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Tell Their Story Through Photography 

Everyone has a story, and everyone can tell their story, but it takes a photographer to convey a person’s story visually—selfies just don’t cut it. Selfies are more about self-image, whereas a photograph of a person is more about who are they, what makes them, what’s inside, and what drives them. Ultimately it’s about your subject’s facial expression so they can convey their identity in a photograph.

Facial Expressions Model

Facial expressions can make or break a photo. Photo of Halie after one of my photography workshops.

How do you photograph a person’s persona through their facial expression? It takes time. It takes time to get to know your subject and to discover what makes them tick. You have to ask questions without getting too personal. You don’t find a person’s story and get great facial expressions by being invasive; you find it by knowing what to ask, when to ask, and how to ask them simple questions. I like to call this part of building rapport and confidence within your subject.

For example, simple questions like, “Where are you from or where were you raised?” What did you study in school or what are your favorite subjects? Maybe talk about their favorite foods and throw in, “Do you like to cook?” What is your pet peeve? What is your ultimate goal in life? If there is a place you’d like to visit, where would you go?

Now one of the keys to asking these or similar questions is the tone in your voice. Be casual not confrontational. Voice inflection makes a difference. Don’t ask the questions all at once either, and on occasion, ask a funny question to show it isn’t personal. It’s professionalism in getting to know your subject so they are more relaxed with the photo shoot. Releasing the camera shutter is only five percent of the equation when it comes to photography. Getting your subject there with the best facial expressions is the toughest part.

Model Facial Expression

The face is always the most important part of a photograph when it comes to photographing people.

You’re subject has to feel comfortable in front of the camera and with you as a photographer, as ultimately, it’s always about your subject’s facial expressions. A relaxed face photographs better than a tight face. You can achieve this when you ask something interesting too. A little bit of curiosity along with humor can relax a person and take their thoughts away from any intimidation they might feel during a photo session. Remember, when a person smiles, it relaxes their facial muscles, which in turn helps your subject photograph more naturally.

For example, ask them something like, “Who invented liquid soap and why?” Did Noah have woodpeckers on the Ark? Why do super heroes wear their underpants on the outside of their clothes? Or say something like, “Pretend I’m you’re dentist and let me see your teeth.”

Again, be cognizant of your vocal tone, but ultimately, it’s all about communication. You have to communicate in a sensible, non-overbearing way with your subject. You also have to listen to your subject too. You can even take their answers and expand on them. This helps establish dialogue that will keep the shoot interesting. Take advantage of this dialogue to interject direction; perhaps suggest a pose, but more important, use this dialogue to study your subject’s facial expressions. The more photogenic facial expressions come natural with discussion.

You can learn a lot about your subject through talking; though again don’t forget to listen, as conversation is a two-way interaction. You’ve got to give your subject room to answer, this is how you will learn who they are and what makes them tick. You’ll discover their story, what’s inside and what drives them. And if you’re into selfies, next time you look at the enter-your-passcode-screen on your smartphone, ask yourself, “Why does the screen start with one and end with zero? Isn’t zero before one?” Once you can answer those questions, it may make for a better selfie; food for thought.

With that I close, and as always, I ask you not to forget the men and women who patriotically serve everyday to protect our freedoms. God Bless them, their family and their friends, Rolando.

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