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Putting myself in the picture


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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Putting myself in the picture

6 Jul 2020 7:50AM   Views : 449 Unique : 313


Yesterday’s lockdown hair selfie had led me to reflect on photographers in front of the camera – not least because of the number of members of this site who (to put it bluntly) really don’t like being photographed.

To some extent, I can understand this coming from a landscape photographer, or a still life specialist. But for those of us who make a habit of photographing other people, whether they are models or people in the street, this smacks of hypocrisy. We expect others to be in our pictures, but object to being in theirs… Why?

But I’m not going into the negatives. This article is about the positives of deliberately swapping sides of the lens, because there are a number of good reasons why you should make a point of stepping in front of someone else’s camera. And no sooner had I decided to write about this than I got a text from my daughter-in-law asking me to take her picture, and providing a reason for it.


Emma’s a wedding photographer, and has been spending time working on her website while there are no weddings to photograph. So reason one for wanting to be in front of a camera – because you need to be seen to be taking pictures. It’s for publicity, to promote yourself as a photographer.

But there are reasons why you should get round there anyway. There’s the leadership thing – that you should not ask anyone else to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. Remember the time you went to the Lads and Dads weekend with the Cubs, and Arkela wouldn’t go down the deathslide – and how everyone’s attitude shifted just a little bit? You need to show willing!

Another side of leadership-with-a-camera is the importance of being prepared to look silly in the cause of getting a good picture. Anyone who stands on their dignity loses a bit of credibility in the eyes of the people they are working with, especially if they are asking others to be silly…

And then there’s the internal stuff, the understanding of being asked to drop one shoulder a little, or being told to turn to face the camera more. If receiving instructions doesn’t appeal to you, maybe there’s a reason to think harder about how you offer guidance to your own models… You will learn about the communication involved, and you may pick up a bit of camera technique along the way.


There can be a trade advantage, as well. I know a number of models who have taken up photography on their own account, and many have creative ideas that require willing subjects. If they’ve been good to you, you should be good to them. It doesn’t matter that they are stunningly good-looking and you’re not: this can be about character. I’ve stood on one leg on kitchen steps holding an umbrella like Mary Poppins and admired an oil painting alongside a unicorn in the interests of art.

Ah, yes. If you value creativity, why not be part of somebody else’s project? Again, it’s only fair, and even if you contribute to something utterly outside your own field of interest, there’s value to it: someone else is producing what they want to make and be proud of: and you may broaden your horizons (as I did, literally, wearing a suit in a bath on the seafront at Hunstanton…)


And one final thought – your family may actually want to have pictures of you! So many of us have the material for a family album with a gap in it, and the gap is us. It’s easier to understand why this is a problem if you’ve ever seen the family pictures of someone who has carefully excised themselves from every image with scissors – it looks like an act of vandalism, and almost of cruelty to others, however honourable the intentions.

And you may even end up with a picture of yourself that you (and your family) like...

Pictures of me © Emma Duder of Doodah Designs. Picture of Emma at work by me.


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bluesandtwos Avatar
bluesandtwos 14 544 1 England
6 Jul 2020 9:05AM
Smile There is one more situation I can add to this ( and I really like reading your blogs by the way).
In a past life I have been photographed doing that 'work' thing with no problems at all, in a uniform and pretty much unrecognisable, either at 'jobs' or at public events.
I have modelled costumes for a friends fancy dress hire web page ( out there somewhere is an image of me as a giant carrot! Grin) again, not a problem, I enjoy playing the fool and if someone asked me to pose for a particular image for a project, or just an image they would like to make then that's absolutely fine with me!
Where I struggle are the family events, the Christmas dinners, the birthdays etc.
My family and my in laws are all quite photogenic, and at 'The Kodak Moment' can swith on the smiles, look radiant and all is well....I was at the back of the photogenic queue Blush, I lack the ability to switch on a smile ( I can smile for England and laugh to an Olympic standard, but just not to order), every one smiles, I vainly try but the result goes one of three ways, I look Victorian, I look like a lunatic, or I resemble a mad Victorian!!! None of which is a good look, and you can only half hide behind someone some of the time!GrinGrinGrin

Jasper87 Avatar
Jasper87 Plus
13 3.5k 165 England
6 Jul 2020 10:14AM
I cannot disagree with any of that however smiling to order!....have you seen the Friends episode where they are trying to get Chandler to smile for the camera....that's me.

Would love to see the one of you standing in the bath in a suit.....
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2064 England
6 Jul 2020 10:14AM
I think family events are one of the most difficult photographic situations to deal with, from any point of view.

Everyone is interested in other things, and both photography and posing are done very casually. A really good photographer can draw sitters out, provoke spontaneous expressions and get the natural look that you mention. Another factor is that one always responds differently to family and other people: my wife is more tolerant of everyone but me taking pictures of her (she complains that I'm horribly slow: most people who've been in front of my lens reckon I'm quite rapid!) So an outsider will get more from you than a family member in 99% of cases.

And there's always the strategy of going for the Victorian neck-brace look.

Anyway, I reckon there's mileage in volunteering to pose for someone who knows how to use a camera. If you choose to view that as an offer, Dave, so be it.

P.S. Often, the uniform takes over the image, though I can think of two cases where it's not true. Phil Taylor recently got quite an evil eye from a member of the force in Lancashire: and I have a very smiley portrait of a bobby at the 2005 Make Poverty History demo in London.
GGAB Avatar
GGAB 7 31 1 United States
6 Jul 2020 1:48PM
Perhaps this is why I shoot nature/sports and not people/portraits!
I hate being the subject of pictures....
rick Avatar
rick Plus
10 509 United Kingdom
6 Jul 2020 2:20PM
Great subject for a blog and wise words! I'm guilty as charged, hate my photo being taken, but then get annoyed when my family refuse to pose.
JuBarney Avatar
JuBarney Plus
12 36 7 United Kingdom
6 Jul 2020 6:21PM
Quote: I lack the ability to switch on a smile

My Mum was like that and she always looked 'forced' but when I got my first digital camera we were at lunch at a farm restaurant (so not at all formal) and I just kept playing with it so she started to ignore me and I grabbed some smashing shots of her being happy and natural - which I now treasure as she died not long after.

PS. Smashing shots of you John.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2064 England
6 Jul 2020 8:45PM
That's how it works, Ju... As you realised, or found: mostly, people start to accept the camera as nothing to do with them, and relax.

I've had two real failures: a lovely lass who distributed free papers at the station, but who was utterly wooden when she got dolled up to be photographed, and my wife.

It's like teaching your own children to drive: just doesn't take me seriously. I'm toying with the idea of asking Emma to do pictures of her: I suspect that if it's not me behind the camera, it'll be fine...
GeorgeP Avatar
GeorgeP 16 62 26 United States
7 Jul 2020 3:29AM
Great topic for a blog post – and encouraging coming from a “master” - even if most of your readers probably don’t practice your chosen photography genre. I inherited a Victorian family album that includes a collection of portraits of my mother’s grandparents and aunts - none smiling. They are a source of fascination to my grand-kids. (Someone else can count the generation gap.) A few photographs on me exist as a child, a primary-school pupil, a teenager, and then as a “Best Man” before the standard black and white wedding photos. After that, we only have some snaps and even these records fade away as digital images become the norm. I fear that the children of my grandchildren will face a photographic void when they seek images of this generation. Maybe they will find a few electronic references in the archives of Google – or its successor – assuming there are still programs that read .jpg files, but I still think prints that can be scanned are the only real answer to records for posterity. So, when you get that photo – print it , , , , , and add it to an album for your grand-kids to smile at.
pablophotographer Avatar
pablophotographer 12 2.2k 451
7 Jul 2020 3:57PM
I've made a comment about death recently. In some places tombstones include the picture of the deseased person. Now, here's one chance for posterity.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2064 England
7 Jul 2020 6:09PM
A good point George - get prints done.

And, for the next generation, there will be happy snaps on Facebook (and its successors, when real life catches up with the way it operates).

I suspect that pictures sealed onto tombstones do not outlast the next generation. And they definitely aren't to my taste, any more than tombstones are.

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