Ironically, Good Verbal Communication = Success in Photography

I really enjoy connecting with aspiring, or student photographers way more than I do with old school, jaded pros. There’s usually a good spirit in there, even if some of the questions or attitudes are naive – they’re at least fresh and, well, bouncy. I often rap with students from The Brooks Institute, Art Center, Santa Fe Workshops, Parsons, Seattle Central, RIT, etc. Sometimes I’m mortified with the b/s they have to endure (instructors, keep it interesting!), but mostly I dig listening to their tall tales from photo school escapades and technical questions that help spawn entries like Chase Jarvis TECH: POV Photography.

The other day was a little different however, in that I got a sort of a theoretical question that intrigued and impressed me. A student from Brooks named Jared (Hey, J$, this is where, if you’d sent me your site, I’d link to it…) from Brooks posed this great question as a part of an assignment he was working on:

“Why is speech important to us as photographers? Exactly why is it so important to express yourself orally to people”

Damn. I like hearing those outside the box questions. They make you think about something besides f-tops and shutter speeds. My answer was pretty straightforward, and you can probably see it coming, but I think it’s worth saying again here:

Speech is crucial to photographers because it’s the primary medium in which you connect with your subjects and clients, especially initially.

In photography so much weight is always placed on the actual pictures when in reality, that’s what goes on at the end of the process (especially for professional commercial photogs). True you don’t need to talk as much if you’re a picture TAKER rather than a picture MAKER. But if you want to be a picture MAKER–ie. plan your shots and get what you want–you must be able to quickly peel away the many layers of your subject(s) and communicate clearly with them. Are they a celebrity with whom you need to connect in order to elicit that great smile, angst, their best “blue steel” or the character in their most recent flop of a movie? Or are they a pedophile that you’re photographing for a NYT cover story where you want to coax their sick, confused inner person out from their dark shell? Regardless, unless you’re shooting ceiling fans or strictly environmentals, the ability to connect with and/or direct people clearly is crucial.

Additionally–and perhaps more importantly–the ability to communicate with your clients verbally is a huge key to success. You’ll need to negotiate fairly and adroitly for rights and money, collaborate on creative directions in pre- and post-production, and almost always you’ll need to to discuss lots of variables and options while on set. I assure you, fewer people aspire to work closely with someone who can’t express themselves verbally. There’s just too much collaboration that has to take place (crew of 35 in New Zealand ring a bell?) to get away with being a poor communicator. In my experience it’s just the opposite.

Good question Jared. Thanks for keeping it interesting for all of us.

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