Bride In Studio With Flower

There is a concept of good communication known as mirroring where a person mirrors mannerisms, choice of words, presentation style, etc of the person they’re communicating with. The goal behind mirroring is to make the message easier to digest since it will be in the native style of the message reciever. I have an opinion based only on my own observation and no scientific research that people being photographed also naturally mirror their photographer.

Good communicators catch on earlier to the style of the other party they’re talking to and make an effort to match their style, but this isn’t limited to only people that do this intentionally. All people naturally and gradually transform their style to contain a mix from other people’s speech and mannerisms. Think about going to a part of the country with a different accent. After a few days you’ll find your own accent changing. People also learn to mirror attitudes and nonverbal communication. So theoretically, a photographer should be able to change a picture by modeling a behavior or attitude they want from a client.

Again, this is not based on extensive research, but from my own experience, I can tell the personality of a photographer just by looking at a handful of images on their blog. Aside from the obvious indicators of prop selection and Photoshop editing, I can get a lot of information about who a photographer is based on facial expression of the people in the images. I don’t think I’m the only one that can read these things. Look at some of your favorite photographers and see if you can’t read the personality of the photographer on people’s faces. Is the photographer goofy, happy, romantic, uncertain? Isn’t it obvious to you too?

Ok, so who cares? As a photographer, you should. If your clients mirror your behavior, the solution to creating the right mood is to set the right mood. Watch how the masters do this – Jerry Ghionis switches personality on a moment’s notice to set the mood for his shots, and so does Sarah Petty, and many others. They may not refer to it as personality mirroring, but that’s the principle they’re using.

What that means is that we need to be paying attention when we watch movies. If a movie sets a mood particularly well, how did it happen? What kind of words, inflections, pauses, and body language set that mood? Then after you’ve seen the pros do their work, it’s your turn to practice. I don’t know – maybe even take video of yourself in a session. What aren’t you doing to set the right mood?

Do you guys already do this? Do you think there’s something to this or am I way off here? I’d love your feedback on this one because I’m not talking as an experienced authority, but more in exploration of a concept.

8 Responses to “Photography Using Personality Mirroring”

  1. I think there is something in what you say but it is easy to take it too far and read into expressions things that aren’t there.

    • TJ says:

      You’re probably right that you can definitely read into expressions more than is really there. Especially if a photographer is just starting out, whatever expression people are wearing is how it stays. I know on any shoot that we do, we frequently change the expressions on faces.

      Thanks for stopping by David!

  2. Hmm, TJ — something to think about for all you photogs out there! I’d be interested in hearing George Ross pipe in on this. He’s my favorite action photographer, and he happens to be an avid runner himself! I know he also does “posed” work.

    My favorite portrait photographer is Shawn Michael — he did the profile picture on our website. At our shoot, Shawn was very funny, relaxed, cracking jokes, smiling constantly himself.

    Interesting theory you have!

    • TJ says:

      Yea, invite your photographer friends into the conversation. I’d love to hear their opinion. Thanks for chiming in.

  3. I’ve been doing this for years…learned it from Jeff Smith. When someone smiles at you, it’s just natural to smile back! Especially with close-ups, compose and “peek” from behind the camera, make eye contact and SMILE. (if you want a smile back).

    Same with a “serious” look. Often if you ask for a serious look, you get a stern, angry expression… pursed lips, furrowed brow,etc. Come out from behind the camera and ask a question that you think will require a little thought… a slight look of concentration rather than anger will result.

    • TJ says:

      Tommy – at least I’m not out in left field with this idea then. I like the idea you have of doing something (ie asking a question) that gets the reaction you want instead of just telling them in general to look “serious”. I think the other way to do this is to give them a clear picture of what you want. At times when we direct a shot, we’ll tell them to pose vogue or America’s Next Top Model. People know what you’re talking about when you give them a specific look, but you’re completely on track that directing serious gets you all kinds of different looks.

  4. This is so true. I try my best to use personality mirroring.

    • TJ says:

      Brandon,
      That’s awesome! I’d say we can get a smile out of almost anybody – because that’s our personality. We’re still working on some of the other moods that we would like to be able to set. It’s all about practice, right?