Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Camera Face

Here's an exercise for you. Google the exact phrase "senior session" and spend a little time on the web sites of the photographers that pop up. Pick a couple at random, it doesn't matter. Look at portfolios and also the descriptions of what you, as the client, can expect when you book your senior session. Take your time, I'll wait.



Ok, among the several things you may have observed might have been:
  • Every one of these photographers goes on at some length about how they'll personalize the session so your unique style and personality is captured.
  • All the pictures look the same. From one session to another. From one photographer to another. The "processing" will vary in small, irrelevant, ways.

Naturally, the last thing an 18 year old wants is for their actual personality to shine through. That's a pretty uncomfortable thought for a nearly-50 dude who doesn't give a shit, it would be a horrifying nightmare for a high school senior. By "your personality will shine through" the photographer means "we will photograph you holding a book, or a musical instrument, your choice, and if you like you may wear cowboy boots" which is as it should be.

The kids want to look 25 years old and hot, they have no interest in authenticity. In fact, they have no interest in non-conformity. They want their senior session to look just like those other ones except they should look a little hotter.

So we get endless girls incongruously squatting on railroad tracks in new frocks, all looking identical.

These things are a commodity. Whatever, there's no shame in that. I buy a lot of rice, and hold rice farmers in high esteem. It's perhaps a bit unfortunate that the photographers market the stuff about uniqueness, but whatever works, right?

Why are these things all so very much the same though? I was astonished at How. Incredibly. Narrow. the results are. There is:
  • Serious Face
  • Serious Face with teeth showing
  • Smiling Face
  • Laughing Face

and that appears to be almost literally it.

I have dubbed this phenomenon "Camera Face". These are the faces we put on when we're acutely conscious of the camera. These are masks, constructed to conceal, to represent us as normal and average (but hot! and 25!). I don't know if it's built into the human animal, or if we learn it through 13 years of school photos, or what, but it appears to be damn near universal.

The basic Senior Session photographer appears to pose the victim, and then to wait until the victim assumes Camera Face. The photographer waits until the victim is "ready" before releasing the shutter, and this mess is the result.

It's not a tragedy like genocide or a massive oil spill, but good lord, it ain't good.

I'm not a portrait guy, but I've shot some pretty good pictures of people. Plus which, I read a lot.

Actually good, interesting, actually pictures of people are taken not by waiting for Camera Face to appear, but waiting for Camera Face to disappear. You wait for the unguarded moment, the instant when the victim forgets the camera and is, for a moment, genuine, authentic. Alternatively, let the victim act, let them mug for the camera, put on a show. It's not authentic, but it's not Camera Face either. You get something into the picture.

Just Say No to Camera Face.

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