How a senior portrait session brought much needed confidence to a young woman and changed the way I look at my business.
A couple of summers ago I was working with a family on a local beach to create their daughter’s senior portrait. The gal seemed a little more nervous than most in front of the camera and it took longer than usual for her to feel comfortable. But after a while she settled into the routine. We moved through clothing changes, hair and cosmetic touchups, and several locations without a hitch. As senior sessions go everything went great and at the end of the day she looked stunning in her images.
A week later my clients came by to view their images. Everyone loved them and they even shed a few tears of happiness during the selection process. Over the course of an hour they chose the images they wanted retouched and printed and were on their way.
When the mom came by to pickup their finished portraits she told me that over the last four years her daughter has had some significant self confidence issues, mostly around her appearance. But she reached a significant turning point during our session on the beach. As we would occasionally review the images on the back of the camera her daughter began to see herself differently. Slowly her confidence and poise began building to the point that by the end of the session she was the one coming up with new poses and ideas. And in the weeks since, her daughter had begun to smile more, take more joy in the day to day, and was really looking forward to showing her senior portrait to all her friends. All of which were almost unheard of just a few short weeks ago.
I’ve always believed in the power of portraits. To the viewer they convey emotion, a story, and a sense are where we stand in the world. But since that experience, and subsequently several similar ones, I’ve started looking at portraits more from the perspective of the subject. (This is especially important when creating a senior portrait for young women who feel pressured to live up to virtually impossible social ideals.) Regardless of what we do and who we interact with, the unconscious influence we all have to change a life, even in the simplest of ways, can not be overlooked.
These senior portrait experiences have also taught me a valuable business lesson. People will always tell us what they want and from there we prescribe what we feel is the best solution for them. But rarely will they ever tell us what they need. It’s important to spend a little more time with our clients to ask some open ended questions and listen for the clues that will allow you to delight them beyond expectations – and maybe even change their lives.
Charlie Cotugno is a commercial and privately commissioned photographer. Private commissions include fine art high school senior portraits, family portraits, and working with special needs subjects. Commercially he specializes in accelerating fundraising and awareness campaigns for socially responsible organizations. To learn more about how he can help your organization please visit www.cotugnophoto.com.
Charlie is also the founder and principal photographer for the nationally acclaimed project Stories of Autism which incorporates the fine art portraits of adults and children on the autism spectrum with their stories to raise awareness, acceptance, and inclusion.