As someone who conducts photo shoots as part of my career, I know the ropes: Always arrive early, scout the location whenever you can and get a signed photo release no matter what.
For the last few years, I have had the privilege of collaborating with a nonprofit health system on a key publication that promotes their work in underserved communities. Through a series of vignettes, they feature real people served by this health system. Since the subject matter involves health care, and often times affordability of or access to services, it gets personal.
I’ve found myself in people’s homes, in conversations between family members and in some scenarios where English is not the first language. In these situations, the patients often feel “exposed” or vulnerable sharing their realities with the world.
In turn, I make it my standard to do a few things that all communicators and visual artists can and should replicate:
- Engage with the patient on a personal level;
- Make sure they know my name and I know their story before my arrival;
- Ask questions without prying; and
- Reinforce their confidence by telling them about the process and coaching them through the shoot.
Beyond that, I stay flexible, because when you are using photography to tell a story — not sell a product or service — there can be moving targets. Scouting locations and creative visions are part of preparation but it is the subject who calls the shots. This may mean allowing them to be photographed in their favorite chair, or walking in a familiar part of their neighborhood.
I wear a smile and comfortable shoes.
In this age of storytelling for impact, being authentic with our visuals is just as important as doing so with words. And taking care with our subjects by respecting their story — their individuality — is a best practice.
After all, authenticity is not about what we want to show but rather what they want to share.