Growing up I was very shy. I had a hard time approaching people I didn't know. I couldn't even walk up to the counter at a McDonald's to order food. It was pretty bad.
Once I got into high school though, I discovered that if I made people laugh, I felt more relaxed around strangers. In my weird logistical thinking, getting their attention and making them laugh somehow made is so they were easier to interact with.
After graduating high school, I spent my 20's working in various record stores and video game shops. Working in customer-service showed me very quickly that you have to be able to talk to people to handle their requests and needs. With a simple smile and a genuine conveyance of friendliness, I was able to interact with people better.
When I got out of college and decided that I wanted to try to live a life as a portrait photographer, any sense of shyness needed to be completely destroyed. Photography, for me, is about interacting with the person in front of the camera. Sometimes it's more important than actually taking the photographs. People aren't used to be in front of a camera. They aren't used to lights and strobes and all this equipment surrounding them. Then you have someone with a camera mashed against their face telling them to look up, or down, or to the side, or close their eyes, etc. It doesn't feel natural.
Being able to make someone feel relaxed is imperative. If they don't feel relaxed or at ease, you'll see it in the photographs.
Over the years I think I've been able to make almost all of the people I've ever photographed comfortable. The biggest advice I would have is to simply be yourself. Just be yourself. Share your story. Share your passions. Share why you do what you do, and why you are into the things you are into. And listen. Listen to their stories. People love to be listened to. And be friendly, and be confident in what you do. Most of the time, a client has no idea what all this stuff does that you are placing around them. Talk with them through the shoot; explain what you are doing and what each change does. Show them that you know what you are doing. And keep them talking. I tell my clients that we'll probably spend just as much time with the camera down and me chatting with them as we'll be shooting. It's an organic process and takes time to get to the shots you want. But to do that you have to be able to talk to someone, to keep a discussion flowing. Most importantly: be nice.
I'm digressing. Back on track:
Earlier this year I promised that I'd swallow my fears and I'd start reaching out to people whom I would love to photograph. Musicians. Actors. Artists. People. People who have affected me in some way over the last 40 years of my life. I know some of them probably won't be a possibility, but the biggest thing for me is just taking that first step and asking. Telling them who I am, telling them my story, and then asking if I could take a portrait of them. It's worth a shot, and the most they can say is no.
This is hopefully going to be a new series of blog posts here on the website that I'm going to call "Don't Be Afraid To Ask". You can't meet the people you admire unless you ask, right?