I am an associate photographer at Westside Studio, Canada’s foremost photography agency / production facility. There’s always a lot going on over here. I’ll head down to the kitchen for a coffee and will suddenly be surprised by a Yeti lingering in the corridor, left over from a Matt Barnes shoot, or a gaggle of bodybuilders being photographed by Tyler Grey.

It also often happens that I’ll be walking down the hall and suddenly get dragged into a casting. It’s a bit of a running gag  – when looking through shots of mid-20′s-aged women of mixed ethnicity (for example), you never know when you’re going to come across a shot of Tom Feiler or George Simhoni smiling pleasantly while holding a casting board. Usually it’s good for a chuckle or two, a welcome respite from looking at hundreds of vaguely similar faces, but sometimes surprising things come of it. Last week I ended up actually being cast in an ad photographed by Nikki Ormerod (you can see some of the outtakes on her blog).

If you’re someone who primarily photographs people for a living I highly recommend being photographed yourself. You can learn a lot by placing yourself in your subject’s shoes, even for only a few minutes. In fact, I usually make a point of standing in for a shot on each of my own sets (all the images accompanying this post are outtakes from various jobs). It’s easy to forget that having your picture taken, particularly in a formalized, professional context, is a very uncomfortable situation for most people. It’s amazing, for instance, how hard it is to see or hear. You can barely make out anything the photographer says, you can’t discern much of what’s happening beyond the set, and when you do see somebody, it’s usually the art director examining a picture of you on a monitor and muttering while looking worried. Sitting in like this makes it easy to see how being in front of a camera might unleash a tumult of emotions; nervousness, self consciousness, self doubt, even self loathing. Is it any wonder that it’s hard to get a good, solid, honest portrait, particularly of a non-professional subject?

So next time, instead of doing a quick test or color reference of your assistant, hand the camera over and have them take a picture of you instead. You might notice a few things that would help the shot (hey, that cable tie moving around in the wind from the fan over there is really distracting), but more importantly you’ll be reminded of how unnatural it is. I think that having as much empathy as possible with your subjects is critical — and what better way to develop that empathy than becoming the subject yourself?

Special thanks to the following, who helped out with the various assignments featured here: Jeffery Chan, Darrell Makin, J’son Mortlock, Gabe Nivera, Abe Roberto, and Aristea Rizakos.

Also, I am now on Twitter as @DerekShapton — follow me by clicking on the Twitter link in the sidebar.










4 Responses to Get Your Picture Taken

  1. i mean this with all sincerity when i say, having known you in highschool, plus reading blog posts like this – you sound like an amazing person to actually work with! xo

  2. and wow, do you ever look like your dad as you get older…

  3. clay says:

    I thought you said you only had one corporate outfit.

  4. Hi Derek,
    Thank you for mentioning my name on your blog.
    If I had one I would return the favour…

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