Just Be Yourself

Just Be Yourself

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It’s usually one of the first things out if my mouth after I’ve taken the time to carefully configure all my lights and I’m pulling my camera up to my face to start a portrait session, “just be you.” Sure, it’s a simple request, but I think it’s one that passes right over the head of most people. What does it mean telling someone to “be yourself” in a world where most people are trying to be, act, talk, and dress like all the Kens and Barbies gracing every page of every magazine? In other words, they wake up and go to sleep trying to be everything but themselves, so what’s the point of asking them to be who they are? Are you asking them to act in truth or a lie at that point?! I’m speaking in gross generalities, but I think you understand what I’m getting to.

It’s usually a deer in the headlights, the guard still up, as I click the first few frames (this is usually where your high turnover rate photo studios like Sears start and finish their photo sessions, never really capturing the people, just taking their photo). The request repeated, “just be you” until it starts to sink in. “Oh so you just want me to _____ like I normally would?” I reply with a smile and a nod. As a photographer, you’d think my biggest hurdles would be coordinating the handful of lights involved in the composition or the other variables going into the exposure, but the most challenging aspect is getting my subjects to open up and let me in so I can capture “them.” As they sink into being comfortable with the idea of not having to perform poses like ‘Blue Steel’ from Zoolander, they start to reveal what I’m looking to capture. And that would simply be “them.” Sure, I’ll maybe tweak a hand position or ask of them to look in a certain direction, but the foundation of my composition is their doing, and it speaks loudly and rings true in the final photos.

It is funny to watch people in front of the camera at first, and many times the situations remind of the scene from ‘Talladega Nights,’ when Will Ferrel is being interviewed for the first time and doesn’t know what to do with his hands, so they awkwardly float in front of his face. I actually use that reference during shoots to break the ice when I do ask subjects to act natural. Sure, the easier route would be to manipulate a subject like a manikin for the sake of saving time and a little awkwardness, but that is far from a true portrait of that person, and the exact opposite of my goal.

It’s night and day once a person falls into their “normal” postures and gestures. They come to life and show you exactly what makes them unique.

Now, depending on the portrait situation, the requirements for a what we want the photograph to represent visually will change. That can have an effect on where we shoot, what the subject is wearing, what props are involved, etc. Are we capturing them for a personal, down-time kinda thing, or are we capturing them in their element professionally?

This transitions us into the photo shoot I am using in tandem with this post’s topic of capturing someone in their own element, and not one I’m making up for the sake of a nice picture. Friend and professional audio ninja, James Bretz, owns and operates Auddity Sound. He is a part of my network of fellow creative artists in Bellingham. The guy LOVES sound, flat out. He’s like me, always thinking about the next coolest thing he can do with his creative outlet. Right now James is working with P-51 Pictures, remastering all of the sound for a feature film. Most people have no idea that every footstep, car door, every piece of movie dialog sound is reworked in post production, all the way down to figuring out which speakers on your entertainment system the sound will come out of. A lot of sounds are recreated, and that is a large part of James’ job. He’s always out recording life’s sounds. I look at the world in photos, James listens to the world instead, finding and recording sounds he can use in future works. He always is packing some sort of recording device incase life throws some sound his way spontaneously. The other day he was riding in my car with me and was recording the sounds of my car and the shifting. When this guy watches a movie he’s uber focused on the sound design, figuring out how, when, why they executed audio the way they did.

You need sound work done? This is the guy in the Bellingham area that will take your task on with a passionate “yes” and deliver. He even provided sound support for the recent photography workshop I held in Bellingham.

I had visited James’ website, and noticed there was a critical piece missing, and that were visuals. So we got together to create some work for his business development. James welcomed me into his home where his beat laboratory (sorry, couldn’t help the Step Brothers reference) is located. I had told James that I really wanted to capture him doing his thing, whatever that was, when it came to sound design. He has dedicated a room in his living space for a sound studio, now that’s awesome. I spent a few minutes while setting up lights to ask him questions, understand what he does with all of this equipment. It really is quite amazing the tools he has invested in that allow him to dissect a piece of sound with sniper-like precision.

James had struck me as a “real” person. Funny to say, but they are far and few now-a-days. He’s laid back, genuine about his thoughts, and is really professional and passionate about what he does. I wanted to capture that. He asked me what he should wear, my reply, “whatever you would wear when you are here doing your thing.” I didn’t want James in a button-up shirt, or doing anything that wouldn’t be going on normally. Shortly into shooting, James asked if he could “represent” his favorite sports team by wearing a jersey, and I instantly replied with a yes. James qued-up some audio clips, and I photographed him as he worked.

My goal here was to light him and the equipment without the added lighting being too distracting. I wanted viewers to see the glow of the buttons and give the over all look a darkness to it for some edge, some isolation of just James in is environment.

I like these photos because they are far from glamorous, they are not pretty, corporate America. They are real, and I think that resonates through the imagery. Viewers can feel more connected to the photograph and it’s a more personal experience. It’s an inside look into who James is while at work, and what that looks like.