Lights Camera Love Part II: From a Good Photographer to the Best

How would you respond if a photographer walked up to you and asked if she could photograph your family for an assignment in a Muslim magazine? Dorothy Greco came face to face with this situation during one of her first assignments as a young photojournalist. At the age of 23, she received her first yearlong assignment for a Christian magazine. She boarded her flight and set across the Pacific to London, England, and searched for a Muslim family to photograph.

Why would a Muslim family welcome a Christian photojournalist into their home? How would she connect with them? Why would they trust her? After a week searching around London, an imam and his family welcomed her in. Twenty-four hours later, Dorothy returned to her hotel room humbled and amazed.

How did she build that trust and connection? To become a great photographer, you need more than the Photoshop skills and the knowledge of light. You need to connect with people. The deeper relationship you build with your subjects, the better storyteller you become.

Practical Tips to Develop Photographer/Subject Relationships:

  • Manual Focus: Months or weeks before you go off on assignment, research the culture you will be diving into.  Brainstorm ways to relate, connect, and build relationships. Ask questions, listen, read, and take notes. 
  • Focus Your Lens: Before you set out on assignment, take a breath. Spend 30 seconds, a minute, or even an hour to get focused. You’ve done the research, now step out there.
  • Put Down the Camera: Charge the batteries, grab the memory cards, organize the lenses and camera bodies.  Set the camera bag down.  Put the phone away, let the emails go unanswered for a few hours and get to know the people.  Spend some time working beside them and serving them. 
  • Develop the Photos: When you return back from your day of work, silence the doubts about your work. Put the obsession with perfection away in a dark closet, lock the door, and throw away the key.  Perfectionism destroys assignments, steals joy, and can harm people. Don’t try to be the best. Give your best.