The trauma of shooting portraits for my wife



BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots of Mandy Boyle, photographed in the studio in Scranton, PA, on the afternoon of 19 March 2016.

This is Mandy, my lovely, brilliant, talented wife.  Mandy hates having her photo taken and is visibly uncomfortable in front of the camera, despite excelling as an actor.  After eight years together, I know better than to ask her to model for me, and she rarely volunteers.

But this spring, Mandy asked me to shoot some new portraits for her, for professional use.  And so began the day-long agony of a photo shoot that seemed doomed from the start.

The funny thing is, most people are a lot like Mandy.  No exaggeration, almost every single time I shoot portraits for a client, the client – who hired me in the first place! – will begin by telling me how much they dislike having their photo taken, and how bad they are at being photographed.  For real, if I had a dollar for every time someone says that to me, I wouldn’t need to keep working as a photographer.

BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots of Mandy Boyle, photographed in the studio in Scranton, PA, on the afternoon of 19 March 2016.

Such statements are rubbish, of course.  The vast majority of people are actually just fine at having their photo taken, and many people even get into it, hamming it up a little, once the get comfortable.  And that’s the key, right there – comfort.  When I start a photo shoot with someone, I know that the first entire pose, the first 20-30 photos, are all throw aways.  Their only purpose is to let the subject become comfortable in front of the camera so they can act naturally.

Unfortunately, Mandy isn’t a part of that vast majority, and after several hours of shooting in the studio, she still wasn’t happy with the photos.  She was becoming frustrated and soured on the idea, and it was harder and harder to even try and help her relax.

BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots of Mandy Boyle, photographed on the grounds of Marywood University in Scranton, PA, on the afternoon of 19 March 2016.

BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots of Mandy Boyle, photographed on the grounds of Marywood University in Scranton, PA, on the afternoon of 19 March 2016.

So we switched it up.  Sometimes the studio just isn’t the right setting.  It may be too confining or too sterile, or it may be too intimidating to the subject.  So we threw some gear in a bag and took the show on the road, to Marywood University, where she was both a student and is now an adjunct professor.  It was her home turf, and there’s a definite sense of comfort that comes from being in a setting where you are familiar and in control.

She ended up like the Marywood photos better than the studio shots overall, although we ultimately agreed on a few of each as her final selection.  Including the one below, which she doesn’t like, but I love.

I love shooting portraits, but not everyone loves being a model/subject.  It’s my goal to make sure my subjects become comfortable with the process so we can make some great photos, and I offer up Mandy as proof that it’s possible.

BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots of Mandy Boyle, photographed in the studio in Scranton, PA, on the afternoon of 19 March 2016.

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