The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

The Toughest Portrait Shoot Ever...

Most photographers don't do portraits. In fact, most photographers prefer to use the camera as a shield to protect themselves from other people.

Landscape, wildlife, architectural and product photography are nearly always devoid of people.

But while fashion, sport and street photography appear to be all about people, they are usually about people at a distance. It is all about what they are doing, not about who they are. We are not interacting with them on a personal level.

Proper portrait photography requires getting to know the person in front of you, building a rapport, and working together to create a photo that says something about them – and this means you have to build an environment of trust.

The balance of power in a photography session is very one sided. The photographer holds all the cards and can make you look amazingly cool, or completely ridiculous.

We all know this on one level or another, which is why most people feel very uncomfortable about having their photo taken. Selfies are fine – we can take hundreds and choose the one we like best – but as soon as someone else has hold of the camera, we are at their mercy - they get to choose which image will be shown to the rest of the world.

Over the years I have developed techniques, and built a reputation, for breaking down the nervousness, creating an environment of trust, and reaching a point of being able to take relaxed, confident photos of clients they didn't believe possible.

There are times when I have to be more psychotherapist than I am photographer.

I regularly photograph people who believe themselves to be the most unphotogenic person in their family (if not the world), people who are massively self conscious about their own perceived disfigurements (age, weight, size etc), and occasionally even people who have actual disfigurements (partial paralysis, scars, disabilities etc).

But recently I was faced with the toughest assignment of my entire career. . .

. . . my wife.

Maggie wanted some photos that would celebrate the woman she is, at the age she is, at this point in her life as an artist.

You might think that a relationship between spouses would make it easier. After all, with over 27 years of being together, experiencing everything the world can throw at us, and surviving, the trust Maggie and I have in each other is total and unquestioning.

And yet. . .

27 years of being together also comes with all the emotional baggage of past disagreements and misunderstandings.

I've heard of people getting divorced after one spouse tried to teach the other to drive. . .

Being in tune with each other means I can pick up on her nervousness, but it also means she can pick up on mine. I can't fake confidence in front of her in the way I might with other people.

Maggie has always hated getting her photo taken, so the weight of expectation to get it right, along with the fear that if I didn't it would just reinforce all her insecurities, created a huge level of pressure.

In turn, because Maggie can easily detect my fears, they then reinforce hers, and before you know it a feedback loop of fear, nervousness and insecurity could make the idea of creating a relaxed and confident looking person an absolute impossibility.

To stop this from happening, required conversations with explanations and emotional reassurance from weeks - actually months - in advance, and practically having to meditate to induce a calmness in myself before the session began.

And then using every trick and technique I'd developed over the years.

Fortunately it paid off and I we ended up with photos she was delighted with.

If you would like to see Maggie's work close up and meet her face to face, then her studio is open this weekend for Spring Fling - the annual open studio event with 85 other artists and makers in the region opening their studios to the public.

Maggie is Studio 21 on the Purple route - at the WASPS Studios in Kirkcudbright.

She's been so busy with preparations, I've barely seen her this week. If you do head over, tell her her husband says hello!


Julie Shackson said...

Wonderful portraits of a beautiful woman. You've brought out how strong she is. Excellent work!

Pat said...

At last! I just couldn't move down the page.
You both must be very pleased with the result. I love the amused, quizzical expression which shows all your hard work in preparation has paid off and Maggie is actually in control and enjoying it. And she is not hiding behind her hair and is revealing her true beauty.
To Maggie and I hope you have a great week end.

Pat said...

That should read 'GO MAGGIE!'

katierobertsart said...

Brilliant work there Maggie, you brought out the best in Kim! <3

Love the strength, intensity, intelligence and humorousness I see in the eyes of a fellow artist there too Maggie.

hope said...

Well, you passed the ultimate test with an A+! And I think I'm jealous of Maggie's hair.

daisyfae said...

Knowing your subject so well, i wonder if you felt overwhelmed by trying to capture dozens of dimensions to her? The portrait is stunning (also jealous of Maggie's hair, by the way), and i'm drawn in to the person portrayed - wanting to know more about her, feeling her strength. But were there other images that you captured that represented differing dimensions?

Mary Smith said...

Fantastic portrait. Maggie looks beautiful and confident. I'm glad you met someone even more difficult than me to photograph.

Kim Ayres said...

Julie - many thanks :)

Pat - you know only too well that getting that relaxed, confident expression is not easy, so I was delighted we got there in the end :)

Katie - many thanks :)

Hope - we did a near identical shot of Maggie with her hair down - the way I see her most of the time - but she usually keeps it up when she's doing her art, and this was the one we both preferred for this set of images :)

Daisyfae - there are a thousand ways to capture a person, so the question before we start is, which one do we want on this occasion? Do you want to come across as serious and authoritative? Wild and wacky? Thoughtful and intelligent? Sexy and sassy? Cool and mysterious? The options are endless, so the pre-planning is really important. For this set, the idea of a strong, confident, unapologetic, yet approachable artist was what we were after.

Kim Ayres said...

Mary - not sure how I missed your comment here! I did try to tell you at the time you weren't the hardest shoot I'd ever done, but I don't think you believed me :)

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