Photography Through the Lens | Tamara Lackey | Talks at Google

LAURIE: Welcome to Photographers at Google And we’re very pleased to have Tamara Lackey with us today She is going to be discussing embracing self-consciousness, authentic expression in portrait photography Now she is a keynote speaker, a fantastic photographer She’s been on the Martha Stewart Show, Extreme Makeover, Home Edition, NBC’s Today Show, and she’s also been in many publications including “O” magazine, “Men’s Journal,” “Parenting” magazine, and she’s the author of four books I got the pleasure of interviewing her about a month ago, and we are kindred spirits, I would say I love her photography She actually photographs children and portrait photography, and it’s breathtaking We have different types of photography that we do, but I think we connected because photography is about capturing that moment, and she does it so well And I’m so pleased to be able to present Tamara Lackey Please give her a warm welcome TAMARA LACKEY: Thank you very much That was very verklempt, that intro Thank you And thank you, Laurie, for putting all these talks together For inviting me For all your work I really appreciate it And congratulations to all of you for working here I just did a mini-tour of the campus, and we had an incredible lunch And, wow, what a wonderful place to be I’m truly honored to be invited here I have been shooting now for more than 11 years, professionally Obviously, I photographed people a lot before that, but they were horrible, horrible pictures And in that time, I’ve shot thousands of portraits And I’ve come to realize that I wanted to speak on this subject When Laurie said, what do you want to speak on? I kind of thought about a lot of the topics I do talk about, which has to do with photography, and business, and even work/life balance, and the idea of how you pull all this together But what stood out to me, when I was looking through a lot of my favorite images, is this idea, Embracing Self-Consciousness Every single shoot I’ve done, professionally– and that’s children, adults, well-known celebrities, athletes– there’s been self-consciousness that’s been a part of it Every single one So how many people here would say that you recognize that on your shoots? I should actually wait How many people here are photographers? Most of you And how many people have been in a situation where you’re either lifting the camera or being photographed, and you feel that sense of self-consciousness? Yes OK Good I’m in the right room And the reason that stands out to me is because, even though I think all these other facets of photography are so important– color balance, proper exposure, metering, foreground, background, everything– it’s everything about the entirety of the look on someone’s face that matters to me the most And the reason for that is that I believe that expression is the conduit to connection I think expression is the conduit towards connection And feeling disconnected, feeling like you’re not connecting with other people, for me, is one of the worst parts of being a human being That feeling of aloneness Now when I talk about being alone, I don’t mean having a cup of tea and taking a bath, and shutting the door and saying, everybody leave me alone That’s an amazing feeling I mean the feeling of aloneness you have when you’re in a crowded room, and you feel like you can’t communicate with other people You can’t connect to them That you’re not feeling understood That’s that feeling that’s the lack of connection And so I look for expression because I think it’s that conduit to connection So how do you find expression that feels real and honest, when you’re photographing people who are feeling self-conscious? And you’re bringing self-consciousness to the table How do you put someone at ease? So to begin with, when I’m talking about self-consciousness, let’s discuss the sensation a little bit Can anybody here give a very good example of the time they felt self-conscious? Come on AUDIENCE: Right now, or being in front of [INAUDIBLE] TAMARA LACKEY: When you’ve been where I am? AUDIENCE: Yeah And even– and also me, right now TAMARA LACKEY: Yes Or a time when you are going for the job of your dreams Something that you think would be amazing And you’re standing there in front of the interviewer, the person who is going to make the call on whether or not you get that job of your dreams And for a moment, they’re just looking at you, and they’re evaluating you And you feel kind of naked and exposed Hopefully not literally naked But exposed That feeling, that’s the sensation of self-consciousness Or you’re on a date, and you feel like, god, I’ve seen a lot of people And this one, there’s something about them that I feel like this could really be something And if we could get past this jangle of nerves and awkwardness, this could really be something significant for the rest of my life But in that moment, where it feels just uncomfortable,

that’s the sensation of self-consciousness Or when you’ve had a dozen portraits taken yourself, and they all are horrible They’re terrible They don’t represent you well You don’t feel like you look good You feel like you spend a lot of time online de-tagging yourself And you’re sitting down to have your portrait taken one more time That feeling is self-consciousness It’s how do I appear? How do I look? How am I doing? How am I coming across in this situation? So I believe that the job of a portrait photographer starts with making other people feel at ease Actively trying to use thoughts, feelings, and energy to eliminating discomfort So how do you put somebody at ease? It depends on three factors One, who the person is Two, how long you need them at ease This is the coolest part of photography I’ll get back to that in a second And three, who you are So who the person is If you’re dealing with someone who just feels a little bit uncomfortable, all you need to bring to the table is some calming energy to slow the situation down, some distraction techniques, and you’re good You do more than that, and you’re going to make someone feel more uncomfortable In a situation like this, where I have two brothers who are very different individuals And I want to have them at ease with each other and with me I know that I’ve got to deal with a few things First and foremost, I’ve got to deal with a child who thinks it’s hilarious to never look at the camera Has anybody photographed this child? I also need to deal with his brother, who’s not sure of me, not sure of the situation, and doesn’t want to be photographed in the first place And before I can get this moment here of the two of them together, I have to set them up I’ve got to have a sharp side of a reflector just out of the frame on this gray, rainy day, shining just the perfect amount of fill light on them I’ve got to set them in a pose that I think starts out a little stilted, but then they turn it into something that’s a lot more comfortable And I have to get them engaged with each other and with me, because I’m the one holding the lens, and once they’re comfortable with me, they’re going to be comfortable-looking to anybody who views this image later But I can’t do any of that if I have them feeling uncomfortable So first and foremost, I’ve got to figure out how to get them at ease with me Another type of person that you might photograph is the person who feels like they know exactly what to do once the camera is trained on them They’re just going to do their thing And you get this a lot, right? That kind of cheese look That preconditioned response And that’s why I never say things like, say cheese or smile Because I feel like people will bring something that they think works And if you just spend a little bit of extra time, employ some distraction techniques, you get something authentic And it’s worth the wait But it often takes a little bit of time Some good-natured prompting One of the things I try never to do with my subjects is use negative terminology I try to not ever say something like, God, that is not working That does not look good Don’t do that again We’ll start with, great, fantastic, it’s amazing what you just did there Let’s try this Let’s try this And then slowly, we work our way through What else does it depend on, putting someone at ease? Depends on the amount of time you need them at ease This, for me, is the coolest part of photography All I ever need to make a great photograph is literally a fraction of a second That’s it I can create a great collection of portraits by having a fraction of a second here and a fraction of a second there And that’s all I need And that takes so much pressure off of me when I get into a situation where I feel kind of uncomfortable, or I feel like it’s going to be a challenge, and I don’t know what to do So, to me, the idea of taking all that pressure off is fantastic Because the other individual you’ll come up against is the one who is overwhelmed by the energy of the situation, or finds it torturous to be photographed And if I just need one second, one moment where he can lift his eyes towards me, and I can get one shot where his eyes are the widest they are, I’ve done my job This was literally that situation I’m in my studio This little boy is a very nervous He won’t look up at all I’m on the back wall with my 7200 lens And I got one click It was this click, before he went back down again And that’s the cover of my first book So to me, that’s a really big deal I only need one second That moment just after the toddler has a tantrum and just after he falls over the dog, you get that one shot before you aid the child That’s all I need By the way, no animals or children were harmed in the making of this photograph I think that when you give it that extra second, when you realize I don’t need this to be a great experience all

the way through, if you watch sometimes, my shoots on video, it kind of looks like, is she getting anything? I know I’m getting things here and there, but on the whole, it may not look like that You only need a hair-breadth of a second to get something richer than what they are giving you before And it may not last long Which brings me to my next point These images don’t need to be full of laughter and joyful And they don’t need to be smiles And they don’t even need to be dramatic or powerful They may not last very long, and you need to be ready This is where the technical proficiency of the photographer comes into place I always make sure I have everything set up before I even think about expression And that means I have the lighting, I have the composition, I’ve got the framing I know that in any given moment, I might get what I want to get I get all the little details done in terms of face-leaking, snot, the things that happen with children I make sure all of that is taken care of, so at the moment the shot happens, the expression is there, and I get it I’m happy But otherwise, the amount of times that I’ll witness in workshops or mentoring sessions, where I’ll watch a photographer and something unbelievable has unfolded, and they don’t have a camera even near them, or it’s down hanging around their neck I’m always holding it up here We’ll share a bit of that in a second The last part, the question of how you put someone at ease It depends on who you are I strongly suggest that anybody here who’s a portrait photographer or wants to become a better portrait photographer spend some serious time trying to figure out what’s going on in your own head I think we’ll get to that a little bit more, about self-awareness But these are the factors I care about the most, when it comes to putting someone at ease Who the person is, the amount of time I need them to ease, and what I’m bringing to the table What I can help my subject transcend, or what I can worsen, if I’m not paying attention When I have the chance to photograph President Obama, who’s not a child, I had the experience of being with someone who was very comfortable in every situation That’s part of what you’ll find sometimes That someone who already brings great expression to the table, because they’re already very comfortable with who they are I had, I think, 1/125 of a second with him And I had a speed light bounced off the wall next to us And I’m shooting this at a 4/5 In this rare case, the subject was significantly less self-conscious than I was When I’m photographing two women that I found very impressive, Michelle Obama and Maya Angelou, I had about five minutes of time And I’m sitting there photographing one woman I greatly admire, and another woman whose poetry I’d been gobbling up since my childhood The woman who wrote, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” And she also wrote, “I’m grateful to be a woman I must have done something great in another life.” I like that Oh Lots of men in the room Just noticed that So I see these two women looking back at me, and I recognize that the only person who is going to screw this shot up is me Because they are composed They look beautiful Again, I have a speed light on this I’m shooting at ISO 800, 1/125 of a second, 3/5 aperture Everything is kind of set up And the only thing that’s going to go wrong is if I can’t stay natural and engaging with them When I’m photographing Hillary Clinton, this was about, I think, 10 minutes of time that I had alone with her And she’d just left a press pit, where she’d been smiling for quite some time And if you’ve ever photographed somebody who’s done the smile for a very long time, it’s really hard to get them refreshed and get that smile back in their eyes No matter how well-trained they are at facing a camera And it wasn’t– I think I had about eight or nine frames that I took And it wasn’t until this very last one where that smile finally got back into the eyes It’s not always a home run that you’re going to capture a very natural expression with someone who’s very comfortable with themselves There’s all the other factors of how they’re doing But at the end of the day, it was me who needed to get comfortable in this situation and bring some ease back to her The reason I feel like it’s very important to manage yourself in these situations is one of my favorite quotes, “It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.” For us, as portrait photographers, our nerves, our awkwardness, our temptation to get lost in the technical details of what’s going on, can help us miss the subject that’s right in front of us and leave them feeling very alone I think these issues are the little outposts in our head, as portrait photographers All that being said, most of the time, I’m the one managing the fears, and the awkwardness, and the pure discontent of some of my subjects He doesn’t want to be here He doesn’t want me to be there But, to me, this is a successful image because it’s real,

it’s authentic It doesn’t have to be the perfect smile every time It just has to be real Most of us would recognize a huge difference between this image– this is a pained, strained, sweet, sweet effort of a nine-year-old boy And this image, where it’s relaxed and comfortable What would you say, outside of the obvious, one looks like an uncomfortable smile and one doesn’t, what would you say is the difference here between these two images? One person who’s comfortable AUDIENCE: The second one is a neutral posture TAMARA LACKEY: The second one has a more neutral posture Yep And his body feels more relaxed Anybody else? AUDIENCE: Distance from the subject TAMARA LACKEY: Distance to subject, yes So the two major things there One, he was so aware of the lens that it was breaking any ability for him to be comfortable So what I had to do was pull the lens away from my face, step backwards, switch to– actually, in this case, I switched angles and lenses And that’s actually one of the techniques I employ often I switch my distance to subject and lenses as much to manage things like perspective distortion or focal length as I do to give my subjects space from me To give them a break from me And sometimes I find I have to do it the other way, where I need to get closer That they want more nearness to feel more comfortable But that is something I often think about when I’m choosing my equipment It’s not just, what will this do for me technically, but how will this be able to engage my subject better I think one of the biggest bonuses of being a portrait photographer that I have found is that we are training ourselves to find more beauty in our subjects And that means the angle the head, the way they’re lit, all that sort of thing, sure But it also has to do with how do you make someone look their best? How do you make them shine and feel more lively and seem more engaged? And how do you interact in a way that brings them out? To me, it’s kind of difficult to think that you do that, but pretty much stop once you put the camera down Like it’s like the job’s over because you’ve lowered the lens I think that you’ve trained yourself not only to see people’s better angles, but their better moments in the rest of your life And that’s been just such a huge perk, for me as a portrait photographer, that that skill doesn’t go away because we lower the lens You start to recognize that people’s self-consciousness appear in all kinds of ways Appear as like awkwardness, and sometimes cattiness, even cruelty, silence over talking And the odd amount of ways we clumsily navigate our own feelings, when people are paying a lot of attention to us, and we feel off This question, so what do you want from me? Is pretty much what most people ask when you lift a lens and you point it at their face They may not say that out loud Although some people literally will be like, what do you want from me? Most of the time, they don’t say that That pained, strained expression on that boy’s face, that’s what he’s asking What do you want from me? How does this go? What do I do now? Even well-trained, professional models, who have been perfectly trained on how to pose, and look, and turn this and that way, don’t necessarily have what it takes to bring warmth and engagement and spirit to a shoot I recently had a great time down in Puerto Rico I was able to bring my whole family, which was wonderful This was about six or seven weeks ago Photographing this professional model for a spa and cosmetics company And there were about 10 of us all together I think we came from about four different states Down to Puerto Rico Specifically chose that location for the waterfall They have a product company that deals with fresh waters and healing waters, and they wanted to have this kind of look for the campaign So we all come down from all these places, and we hike two miles down from the rain forest, El Yunque And we hit these waterfalls And it’s the model, myself, the client, all my gear, the outfit changes, our assistants, stylists, etc We all get down to the spot, we start shooting We’ve got a beautiful woman We’ve got beautiful posing, a beautiful location And what we’re starting out with is this kind of look This kind of look This trained model And she’s beautiful But what she’s giving us is these kind of fill-in-the-blank expressions The look that she’s been trained to give What my client wanted was warm, welcoming, friendly, approachable And we were having a big disconnect right out of the gate Not just right out of the gate Quite a ways into the shoot Where she looked lovely, the location looked lovely, but it was missing the whole feel of all the ad words in their campaign So what we had to do was move from sexy to soft From this fill-in-the-blank to sweet, warm, and approachable

And what I found while I was shooting her, all the thought I have about self-consciousness when it comes to people who aren’t trained to be models is that self-consciousness doesn’t always look like self-consciousness So we stopped, and we took a break, and we rehearsed We slowed down, and we kept emptying her of these empty looks If that makes sense Literally, no, no Stop Too sexy Stop it Breathe Let’s start again And what she found was that warm and approachable requires her to dig a lot deeper than this steely kind of open jaw look And we got to it We got smile We got welcoming We got warmth She laughed, and we all genuinely enjoyed the shoot And my client was thrilled with the images we were getting We ended up getting a lot of natural looks Enough to meet the entire campaign for the year But it didn’t start out that way It didn’t start anything like natural, when all we were going for was natural Self-consciousness doesn’t always look like self-consciousness So we know what it feels like, that sensation that we talked about, self-consciousness And we know what it can look like, the various ways it shows up But what exactly is self-consciousness? We start out baby, toddler-hood finally recognizing that the person in the mirror is actually– thanks for staying– the person in the mirror is actually not someone perfectly mimicking us It takes a while to figure that out That this is actually ourselves That we’re a stand-alone thing in the world We stand apart We can actually see ourselves reflected back at this very early age That standalone thing, I think, is pretty fascinating Because back to the beginning of my talk, I talk about what I think is one of the worst parts of being human, that feeling of standing apart, and standing alone, and feeling like you can’t connect The reason why I think expression is so vastly important This idea of self-consciousness starts very early as just a recognition But as we move into it, as babies, that same question of, what do you want from me starts out with, who are you and why are you here? And to be able to work through the self-consciousness that even comes at this age means putting someone at ease One of the techniques I use often, if you look right here with the camera and my face, is I hardly ever have it up to my eyes when I know I’m working with a young child, because all I’ll do is block connection I frequently am here, here, here, here, and over And this works wonders with having someone look back at you, and look very friendly and engaged The other thing I do often is I hold my camera down here Even when I’m not shooting, it’s at the ready And I’ll pull it up in just a second But a lot of my shoots are like this So with children this age, their self-consciousness is more focused on understanding that technically they stand apart, and they know that their image is actually themselves, but they’re not interested in getting their image photographed That’s why containment is so important Looking at this pose, what do you see here? This pose, what is one of the main things you see mom doing? Containing the child Look at all the ways, too We’ve got both legs pulled back We’ve got the belly pulled in We literally have the elbow pulling the shoulder back This is a pure containment thing And the only reason mom’s got her legs crossed is so we can mirror it, and make it look more like a pose and less like a jailing That’s it The other reason we have mom’s legs pulled back, and I think about this a lot, is I’m shooting from a lower angle, and I’m shooting with a wider lens– I think in this case I’m shooting with probably a 24 millimeter focal length– and because I’m right down, if her legs are out in any way, they look huge Because they’re right up against the lens So I’m constantly having, depending on the angle I’m shooting from, making sure that people tuck legs and lean back and such Another great example, we have this one and two-year-old boy in my studio They’re brothers They’re extraordinarily grumpy They don’t want to be there Mom really wanted to have the session in a studio, so we did that But I’m using another device to basically contain them In this case, it’s these two four-by-eight foam boards, these art boards, that are taped together, normally to reflect light back on my subjects Here, we’ve turned them into interplanetary, alien-operated trapping devices And Dad is managing the hatch And whereas before, we were getting really grumpy, didn’t want to be there, didn’t want to stand there, just really flat expressions, now they’re completely off the studio backdrop I’ve pulled the soft box over into our trapping device, and as Dad let each one of them run out and run free, I’m getting this expression from them as they’re running out The change in the set, the change in the game, the change in mood changed everything about their expressions

Another great technique I use for containment is physically kicking my subjects back into place underneath me It’s not as violent as it sounds I actually shared this image with Laurie for our Women in Google Photography Series But that’s what I’m doing with these I’m shooting directly over them I’m literally taking each leg and kicking them back And I’m shooting with a 35 millimeter lens And they find it hilarious that some stranger is kicking them, which is how I get the expressions I get We moved from that into this next stage Ages four through eight– four, five, six, seven, eight, sometimes nine This stage is huge And if you ever were a child, if you know a child, if you have a child, you know this stage, which is all about watch me This is when you’re at the pool, and someone’s going to go up the diving board, and it doesn’t count unless someone’s watching Right? Or across the monkey bars, and you hear watch, watch, watch, watch, watch This is the “watch me” stage And even the very shy, reserved child has elements of this in their personality at this age It’s very natural So this idea of putting on a show, pulling out poses, pulling out ideas, they want to show you, and they want to see what it looks like We have the back of the camera trained kind of mentality going on So it’s watch me, notice me, look at me And my subjects are forming themselves into something worth watching That’s what they’re doing They think, I’m going to put something together that’s worth watching And that’s what I get a lot of at this age One of the things that’s fantastic about that is you get this amazing engagement if you play along And you go ahead and you goad them, and say, OK Well, can you do this? Show me if you can do this And I find myself saying things like, I’ll lay flat on the ground Jump right over me Try not to kick my head Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t This is a perfect example of another time like, if you reach me before I leave, you can knock me over And you can knock me over hard That’s the shot I got Again, 35, 1/4 lens right before I did get knocked down In desperate situations, I’ll say if you can catch me, you can put leaves in my hair or sand in my hair Or anything that’s nearby This is a perfect example of that He reached me I got the great shot I wanted right beforehand And these like dried-out, clean leaves, these were awful These don’t come out after one, two, three showers They’re just in there But basically what they’re saying is watch me be something worth watching That’s what this whole age is about There’s a lot of people who probably argue that social media extends this stage for us For quite some time But that’s the discussion for another platform And either way, it’s often very present at the stage So engagement’s funny Watch me do something That’s funny How do you move past that to create stronger portraits at this age? So you get this You get the watch me do something sort of thing Then you find out who they are and what particular distractions will work for them And it’s different for everybody Some people are very interested in things that peak their curiosity Some people are interested in facts, and details, and numbers, and saying something rapidly in Spanish Some people are interested in you, if you can be interesting enough You move beyond that, and then you bring in humor And you get that natural smile that you wanted all along, but you kind of have to start there This is a really natural pattern for me It comes up time and time again The idea of, what do you want from me? Let’s be silly Let’s respond in a fun way And then the authentic look Even really shy children– I keep going back to this because I feel like the whole stage sounds like all these kids are playing and racing around, and we all know children who don’t do that They’re quieter, they’re softer, they’re more reserved So even the shy child who shows more vulnerability, they’re still wondering that same sort of question What is it that you want from me? What am I supposed to do? And there’s some beauty in that delicate look There’s so much beauty in that If I want to elicit the very shy smile, I may get it for that fraction of a second we talked about How long you need it And this is another great example of a time where I’m holding the camera over here, and she’s looking at me The way she is looking is at me, at my face, but the camera’s all the way over here And all I’m doing is ensuring that I’m setting up the composition so that her eyes skim across the frame So it’s a more natural framing of the subject But I have this sweet look that I get, and it doesn’t last long, but that’s all I need This is another time where I’m doing the exact same sort of thing I’m actually running with her, through the leaves, and the camera is at my waist Completely at my waist Her expression, she’s looking at me Her eyes are meeting my eyes I’m taller than her And I’m shooting, and I’m maxing– this is later in the day, so the light’s dropping, so I’m maxing my ISO

Something like a 5,000, I think is what I’ve got, on a Nikon D4 Thank you for making those ISO capabilities The sensitivity of ISO in cameras has allowed me so much more flexibility with fast-moving subjects, because now I can constantly pop my shutter speed up without additive light It’s fantastic So I think I’m at about a 5,000 ISO and a 5/0 aperture, because I want to keep her in focus as we’re moving I’m shooting this with the 24/70/28 lens, which is the lens I always grab when I’m on the move with children And I want to keep up with her And I want that playfulness And I want that kind of performance and that silliness And this is a lot of how I get it when I’m with my subjects, is I make sure the camera is the least apparent part of the shoot I’m aware that these children are aware of the lenses, and I try to slowly eliminate it in every way I can So we’ve got a lot of engagement, a lot of playfulness, this again is part of every shoot Another thing I really like is the quiet part The simple part The slow it down After enough of that rush of engagement, this becomes kind of a welcome relief when you’re actually delivering a collection of images Every session I do is probably about 60 images I turn around And they’re all this kind of spectrum of expression, a lot going on, a lot of activities But there’s always this quiet part It’s kind of when you watch a movie, and you get to the part where it slows down and lets you catch up Or you’re reading a book, and you can take a deep breath That’s what I think of when I capture these images I’m trying to find these So the way I’m able to do this is I become exceptionally boring On purpose And probably in real life But the idea of becoming background noise Becoming the hum in the restaurant while other people talk about something more interesting above it You do that by wearing them out, by playing at the max level, and they eventually want to move away from you for a little bit I photographed this portrait in Clearwater Beach a month ago I think 3 and 1/2 weeks ago And I was playing with two children, two girls and their mom And we were in the sand, and we were rolling around, and we were literally in the waves, this close to losing my phone again in the ocean And I’m shooting this I step back because the energy is kind of calming down And they just ignore me And they’re just silencing down a little bit I shot this with spot metering, because I’m shooting into the sun This is an F9 That’s how I keep the detail in the sky is the aperture and the metering option I don’t need any fill light on this shot, because I’ve got a very small subject who’s got this huge bounce of light on this bright, bright sand coming right back up at her One of the reasons I do love beach photography quite a lot, I can bring a lot less equipment If you’ve ever held a reflector on the beach with the wind, you become a kite So I don’t need that on days like this And this idea of bringing this in is so important to me Another image from around the same time, this dreamier expression Part of why I think these are really powerful to capture is we go back to the idea of embracing self-consciousness When these moments happen, when people zone out, when they get dreamy, they’re not feeling self-conscious, are they? You kind of let that go Have you ever done that, where you’re just zoning out? And like your brain goes to sleep for a second, and your eyes go to sleep for a second, and then somebody’s like [SNAPPING] It’s like stop it That felt so good That moment of being able to just kind of power down a little bit When I see that in my subjects, I find that so alluring because it just seems like we get so much less of that in the world This is another perfect image of the same girl This is about two seconds later Back up with focus and delight I’m actually shooting this from inside the bushes, peeking through the bushes with my long lens And she finds that so dorky And that’s the shot I get But this age, this age between four and nine, this is most of the area I focus my work on Is this age of child And I work with a lot of photographers who photograph only adults and say, why do you do it? Why would you want to bring all your gear and chase some kid who’s snotting everywhere? Who won’t listen to you? What do you want to even do that for? For me, I find that I’m extraordinarily drawn to this kind of age group, and beyond actually But it does seem to be a lot of my focus Because self-consciousness at this age is so malleable still They’re still very open They understand that they stand apart in the world They understand that they can perform and do something They’re having ideas of who they are But they also are really open to anything you say, too You’ll say, I’m beautiful And they’ll say, yeah, totally Like, of course Like, why wouldn’t I be? I don’t think I’ve ever, ever flipped the camera over and shown a five, six, seven-year-old girl her picture, and she said, oh, I look– all the bad words, right? Ugly, this, blah, blah No I look great That’s hilarious What a good jump I did And that’s it

That’s as far as it goes To me, there’s something so refreshing about that It’s so easy And I love the idea of thinking that we could do that with adults That you could photograph I’m trying to think if I’ve ever photographed an adult and shown them the back of the camera, and they haven’t said, oh, that one thing on my one thing Like, whatever it is The amount of people walking around who are convinced that they have eyes too close together, legs too short, one arm’s longer than the other I don’t know It astounds me It really does We absorb so much negative information about ourselves from others, or our perception of ourselves in the mirror And the beautiful beauty industry This how do I look idea is so easy at that age But it starts getting tougher as children get older Ages nine, 10, 11, 12, 13 Suddenly the question of watch me, how did it look? Becomes how do I look? Like, literally, how do I look? And for the first time ever, at this age, children start wondering, am I presenting the image I want of myself to others? Isn’t that crazy? That never before in their self-consciousness has that come up You’ve never seen that And suddenly it becomes a thing How did I look? Did I look pretty? Did I look cool? Did I look fashionable? Did I look sporty? Am I someone that others will find popular? If you put this on Instagram, how many likes will I get? What will this mean? Is this the image I want to present to others? And suddenly you start taking these images and self-consciousness becomes so much more raw There’s so much more vulnerability now It reminds me a lot of walking through and learning a lot about Google When you build technology, it works really well up until a certain point Right? You reach a capacity threshold, a certain number of hits Something happens, and you need to re-tool it to make it work again at this new level Correct? With human beings, it’s the same way The same techniques that work and work and work just stop right about when you hit this age So now you have to find a way to work with these new sensibilities, these new raw feelings, these new questions And you have to ask yourself, how do I, as a portrait photographer who is really interested in getting a real, authentic image of this person, how do I make them feel sure when they’re starting to feel so unsure? How do I meet this new level of self-consciousness? First and foremost, it helps to recognize it You look at an image like this, and she’s smiling And she looks pretty And she’s not making that kind of painful grin any more She’s not looking at me like she’s strained or uncomfortable Right? Seems like it’s a nice sort of smile But you realize when you look at it a little bit more, well, there’s certainly no real smile around the eyes Yes, we’ve got catch lights, and that helps But there’s no real crinkle around the eyes And she’s got a tightness around her jaw, right? This is her real smile, by the way, is what she tells me She’s got a tightness around the jaw And the way she’s holding herself completely straight up and down doesn’t indicate much in the way of engagement You compare that to a couple seconds later, a few more bits of conversation, a little bit more distraction Same sort of smile, but now it’s reached her eyes And you can see that in the way they’re positioned Just the way that they crinkle up just a bit You’ve got a lot more softness around the jaw Do you see the difference in the jaw line? And the smile? We’ve got the natural tilt of the head, which you see all the time when people actually engage The difference between this and like I’m actually welcoming and interested in you It’s just a hair-breadth apart, but it’s massively different It makes a big, big difference It’s interesting I was recently filmed by Nikon They came down to North Carolina, where I’m from And they did five different shoots of me photographing portraits And right before they came, they sent me a clip that they’d just done with this great adventurer photographer And they showed me one of the series they did with him And I’m looking at this beautiful film They did such a great job with it And they’re up on this mountain It’s these mountain vistas And there’s a rock climber And he’s like hanging off the mountain, and there’s this gorgeous sun And it’s just this huge, beautiful scene As I’m watching this, it struck me that I wanted to make sure I communicated to the producer that in so many ways, we’re kind of going to be doing the same thing with my shoot It’s just the canvas is now right on the face And the body And the tension that one holds or doesn’t hold And it’s still so beautiful, and it’s still so dramatic, but it’s going to be different But I want people to know that between right there, the forehead, and right there, the chin, there are all these intricate details And if you tune in, you pay attention, you really feel it,

and you don’t accept the image on the left You say, that’s fine, but we’re going to keep going for a while so we get something more real After that, you start moving along And suddenly it’s like you’ve been able to build a bridge where someone’s not trying at all anymore They feel very comfortable Again, you have to move past lens awareness, where they’re so conscious of the lens, to the fact where they’re just engaging with you It takes a while, but it’s always worth the work of doing so So self-consciousness, of course, ages well past this Many people have probably their own personal stories of what their own self-consciousness turns into But we have all this feeding into us in terms of how I look We see more and more pictures every day We have more negative information every day And we end up learning more negative things about ourselves than we’ve ever heard before I read this the other day At any day of your life, you now know more negative things about yourself than you ever did in your whole life before Kind of crazy to think about it that way And really, really depressing So what agreements do you make? Anybody here ever read “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz? Part of it? A very simple, easy read And without going into detail on the book, I want to share with you a take-away I got from it that has given me a huge advantage in portrait photography And I’d love for you to have it, too, if you’re going to be photographing people The take-away from the book, and I’m totally, totally paraphrasing this based on how I perceived it and how I applied it So someone might read the book and say, what are you talking about? But this is the take-away I got from it Is that you have the choice to agree, each and every time, with anything that’s ever being said about you And if that sounds overly simplistic, let me explain If you were told once, when you were a teenager, that you should never smile in pictures because it didn’t look good, you have the opportunity right there at that moment whether you agree or not And that changes everything about the way you may or may not smile for pictures for the rest of your life That idea that you can agree Or if you were told by a friend that you don’t look good in red You have an opportunity right there, whether or not you want to agree If you were told by a coach that you weren’t good enough for varsity, you could choose to go on and have Michael Jordan’s career Because he was cut from his varsity team Or you could sit there and agree and be done If a crowd of publishers told you that your book wasn’t worth publishing, you could still be JK Rowling So you always have this chance to agree or not to agree Why this matters to me with portrait photography is that I have so many of my subjects, my adult subjects especially, but really over that age of nine, 10, who have come in with these agreements that they have already made with every negative thing they’ve ever heard about themselves They’ve already come in and decided that this is true And what I’m saying is you look at that person, and I’m going to have a totally different agreement I’ve already agreed that everybody who comes and sits down is ridiculously good-looking They’re seriously, seriously attractive And by having that one small shift, by knowing that it’s already there, and all I have to do is use lighting, the right equipment, good posing, to show what I already see It makes all the difference in the world It truly does By coming in and saying, I have already agreed that you are seriously good-looking And we’re going to start from there And good-looking is a fun term to say anything in the way of just beautiful I just need to show that My friend, Barb I had the opportunity to photograph her in the hospital Again with this huge advantage, as a portrait photographer, of knowing that she is beautiful She was born with a condition, an auto-immune disease, that basically gave her sever muscle weakness And her whole life, she couldn’t even speak throughout her whole childhood, it was so severe And in her ’40s, was diagnosed with breast cancer And as she’s going through, this was being checked into the hospital for a radical double mastectomy And as she is going through chemo, a really crazy thing happened Which was, her symptoms that she’d had her whole life with this auto-immune disease started lessening and lessening and lessening Because the auto-immune disease attacked her body when she was in better health, and it lessened when she was in worse health And so when she was in what many people would think the most unfair, cruel situation possible, she was at more peace than she’d ever been in her whole life I’m coming in as a photographer And I am starting out with saying, OK, you’re already beautiful But you honestly look more beautiful than I’ve ever seen you before Right now, as I’m sitting across from you All I have to do, all my job is right now, is to light this, pose this, and shoot this And that’s it Because I’ve started out with this first part This first agreement And people just keep proving me right, when I start from that place

Which makes my job a lot easier I don’t even have to– there’s a great example of most of the time, when I’m photographing children of this age, all they want to do is get as far away from me as possible They want to be anywhere that my lens is not I don’t have to agree with them when they don’t want to be photographed I’ve already agreed that they’re going to get photographed That’s how important that kind of agreement is in my job So all I need to do is capture them, contain them, and shoot them So self-consciousness We’ve talked a lot about that subject, all the different forms How is that different than self-awareness? And why does that matter in photography? Self-consciousness and self-awareness are actually the same thing Psychologists say these are the same exact thing Self-awareness is just self-consciousness taken to the next level Where you see more than just yourself, you see your place in the world from an overall perspective And I would argue you have a lot more humor about yourself and the rest of the world But the way we address self-consciousness and self-awareness as a society is we think of self-consciousness as a weakness It’s an adjective we use to negatively describe somebody We’d say things like, oh my god, she’s so self-conscious That’s like a negative thing But about somebody who’s very self-aware, we’d say, oh, he’s very self-aware, very enlightened This is a compliment This is a positive When in fact, it’s kind of the same thing How it differs in photography is this When you think about a celebrated war photographer, how often do you think one would see some heart-wrenching scene and not lift his camera because he’s afraid of how he might be looking as he photographs them? It doesn’t happen When you’re that good, you get past that level of self-consciousness Self-awareness is not stepping in front of the guy with the gun to get a better shot That’s kind of a difference To put it in everyday terms, as a wedding photography, self-consciousness might be standing in front of a group of 100 people, and all eyes are on you, and you’re directing them Getting past self-consciousness allows you to do that Getting past self-consciousness and not practicing self-awareness means you walk up to the front of the church in the middle of the ceremony and you throw an iPad at the couple, and you photograph the most sacred part of the whole experience Which I don’t know if you guys have been to any weddings recently, but I’ve actually seen that That’s getting past self-consciousness and not practicing self-awareness Where self-awareness helps you in portrait photography is back to having that kind of sense of humor about the whole thing Like, at the end of the day, seriously, it’s OK This image, I photographed in my studio And again, I have everything set up before I even think about taking the shot or the expression So the lighting’s in place We had soft box as a main light A constant soft box We had a fill light on the side And my exposure was set I think it was at ISO 1,000 I’m at 1/500th of a second And I’m shooting within a Nikon D4, and the 85 1/4 lens So everything’s all set, and all we’re going to do is add a little bit of wind with the intention of having her hair blow back a little bit And this happened the second we turn on the fan Now there’s two ways to go about this One is to think, the shot got ruined, let me fix her hair And let me start again The other is to say, this is the shot Based on your idea of humor and self-awareness and your level of self-consciousness you’re bringing in I’ve actually shown this to people who said, oh, it didn’t work out, did it? What do you mean? I think it’s absolutely charming It depends on how you view it I think of this as an endearing image, not an imperfection So my good friend, King Solomon, said this “In all thy getting, get understanding.” To me, I think starting with yourself, getting a better idea of what you’re bringing to the table in portrait photography, is huge If there’s anything that most limits you from freeing others from their self-consciousness, it’s you being trapped in yours I’ll say that again If there’s anything that most limits you from freeing others from their self-consciousness, it’s you being trapped in yours If you can’t stand in the middle of a shoot and completely forget about yourself, and just do whatever it takes Go ahead, kick me in the head, spit on me, let me roll on the ground with you Hopefully I’m talking about children But however you need to photograph adults If you can’t do this, you’re going to miss an opportunity to get some real dynamic expression We have some time for Q&A. Yes? AUDIENCE: So all you need is that 1/25 of a second to capture that right expression, but can you actually Like, I agree, but I never see that 1/25 of a second

Like it comes and it goes, and I never know if I’ve got it until I get home, and I look through all my 200 photographs So are you able to do that? TAMARA LACKEY: While that moment’s happening? Yes AUDIENCE: How do you have a good time and know that you’ve got it? And what advice do you give people who aren’t getting it? TAMARA LACKEY: No That’s a wonderful question So the question is, how do you know that you’ve got it? Do you see it on the spot? One of the things I try to do is get all the technical stuff done, just done So I don’t have to pay attention to that So I could be solely, obsessively, ridiculously focused on my subject And so I’m going to be, if I’m photographing you, I’m looking at every nuance on your face to the point where you’re probably way uncomfortable But then you’re going to laugh out of discomfort And I’m going to get a wonderful 1/125 of a second shot of you And that is a lot of it So because I’m not really worried about how I sound or what I’m doing or what I look like, I’m just focusing on you AUDIENCE: I mean are you firing at 10 frames a second? TAMARA LACKEY: No AUDIENCE: Because expressions move, right? TAMARA LACKEY: Yeah I would say in a normal portrait session A normal portrait session for me lasts about two to three hours, on average And that’s building in a lot of breaks and letting the energy kind of ebb and flow a little bit And in that time, I’m probably capturing a total of 300 images 300 raw images And when I take that back and cull them down, I’m delivering about 60 images So the only time I do any sort of burst shooting is if I have someone rapidly moving or, you know, a kid racing across the thing or coming at me And I’m thinking about, again, I’m still thinking about the technical aspects So I know that if I have a subject who’s racing towards me, it’s significantly harder to get a focused shot of them than if they’re racing across the camera, simply because of how the technology works So if I do that, I change my angle and say, you run that way and circle back to me And I might do a burst mode, then But I’ll still do still frame by still frame of an individual, because I feel I can better measure it Better measure that expression AUDIENCE: How do you keep your focus? TAMARA LACKEY: Literally the technical focal point? AUDIENCE: Yeah On your subjects? Because I get these moments, but then I don’t quite have the focus It’s blurry TAMARA LACKEY: Yes So it’s a very good question about focus There’s actually about four steps in a row I’m constantly thinking about, when I’m thinking about literally getting focus Obviously, so much of this talk is about emotionally staying focused And for me, that’s so important, because you could take two great shots like the ones I showed you of that girl, frame by frame next to each other, and the one just feels off, and the other one feels so significant But technically, the way I am achieving focus is first of all, I do single shot focus And I focus right on the eyes every time Each and every time If I have a group, I focus on the eyes of the person most in the middle I watch my distance to subject I know that if I’m photographing you from here, I have a significantly better shot at getting you in focus at an F28 aperture than I would if I were standing right in front of you, where I might get one eye in focus Or if I’m leaning in toward you with a micro lens, and it’s not going to adapt the aperture for me I’m going to get an eyelash in focus So keeping my distance from you basically lets my focal plane widen And I’ll have more of a chance of getting everything in focus And the closer I get to you, the more that narrows, and the less likely I am to get things in focus So keeping distance to subject is one Number two has to do with how many people I’m photographing If I’m photographing a group, like a family or organization, or any sort of collective of people, I’m keeping in my distance to subject And I’m also making sure I have an extended field of focus And I’m keeping them on the same focal plane So if I have five people, I liken it to saying, imagine there’s a thin plane of glass in front of you I want all of your noses to be in the vicinity of that plane of glass So I don’t have to worry about somebody a foot behind them or a foot in front of them Either the person in the foreground or the person in the background is going to be soft So thinking about that helps significantly with focus, is the focal plane And then lastly is going to be my lens choice Certain lenses are always going to be sharper for me than others And then I pick them accordingly Actually, I said lastly There’s one more thing, which has to do with– I hardly ever tripod things I hardly ever do This is me using a hand-held 105-28 lens And I’m shooting down And I’m shooting relatively close But because I’m shooting relatively close, my aperture has to be extended so that I get more of her face in focus Because of that, I have to tripod myself Which is what I do a lot When I talk to you about running with the little girl, I’m keeping my camera very steady I’m moving, but I’m keeping my camera very steady So user error is another issue that comes up for me a lot with focus Is to make sure that I’m keeping everything strong and in place AUDIENCE: So what AF mode do you use? Do you use single shot or continuous? TAMARA LACKEY: Yeah I use single shot nearly always

I’ve recently been doing a little bit more with the 3D and the continuous on the new Nikon cameras But even though they’re doing well for me, I still am not sure of them AUDIENCE: And do you manually select a focus point, or do you just let the camera? TAMARA LACKEY: Auto-focus Yeah So I shoot everything in manual exposure So I’m constantly using manual exposure, which means I’m setting my own aperture and shutter speed and ISO But I’m always using the auto-focus on the lens AUDIENCE: I mean, letting the camera decide which focus point to use, what I meant TAMARA LACKEY: Single shot Auto-focus So I don’t like the 45 focal points jumping up, or the one bumping around a million times This goes back to what I’m trying to achieve from expression perspective If I feel like there’s 45 red focus dots that just came up between me and you, I can’t see you I can’t even look for what the right expression is If I do single shot focus and re-compose, I can constantly keep you right in front of me And I know what I’m looking for with you And that no longer is a distraction between me being able to achieve what I want AUDIENCE: I see So it’s always the center point? TAMARA LACKEY: Correct AUDIENCE: Thank you TAMARA LACKEY: Yes With a few exceptions One exception might be, I have an experience where I know I’m photographing somebody in the upper right hand third of the image And they’re going to be zooming across the frame Then I might switch to the joystick approach, where I’ll put the focal point here so I know I get them sharp as they’re moving through Because focusing and re-composing when they’re moving and I’m moving is a lot more difficult AUDIENCE: Thank you TAMARA LACKEY: You’re welcome AUDIENCE: I have a question about the adult portrait Once an adult has become negative of the photograph Like he or she becomes self-conscious of his or her fitness If there are any suggestions about how do you smooth them or make them relax? TAMARA LACKEY: So what techniques to help an adult relax? Yeah AUDIENCE: Like have the photograph session went smoothly TAMARA LACKEY: Yes That’s a great question With adults, I find that the name of the talk, Embracing Self-Consciousness, it’s always going to be there The sooner I embrace it, and what I mean by that is literally state, isn’t this so weird? I’m taking your picture You came to this place just so I could get your photograph I will start by acknowledging the discomfort in a situation And then what happened over here, what people naturally do when you do that, is they laugh self-consciously And the self-conscious laugh is beautiful in a still frame It looks so raw and honest and sweet It’s a really lovely image to capture And so even though someone might feel a little uncomfortable, or like look away a little bit, kind of shy or awkward, those looks in stills end up being really strong images So even though that person might not feel like they’re so comfortable with the shoot you’re getting, as long as the frames look good, that’s what I care about So one of things I’ll do is I’ll address the fact that this is an awkward situation, especially when we’re in front of other people There’s a lot of times where I’ll do urban portraits, or I’ll do an editorial portrait where there’s other people around And then it’s just like that self-consciousness goes through the roof, because not only am I being photographed by you But all these people are staring at me And this is so weird So by just taking into account those factors and addressing them, and even playing with them a little bit, like no one’s watching, no one’s watching, no one’s watching And then I’ll click And so again, we’re engaging And it’s kind of you and me against everybody else Like we’re not going to let them make fun of us, we’re going to do it ourselves That sort of thing ends up engaging with them in a way that just meets them where they are, in terms of those feelings That goes a long way The amount of times I find that in social situations, people don’t address the weirdness that’s in front of them Why don’t we just talk about it? This is weird I find that just doing that offers somebody a sense of relief So one of the things I wanted to do is, first, to get you guys all to agree that you’re all seriously good-looking You do agree with that, right? Good The other thing I wanted to do was show a small animodo video of some of these images that I’ve been collecting, outside of the ones I just showed you, for years that showcase a lot of what I’m talking about when it comes to self-consciousness and expression This is actually the song I’m going to be using from Triple Scoop Music, was an original song written by Tyler Stenson And it’s called, aptly, “We Grow.” So a couple minute slide show Hopefully this works OK [MUSIC – TYLER STENSON, “WE GROW”] TAMARA LACKEY: Thank you very much