The Psychology of Portrait and Headshot Photography

July 20, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Ballet dancer audition photo, Bernadette Meyers, Hinckley, Leicestershire photographer

How do you feel about having your portrait taken? Is it an enjoyable or traumatic experience to have a camera pointed in your face? Peter Hurley, known as one of the world's best headshot photographers, has developed a theory over the years that there are four types of people when it comes to being a subject in front of a camera. Owners, posers, diminishes and avoiders. I admit that I have been an avoider for most of my life. There are some photos of me as a toddler, where I clearly enjoyed being in front of the camera, but by the age of 5, I definitely avoided being on the other side of the camera at all costs. Now that I'm a portrait photographer, I've had to address that so I'm not a complete hypocrite. 

Do you have "Picture avoidance syndrome" or are you one of those who poses or owns having your photo taken? So, what are the 4 types? 

1. Avoiders - people who run for cover or hide out of the way when anyone has a camera in the vicinity.

2. Diminishers - those who pull back and become smaller than their real self in front of the camera.

3. Posers - people who become fake when faced with a camera.

4. Owners - those who enjoy having their picture taken and feel confident to be their true self in front of the camera.

As a photographer, it is a lot of fun working with people who just can't get enough of having their picture taken, however, it is very rewarding working with people who are shy or lack confidence but slowly come around and by the end of the session, feel happy about their pictures. 

classic headshotclassic headshothigh key headshot, photographer, Bernadette Meyers, Hinckley, Leicestershire, portrait

So - how do we get people from "Avoider, Diminisher or Poser" to "Owner"? First we need to understand that there is a gap between the way we see and feel about ourselves and the way others see us. We are usually our own worst critic. Anna Rowley says "Taking a photograph together with an understanding of a person's turning points and beliefs, shifts their perspective from judgement and criticism to a focus on inner truth and self acceptance." I believe that a photographer's job is to connect with their subject by genuinely being interested in the person and their life. This takes time, conversation and patience, but most people will trust a little if they feel special and valued. The practical way that I try to do that, is to be completely there - in the moment, with the person fully, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Not thinking about any other pressures of the day and having my camera setting second nature.

Headshot portraitHeadshot portraitHeadshot portrait, by Bernadette Meyers, Hinckley, Leicestershire photographer

The aim of any portrait or headshot is to illicit a genuine feeling from the subject and reveal their true self. Every face is beautiful if we can photograph it from a position of drawing out something from inside the person's beliefs and not focus on their outward appearance.


Here is a link to a Ted Talk with Anna Rowley and Peter Hurley - maybe next time you have your picture taken, you can enjoy the experience a little more.








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