Why you don’t have more good pictures of you

Adela Arceo, with Arizona Photo Events at The Domes.

Adela Arceo, with Arizona Photo Events at The Domes.

This post was first published in May 2013 in my photography blog.

Photographers tend to have enough free time to be able talk among themselves about why people live their lives with so few remarkable photographs of themselves and the people they hold dear.

My friend Richard likes the argument that since cameras are so readily available, including being built into cell phones, that people just work the convenience angle and grab a quick shot and let it go at that. Convenience is all we value.

I don’t challenge that theory, I just believe there are other forces at work.

Another logical objection to making good portraits is that the photographer will charge for the service. There is a measure of truth in that, but there are so many exceptions that it certainly is not a water tight explanation. For example, I attend photo shoots where I pay admission, and I give the models free copies of their images, including those you see here. I say this just to point out that there are exceptions to what you might expect. Use your imagination. Look around.

If the money argument held true there would be some degree of improvement, photographically speaking, among rich folks. I have not found that to be the case.

I don’t think convenience or money are the key driving forces that impede the making of good portraits. I think there are two primary forces at work that produce reluctance to sit (or stand, or jump) for excellent portraits. The first one is that we have lost sight of the value of personal stories. “Now” in Facebook terms is a couple of minutes. We see our own experience as expendable. We don’t know the power of stories, so we don’t record them. I believe that is a great loss.

The other contributor to the lack of exceptional pictures is the “Who, me?” syndrome. People are reluctant to believe how interesting they are. We have lost most of our sense of fantasy and play, and our self-image is now stunningly literal. One of the reasons I enjoy seeing young people who like tattoos, piercings, and eccentric clothing is that they have their sense of adventure working for them. They would be even more successful at it if society in general had a better appreciation of adventure and could provide a richer context. I’m talking about the adventure of discovering who we are. We can support one another in that effort.

Mary Lu

Mary Lu, with Arizona Photo Events

The double whammy that prevents us from making remarkable photographs is that we have devalued our own stories, and we have lost sight of the vividness and detail of our personalities.

You will get a great photo of yourself when you are interested in knowing how interesting you are, and you recognize that knowing this has lasting value.

Do you have a favorite theory?

2 thoughts on “Why you don’t have more good pictures of you

  1. Daniel,
    What would you do to convince an unwilling subject to be photographed? I’m often frustrated by the fact that I do not have any “good pictures” of my wife. How do I convince her to loosen up a little? I don’t really want to go back to the family portrait route. I always found them to be boring.

  2. John, I encounter this frequently, most recently working with a friend-of-a-friend I had just met. First thing is to be upbeat and cheerful. I tell the subject I intend for the shoot to be fun for both of us. I tell them not to force a smile, but to just go with the flow.

    Just remembered two more things. I give lots of positive feedback, and I show them a few images on the camera’s viewing screen.

    I also offer the amount of re-touching they prefer. I prefer a minimum amount, but will accommodate requests. I ask them to tell me about any of their features that do not show well in photos. I tell them they will see the photos at the end of the session on my laptop. Finally, I assure them there is an erase button. Thanks for the question!

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