Updated: Aug 7
What I've learned while photographing people…
In some countries such as the US, France or the UK, adding a picture in your CV is not allowed due to potential recruiting prejudices. However, in Switzerland, including a profile picture in your CV is an utter must. Yes, you will be judged by not only your qualifications but also by your appearance as well as the quality of your chosen CV picture. To be competitive towards other applicants, job seekers want to make sure to show their best side when sending their applications and are therefore willing to pay the price to take a professional profile picture.
Next to my studies, I’ve worked for one year as a CV pictures photographer. 2-3 days a week, 6 hours a day, in a studio where customers arrived in 30 minutes intervals (sometimes staying up to an hour, sometimes a bit less, depending on the package they had bought). Photographing different individuals every day consumes a lot of your energy. With each new person, you conduct basic chitchat, understand their personalities and individuals needs in only a couple of minutes to maximize the time they have booked for the shooting. Due to the tight schedule, there is a certain time pressure, which needs to be successfully managed, while still showing the necessary calm and friendliness towards the customer.
Below I describe some of the insights I have gained during the process of photographing people with a limited time slot:
Insight Nr.1: People are different and should also be treated uniquely. There is no such thing as one size fits all. This might sound obvious, but humans do tend to stereotype and try to put people in boxes. As a photographer, you have the opportunity to experience the uniqueness of each individual that walks in the studio. You realize that stereotyping or generalising only limits your attitude and beliefs. Different needs, different requirements, different self-judgements, different communication styles, blonde, brunette, tall, short, women, men, from IT crackers to CEOs...On those 30 minutes, they are all somewhat vulnerable and in the search for the same outcome: a picture that displays them in the best possible way to help them achieve their next dream job.
Insight Nr.2: We are all humans. It doesn’t matter if a famous person, an IT professional, a CEO or a student, we all have our soft spots and our insecurities. I had once a woman around her 40s coming in, who had booked a one-hour shooting. She arrived in her high heels, well-dressed, make-up and a firm handshake. During the initial chitchat, she was very straight to the point, acting with a certain superiority. It was hard to crack the ice, but I insisted. After all, I knew we were spending the next hour trying to take that perfect shot for her next senior manager position in a well-renowned bank. (Which also takes me to the Insight Nr. 3: to take a perfect shot, the person has to feel comfortable with the photographer and in the environment, he/she is in. Good energies and communication are key to achieve ideal shots). I started making questions to better understand her background, her lifestyle and the environment where she was working in. In the beginning, she was sceptical, not wanting to share much. I tried to connect factors in her lifestyle with my own, sharing some of my own stories and experiences in subjects that I could connect. By the middle of the shooting, she opened up completely. Her insecurities started to appear, she realised it was ok to be herself, it was ok to put the shields down, talk and act freely. By the end of the shooting, she was asking for tips about her outfit, about her make-up, the postures, accepting compliments, laughing at the situation and really enjoying the outcome of the pictures. We were able to engage in various conversations about professional and personal topics and ended up talking 20 minutes longer after the shooting had ended. We tend to judge by the appearance, by the outside shell, but there is always much more inside that we are not aware of. Every person comes with a package; it is not up to us to judge.
Insight Nr.4: the majority (I would say 95%) of the people have a, what I call, ‘chocolate side’, the other 5% have more symmetric features and have a ‘double chocolate side’ - independent from the side the person is standing, the picture will look very similar.
A bit of background information: in a CV picture, it is advisable that the model (in other words the person being photographed) is slightly turned to the side, with one foot in the front, putting the weight on that foot, moderately tilting forward. This ensures a more dynamic and professional picture, ideal for CVs). In the beginning of the shooting, as an ice breaker, I used to ask the customer if he knew which side was his 'chocolate side' (in other words, the side he felt the prettiest in the picture). The majority just laughs and say they do not know. I assure them that we will find the perfect angle in the course of the shooting (which we mostly did). Usually, the ones that say upfront which side is their best side (mainly young women that have experience with selfies), are surprised to find out that normally the opposite side is to be true instead. We used to do different shooting sections to first find out what was the person’s best side and angle, to then take advantage of that and make the optimal pictures. The more time we had, the better the pictures came out. The first couple of pictures were usually the worst one. Everyone needed a bit of time to ‘warm-up’ and feel comfortable with the situation, to only then bring out the beautiful smiles and spontaneity, hidden in each one of us. Which takes me to the next insight...
Insight Nr.5: Everyone is beautiful. It might sound a bit phoney, but it is true, everyone is beautiful in his or her own way. This is strongly related to insight nr. 1, claiming the uniqueness of each individual. When spending 6 hours a day seeing all different kinds of people, you start seeing beauty in everyone. Each person has their own charm, even if it is sometimes hard to grasp. Beauty is a word that is often used for physical appearances, but the term goes much beyond bodies and faces. In every person, there is something to admire, something to look up, something to learn from. I can only recommend having as much contact with different people as possible. We end up hiding in our known bubbles and are limited to what we know and have always known. Burst your bubble, go out there, exchange ideas, and meet with people you would normally not encounter.
Insight Nr.6: Women with the most socially idealised physical appearance are the ones being the most critical with their own appearance. I have experienced this several times. The customer arrived and I thought to myself “wow, what a beautiful woman” (yes, I am also a human and sometimes limit my judgement to the physical appearance). I thought to myself that taking pictures of asymmetrical person would be a piece of cake (it is said that symmetrical people are the prettiest in society). Little did I know that they were the most difficult ones to handle when shooting. With one particular lady (the most difficult one), I've tried all my ‘breaking the ice’ strategies, made many compliments and was proud to show her the pictures that (I thought) were amazing. However, the more pictures she saw, the more dissatisfied she became. She was completely unsatisfied with the results. I couldn’t understand the reason why. During the year working at the studio, I started realizing the pattern and correlation between the physical appearance and self-judgement of (especially) women. I truly believe this is a societal and propaganda problem. Look at famous artists, models or other female figures representing our gender, they are constantly being criticized in gossip magazines about their appearances, those extra pounds, the hair, the style, etc. Maybe the closest you are to them, the more pressure you feel on yourself to achieve that so-called ‘perfection’? Why can’t we all be beautiful, in our own ways?
Have you ever photographed people? What were your experiences or insights in the process? Can you relate to any of the insights mentioned?