many were in the group.

Now I sit in a restaurant eating and see a family walk in and instantly run through the posing sequence I would need for them.  The Standard Set flows through my mind without effort on couples, singles, and groups smaller than twelve.  I still have to do a bit of dancing and thinking when I get that group of eighteen or twenty-two.  It’s a hard squeeze to get everyone inside the bounds of an eight foot background.  But it is now second nature and I don’t really give it much thought any more.

The Pros talk about how The Photographer sits and talks to the Subjects.  You find out what they want, what they would like, what their living room is like, how many friends and family they are buying for, and so on and so forth.  They also talk about sizing up each Subject and noticing which side of the face will photograph best, what kind of lighting to use, what kind of poses, what to do with the props they have brought in.

The Assembly Line Portrait Photographer is more of a wham bam thank you ma’am kind of affair.  But The Company is trying to change that. We now offer more choices in backgrounds and poses.  The Photographer is free to take more interesting poses, such as those cutesy images of a baby’s bare feet or floor poses for the whole family.  The trick, it turns out, is having two things-a family willing to do the poses, and a Photographer willing to take them.

It’s been a good long while now since I shot fifty people in a day, but I still shoot m Subjects the same way I always have.  Everyone gets the same five minutes, whether they need them or not.

It is hard for me to move beyond that whole world of “Turn this way. Turn that way. Smile.”  I haven’t always been this way.  I seem to have very recently started to suffer from hardening of the attitudes and refusal to listen to anyone else.  I am trying to loosen up, but once I get in the field, old habits kick in and I find myself just going through the motions.  The Company is not helping any-I don’t need any more bitching and moaning from my Supervisors and The Lab, but I am not at all sure what it is that I DO need.

So I need to think about how I shoot and how to mix it up a bit.  I used to do a more complex Standard Set.  I did two or three close-ups, a few three-quarter shots, and if they were dressed for it, a handful of full length shots.  Now I tend to just do waist up shots.  This has a lot to with my Subjects, who often wear shorts or otherwise dress from the waist up.  It’s that whole directory thing, no one has a full length shot in The Book.

I’ve never been really great at the whole interpersonal side of being an Assembly Line Portrait Photographer.  I’m good at giving directions and most of the people I see are able to get the gist of “Turn that way.”  and follow my pointing finger.  I speak a little softly for some people, but I have a good smile and most people will return a smile if I give them a few seconds.

I have never been a big fan of having people repeat silly things-except for small children and the ever popular ‘Cheese.’  Some Assembly Line Portrait Photographers use slightly more sophisticated methods.  They ask the Subject to say ‘Daddy’s money’ or ‘Boys are Yukkie’ or ‘Mom likes me best’ or maybe ‘We never fight.’  My problem with all of these things-and countless more-is that people who are talking, are talking not smiling.  Getting one person on the correct syllable of ‘Turkey’ is pretty easy.  Getting two or more people on the correct syllable is a bit trickier.

I am guilty of focusing a little too much on the end result of a certain number of portraits and poses and background changes.  I have more than five minutes to work with the Subject, but I don’t always use all the time that I could.  I have watched other Photographers who take twenty minutes to shoot a Single or the better part of an hour to shoot a group of five.  I have watched them and I have been baffled by what they are doing.

I’ve been told that I am very Professional and that I am very nice.  Part of this has to do with the fact that I seldom touch anyone.  I might position kids, as they often have a hard time following even simple directions, but I never touch adults and especially never touch young women.  Some of the Photographers I work with like to touch everyone, from positioning their hands on the arm poser to getting the exact tilt of the head by using their own version of the Vulcan mind meld grip.  This never works anyway, they all move again by the time you get back to the camera to take the shot.

Part of the problem with giving directions is being a little too vague. ‘Rotate to the right’ is better than ‘Turn to the right’ as some people think you want them to scoot the stool over a few inches.  ‘Without moving anything else…’ is better than ‘Turn your head’ because they will turn their whole body.  ‘Look at that clock on the wall’ is better than ‘Look to the left’ because you both know where the clock is, while ‘the left’ could be just about anywhere.  Ask everyone to make themselves tall and sit up straight-I need to do that one a bit more, just about everyone slumps a little when they sit down.

All of this is easy enough to think about, but I still have a bit of trouble with that whole integrity in the moment of choice bit.  I tend fall back into old habits.

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