On the Other Side of the Camera: a Photographer’s Portrait Experience

by Guest Contributor Spanki Mills

It is my turn.

I am not sure about you but I never really had a professional portrait experience. It was MANY MANY years ago since I had my own senior pictures done and surprisingly the experience just wasn’t what it is today.

(Then…and Now) Don’t laugh, you know in the back of some drawer sits a picture just like this of you!

Yes, I have had my pictures done, you know the kind where you sucker a friend into meeting you with her camera and as soon as you get in your first pose, you start blurting orders and commands at her… ” I kind of want a little sun flare, can you move to the right a little?”; ” Wait are you getting my legs in this…maybe you should scoot back!”; “What do I do, does this look funny?”; “Should I put my arm here? ” You know exactly what I am talking about. THAT kind of session. The kind that results in okay images but left you feeling like you just checked “head shots for promo” off your to-do list.

(Image 1: Hello unflattering outfit! Image 2: Why what do you know…my arm was amputated and I had no idea : / This is what you get when you try to direct your own session from the other side of the camera)

I am talking about a real deal, hire a professional, follow your own clothing do’s and don’ts, prepare outfits, locations, and have a hair and make up girl ready. REAL session! The kind you offer your clients.

Why did I even think I wanted to go through all this effort knowing how much I HATE being on the other side of the camera? I honestly didn’t know how important it was going to be until it was over… but we will get to that is a second. The initial reason I wanted to do it was because I DO offer a style guide to my clients, I have them text me their clothing ideas and we build each outfit prior to the session. It seems easy for me to tell others what will work and what won’t but I have never really done it for myself. I personally have never had professional hair and make up done so I thought it would be a great idea for me to experience what I strongly recommend my clients do. And well I needed good head shots for promo stuff that was a little more current than what I already had.

So, I called my BFF in the industry. Someone I trusted would make me feel comfortable, who had the same guidelines for her clients as I did mine so would offer me a similar experience that I offer my clients and someone I knew KNEW me and my insecurities enough to work with me…or at least laugh with me not at me 😉 So I called Angela with amrphotographystudio.com in Dallas, TX and we started the planning. I did EVERYTHING like a client would…

I sent her a few things I found for inspiration so she knew where I wanted my session to go style wise. I went shopping, texting her from the dressing room asking about outfits.

The night before I packed my LARGE suitcase FULL of everything that it could hold. Woke up early the next morning and drove to Dallas, three hours with NO MAKEUP! Yikes.

The Photographer Angela: “When Spanki started talking about doing a portrait session for her I was excited and nervous all at the same time. Excited because she is so photogenic and I knew we could do some beautiful stuff but nervous because

a) she is a fellow photog
b) she is my friend
c) she is a fellow photog
d) she is my friend

Yes, I repeated myself. I know. I knew she had not yet had that perfect portrait experience for HERSELF so I wanted everything to be worth the time, the drive, the money, the energy she was investing. We both had crazy schedules and she was driving a long way so this had to be awesome. She sent me some inspiration links so I could get an idea of what she wanted and then from there I chose a location and the planning started. I knew she wanted me to drive the ship and treat her like a client which is why I got her ideas and then ran with it. I didn’t want her to have the pressure of planning her own shoot. Since I couldn’t be there in person to do an initial styling consultation we did the “twenty thousand texts from the dressing room” styling consult which resulted in a huge suitcase of clothes/accessories/shoes for me to play with”.

Angela: “The morning of the shoot I packed my camera bag, put together my story board of inspiration (poses and ‘scenes’ that we had both looked through), and anxiously drove to the venue. Can I just say I was so nervous I wanted to throw up? Oh yeah. I get SO SO SOOOO nervous shooting friends. Can you imagine how horribly awkward it would be if they hated what you did for them? But once Spanki got there and I saw how nervous SHE was, it actually kicked me into professional mode and then my priority became calming her and putting her at ease rather than focusing on me. NOW, typically the way I work is that all the outfits are chosen and accessorized a week before the shoot but since this was long distance I put together everything while she got her hair and makeup done. I must confess this also made me nervous. I am a major planner for many reasons, one is that I’m so horribly indecisive, so having to finalize outfits right before the shoot put me a little outside my comfort zone. I’m kicking myself for not taking a ‘before’ pic of the inside of her suitcase because it was the most perfectly packed suitcase in the history of suitcases. I rummaged through it once and it looked like a tornado hit. Can you guess which one of us has clean closets and drawers at home?”

Angela: “After hair and makeup we did a run through of outfits to make sure she loved what was laid out and then we went to work!”

Once I was ready, Angela and I BOTH took a deep breath and got the session started. At first I was a tense wreck. I HATE being on this side of the camera. I felt like I was not allowing Angela to be in control. I had to remind myself I HIRED HER FOR A REASON. I wanted her to direct me, I want to be the client. So after about 10 minutes into the session, I was relaxed. I let the PHOTOGRAPHER take over and allowed myself to just be the client.

Angela: “I was so proud of her because she relaxed SO quickly and we only had literally maybe three minutes of her saying, “do I look dumb? what do I do with my hand? is this okay? should I smile? looking at you or not looking at you?”.  Hahaha!! BUT, she took a deep breath and relaxed and let go and rocked it like a model. We had so much fun”.

We had such a great time. We laughed and made jokes about my awkwardness but it was a REAL session. It was defiantly worth all the stress and planning!

Angela: “I have to say when I texted her shots of the first images I was about to post I almost threw up again but I was so happy when she loved what she saw.”

So did I accomplish what I set out to do? YES. That and a whole lot more. I personally know now WHAT it really feels like to be on the other side of the camera. I understand what all it takes to get through the stress of choosing outfits and making sure you have all the right accessories. I know that had Angela not been there for me to text from the dressing rooms at the mall I’d have been lost at what outfits would work or not. I now know what it feels like to get in the car knowing the anticipation and nervousness I had. I finally got professional hair and makeup done. I know what it feels like to give up control and be completely trusting of a photographers direction. I know what it feels like to BE THE CLIENT.

But even more… I know now what exactly I want to offer my clients. What experience I want them to walk away with and how to ease their minds when they get overwhelmed. I see things from a different perspective. I already encourage my clients to text me, email me, call me… whatever I can do to help walk them through the process from start to finish. But this shed some serious light on exactly where I need to step up my game as a professional photographer. It opened my eyes to things you and I think are something simple that maybe our clients who don’t get their images taken often might not deem as easy. I encourage everyone of you to go get your images done. Not only is it alway handy to have professional images of yourself incase you need it, but it allows you to really experience the process from your clients prospective. In the end helping you hone in on what you want to offer and how you want your clients to feel.

My REAL name is Spanki! I will go by just about anything…Stacy, Becky, and Sparky are what I get the most often. (I guess no one really thinks they hear right when I say Spanki).  I am a thirty “something” mother of 4 (if you don’t include my husband who acts 12 most of the time)!  I have 3 boys one 11yr old, twin 10yr olds, and a daughter AKA the “boss” who is 5 (and to think I was told I couldn’t have children) pshhhh!  I am no good at math, or spelling…I tend to make up words. My poor friends and family have learned they have to de-code me! I have no problem laughing at myself! I sing really good when my radio is REALLY loud, I still think I can cheer just as good as the girls who can actually FIT in their uniform, and there is never a dance competition I won’t break it down in!  I am a self taught photographer, who loves photography for the memories it captures. I wish I could be the “artist” that can cry over an image…nope, not me, I am just the one who had always had a camera in hand not wanting to forget a moment in time I knew I’d never get back!

Visit Spanki at her WEBSITEBLOG, and FACEBOOK page.

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Stephanie - July 16, 2012 - 9:58 am

Love these! Just wondering-what kind of building was this shoot done at? I love the light and the emptiness of the structure…where does one find a place like that?? Thanks!

Cheri Root - July 16, 2012 - 10:37 am

What a great experience! I have not done this and feel I do need to-it’s so hard to put ourselves in our clients shoes and we shoudl every now and then :)

Roxanne Richardson - September 3, 2012 - 5:16 pm

OMG! I am soooo loving this article. Thank you for sharing. :) You are so right in that it’s not easy to sit on the other side. You have to be able to trust the person who is taking your portrait and as a photographer, you have to remember that your client placed their heart in your hands. Well, so as not to ramble, LOL!
Great Article.

Sophie - September 29, 2012 - 9:47 pm

Absolutely gorgeous and perfect in every way!! So wonderful to have this insight, and it’s something that every photographer should probably do at some point. (Note to self, lol.) Thanks so much for sharing!!

Jodi - July 4, 2013 - 3:28 pm

Your photos are amazing! I did the same thing for myself and my family last fall. It had been years since I had anyone else take our portraits…. back before I was a photographer and when I used to go to Sears to have them done (I know, I know!!!!!). Anyway, I wanted the entire experience and I wanted to see what it felt like to be on the other side… plus I wanted to feel pampered!
Great post! Thanks for sharing!!!!!!

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