It happened. After wrestling with lighting, posing, finding the right angle and composition, and bringing out that perfect moment, you finally caught the shot. It's everything you saw in your head and more. This! This is what it's all about. You've got the butterflies in your stomach that accompany that feeling when you've managed to get your art out into the real world. "Can I see it?" Oh no. "Sure," you say, doing your best to sound enthusiastic. "Hmm...it's nice, but I look fat. Can we try something else?" "Of course we can," you say, "let's switch it up." All the while you're thinking in your head that it was perfect as it was.
With the coming of age and subsequent proliferation of digital photography, it's become normal to show off your work, whether it be to a client, art director, or loved one, immediately after the photo has been taken. While this can be a boon to creativity, helping to refine an artistic vision by a creative team, it can also be crippling for the artist, as it's easy to fall into the trap of having "too many chefs in the kitchen." Speaking for myself, as I've grown as a portrait artist, being flattering to my subject has become less important than the overall image I'm creating. I want to create a great portrait and sometimes that doesn't make the subject look pretty. I'm ok with that, but convincing the subject can be difficult.
At what point does catering to your subject dilute your process? If you know that you've got the shot, should you keep going if your subject doesn't like the way they look on the back of the camera? Does it make you a diva who is difficult to work with if you tamp down on considering the opinions of others? The answer, of course, is that it depends.
Context is king. If you were hired to shoot a campaign for an ad agency, it's time to check your ego at the door. More than likely you'll be shooting tethered or have an art director or three breathing down your neck. Part of the process will be collaborating with stylists, props, agents, models, location managers, and the like. You have to work together. And sometimes that means your opinion of what "perfect" is goes bye-bye. Of course, as the photographer, it's your show. But being open to opinions, critiques, and suggestions is part of the process. It's their dime and their opinions should be respected.
But, what about personal work? When I'm shooting people for personal projects, if I'm working digitally, I almost never show them my LCD. Why? Because I don't particularly want their opinion. Now, that may sound harsh or diva-ish, but let me explain. The issue of letting people see your work right as you take the photo is relatively new. Let's think back to the days of film. Now, of course when shooting commercially, polaroids were the name of the game. You still collaborated by using instant film to check your exposure and vision with team. But with personal work, it's about you. Think back to works by some of the great portrait artists. Look at the subjects. They have bags. They have wrinkles. They have bloodshot eyes and grey hair. There are fat arms, cellulite, and awkward, real moments. But that's what makes them real. Would some of those moments be the same if the artist had tried to pose the person to be flattering?
For me, it's all about being honest with the subject up front. When I ask someone if I can take their portrait, first of all, I usually shoot film so they can't see anyway. But even while I'm proofing with a digital, I don't offer the screen. We live in a post-Myspace culture, where many people want to be photographed from above so that they look slimmer. I've been asked to shoot from that angle many times. I always say no. I don't shoot that way. If they'd like me to take a photo with their phone during the shoot, I'd be happy to! But that's not what I'm shooting today, please and thank you! Be polite. But, be firm.
We live in a day and age of instant gratification. People have no qualms about giving their opinions of your work, whether appropriately or not. When you're working in a team, be open and accommodating. But when you're shooting for yourself, do it for you. Stand strong in your art. Don't dilute your vision unless it's absolutely necessary.