Directing Subjects. How, and More Importantly Why... / by Jason Joseph

After a Long Ride

Directing people is a skill that can be more sharply honed once one important lesson is learned.The mood you get in this image above, is not derived simply from the lighting, nor from the choice of processing, camera angle or any combination of a myriad of other things that led to its creation. The 'mood' of the image... the feelings it evokes, are due largely in part to the state of mind of the person in the image. What you see in my images are people who are  really good at pretending. Whether they come to me with that talent, or they learn it from me. Every image of mine that you see, you are looking at someone who is believing...acting if you will, to be someone else, to be themselves in a certain situation, or under a certain set of circumstances.  

In the photo above Brian is completely 'in character'. Now, he is neither an actor, nor a model. He is a good buddy of mine, a fellow photographer, a hockey instructor, and an avid cyclist. You might think that because he is a fellow photographer, he would be camera ready... just set up the lights and watch him go! Nope, and its no fault of Brian's either!

Scouting the Next Road

Anytime someone is in front of your camera, they have no idea what you want them to do... they can't read your mind, they may have never been in a position with 4 lights trained on them and several sets of eyes. (Yours your assistants...etc...etc.) Even if they are fully accustomed to such a setting, it still does not give them a clue as to what your vision is. Communication is more important than anything when you are training your lens on another human being I can not emphasize that with enough severity. If you expect to make excellent images of your subject, you must utilize any and all means of communication available to you.  You owe it to yourself and the time you're investing in making the image, and you most certainly owe it to your subject.

With Brian, I explained to him that in the first photo, I wanted him to look off into the distance, but I need it to be more than that, I continued...I need you to do so in the same manner.. the same mindset, as if you just finished a long arduous ride. Your heart is pounding, you have that feeling of accomplishment, and well being that one gets immediately following a successful ride.

He was nodding as I was talking and his eyes were focused on me.. intent.. I could see already that he was going to remain focused, and was already trying to do his part to ensure the images were more than just someone standing next to a bike. I continued. I want you to look like you are completely in charge.. without looking arrogant, again... I want it to be more about the feeling of contemplation for the ride you just finished.. and for how good you feel.. while you are looking out perhaps surveying all the distance you just covered. Think strong, and you will look strong. He got it, now mind you, it wasn't without a few failed attempts.. very close.. but an open mouth .. or the lack of a tiny bit of furling of the brow.. and the entire feel was just...a bit.. off. But at this point, Brian now knows what it is I'm looking for, and I can easily express to him encouragement, and the tiny little tweaks we need to sell it.  And boy does he sell it.. wouldn't you agree?

People generally want to please. Heck even the most difficult people want to please, they just usually want to please themselves, but I digress...If you are given the opportunity to make an image for someone, you have a responsibility to make the very best image you can of that person. If the image becomes one sided, and by this I mean you are now pointing your camera AT someone and regarding them only as a subject that needs to be composed, lit and photographed, then you are treating them no different than photographing a still life of a fire hydrant. If you treat someone like an object, they are going to appear lacking something. They may be beautifully lit, but there will be a level of sincerity missing. The images become less like the viewer is stealing a peek into a scene out of a movie.. and more like they are looking at a set up photo.

If you want to make your images stand out, you have to realize that making someones image requires you to be able to involve the other person in a manner that allows them enough of a feeling of inclusion, so that they begin to take more pride in what you are doing. Believe it or not, this is true even when you are being paid to photograph the person! They think ok... I'm here.. your here.. it's your job buddy to make me look good. You may be telling them move this way or that way... but if they don't know why.. or more importantly what you want to accomplish.. then you'll have someone feeling like they're your puppet. Not an empowering feeling. How would you feel if it were you? The images will suffer. Every time.. they will suffer. Please believe! Give your subjects purpose... explain to them with conviction what you want to see....and you will see 1 thing begin to take place that changes the entire tone of not only the vibe on the set, but the quality and the gripping power and "believability" of the images you make. And that 1 thing is that a unified sense of purpose works swiftly to bring the best out in people, and brings results faster than anything you could ever achieve on your own.

When you show up, you have to lure a performance out of the person. If you approach photographing them as a collaboration in which you are the conductor of a symphony, and they are the musicians... you can, as a conductor would...bring out all of the highs and low tones that encompass the range of human emotions. And when you are both in complete understanding of one another, your communication so good... and your bond strong, you'll find that you can strike up such wondrously subtle differences in what you're subject is bringing forth, that your performance will be ready for Carnegie Hall.