When’s Your Breakthrough Moment As A Photographer?

I have been a professional portrait photographer for 36 years this year. Over a thousand weddings since 1976, and thousands of portrait sessions and subjects. But it was only about ten years ago that I had a “breakthrough” moment that really improved my photography and sales. More importantly, it benefited my clients greatly as well.

Here is that breakthrough (in short, and I’ll expand on it a little below):   “I decided to let the process of photography lead me, instead of me trying so hard to lead the process.”

As photographers, we are trying to control every little detail in our portraits – location, background, lighting, clothing, posing, hair and makeup, camera and lens selection – even our subject’s facial expressions. I became very good at this routine in lighting and posing, and the “patter” to get my subjects to relax and have good expressions. Nearly 100% of the time, produced a very saleable and reliably consistent portrait product. But something was missing. Creativity? Spontaneity? A “spark”? Maybe I was bored – or worse, I was boring!

I decided to be a little less rigid – to broaden my acceptance of what is “proper” or “correct” portraiture.

I began to connect more with my subjects, to allow them to come to ME with their personality rather than me “make them have an expression” all of the time. It didn’t always have to be “smiling looking into the camera.” I spent more time with each session, allowing the subject’s personality to unfold and reveal itself, and that’s when the true magic and emotions began. I also found that the more time I spent with my client, the more money they seemed to invest in their portraits. It was time well spent.

Build rapport, take the time to get to know your subjects. Don’t rush. Don’t try to take on too many sessions per week, allow time to build trust with your subjects.

I know that after a week of photographing family groups with several members, I am tired, but it’s a good tired, knowing I gave the best of my time and talent to them and they reciprocated and gave back to me, by having fun, enjoying being with me and each other, and showing it in their images. And after all – isn’t that what we’re supposed to do as portraitists?

Tom Morelli

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