Never Let ‘Em See Ya Sweat

(Ed. note: In remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001, we have this excerpt from Joe McNally’s The Moment It Clicks about a photo he made not long after.)

Always remember, being in front of the camera is a very vulnerable place to be and nothing makes your subject more queasy than to just be out there, alone, while you and the assistants hover, pace, look shaky, and talk pixels and f-stops.

So radiate confidence! It’s always amazing to me how a crew can voice doubts and talk techie, worrisome crap right within earshot of the photo subject. I always imagine it’s like the operating room chatter during a long, serious surgery. That doesn’t matter to the patient, ‘cause they’re knocked out. But your subject is right there, listening. If you’re fretting, so are they. “Is it all right? Is it serious? Am I gonna die?” Not good.

Think of it this way. You’re a passenger on an airliner, some green co-pilot is accidentally sitting on the intercom switch, and you hear somebody in the cockpit say, “What’s this button do?”

After 9/11, I shot Mike Piazza (for Sports Illustrated) sitting on the edge of a roof, 12 stories up, smoke in the skyline where the World Trade Center used to be. He and other New York athletes had stepped up to encourage and support the city.

During the shoot, my heavily sandbagged and roped off strobe unit literally blew up. Flames started shooting out of the softbox. Not smoke, flames. Big ones. It looked for a minute like I had painted the Octa with a set of low rider decals.

I walked up to Mike and shrugged. The assistants were scurrying about, pulling it down, putting out the fire. Told him we had another unit, we’d have it running in about five minutes. Relax.

Remember, as insecure as you are behind the camera, they are doubly so in front of it. So, even though things are going to hell in a handbasket, give ’em the old “this is just temporary, we’ve got it handled” look. Make ‘em feel good. (Even if you just peed your pants!)

Mike Piazza

Mike Piazza

To get more photography tips (and read more stories) from Joe McNally, pick up his book, The Moment It Clicks.