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Men aren’t like women. Most of them don’t like or want the attention. Women will tell you all the things they don’t like about the way they look, but men just don’t really care. Women will tell you not to photograph their noses from the side because they think it’s too big, but that idea would never occur to a guy. Women will tell you they are overweight (and “can you make me look thinner?”) whereas men know they’re overweight, they mostly don’t care, and will then ask you where they can get another beer and some chips. Men just aren’t as self-aware or as self-conscious as women are largely because of social conditioning, and all this is a challenge to photographers. 

Fortunately, photographing men is not any more difficult than photographing women, just different.  Men don’t like to be photographed primarily because they know that it is their women who are most interested in themselves and how they look. Men don’t carry that particular burden. So the approach to photographing men requires a different set of ideas than photographing women, and requires reading personalities. That read will be easier with women than men.

male portrait
Photo Courtesy of James Schuck

Make Him Comfortable

The best way to make a man comfortable in front of a camera is to photograph who they are. That means you talk to them, find out what they are all about while you are working with them, create a dialogue that becomes more about getting them to talk about themselves instead of letting the pictures be the main topic of conversation. Get them to talk about themselves and their lives. Get their mind off the camera. Often times letting the conversation be the most important thing and let the photography take a back seat will win the day. That is what it really comes down to. Let them know that it’s not about the pictures, but about them.  Let them know that what you’re after is not just a picture of them, but a picture that their grandchildren will look at years from now and recognize a bit of themselves in them.  

See more: Posing Tips for Men

portrait of groom
Photo Courtesy of James Schuck

Engage Him

Find out what they like to do. Baseball fan? Football? With men, you can usually find a sports topic to engage them. Let them do the talking otherwise you wind up with a lot of photos of them listening to you. That would be the same picture fifteen times. Their work is another good topic. Or ask them how they met their wives. Anything to get them to continue talking about themselves, to make them forget they are being photographed.

Oddly enough, men in groups are significantly easier to photograph than individuals. Maybe it’s the shared camaraderie, the feeling of togetherness that makes it easier, but when you are in a group of men, they mostly want to cooperate and get the job done. They are very practical in that regard.

group of groomsmenPhoto Courtesy of James Schuck

Use Some Light Teasing

In a group of guys, there is always one character who is the butt of all the group jokes, a sort of group mascot. It’s always a good idea to use that guy as a foil by teasing him in the same way his peers do and this doesn’t matter if you, as the photographer, are a man or a woman. Give the mascot “group grief” and you’re suddenly a member of the group. That will make photographing the men so much easier. It’s always a good idea to let the mascot know at some point that it’s all in good fun, just to acknowledge his importance in the group. He’ll accept it all with good grace, just as he always has and his friends will remember you and remind him of all the grief you gave him. It confirms and solidifies the group identity. 

Don’t Ask Him to Smile!

One of the most important things about photographing men is making sure you don’t ask them to smile. They know how dumb that sounds and the smile you get will be forced. If you absolutely cannot get him to smile, then by all means ask him to smile, then tell him his smile looks like he died a few weeks ago or some other such ridiculous thing and that just might get him to laugh. That will be genuine. One Illinois teenager was impressed by a portrait session when he related to his parents that the photographer never asked him to smile. He got the pictures of himself in the exact way he pictured himself, not the pictures the photographer wanted.

2 football playersPhoto Courtesy of James Schuck

When photographing men, be aware at all times that the camera and the photos are secondary. It is the relationship in the moment, whether it lasts ten minutes or ten days that will make the best photographs because your man will know you see him not as a picture, but as the flesh and blood man he is and he will genuinely give that part of himself to you. In other words, you make you man feel so comfortable that he makes the pictures and not you.

People in general have paradigms for how to behave everywhere in life. They know how to behave with their bosses, what’s required of them in public and at home, but very few people outside of models, actors and other public personalities know how to behave in front of a camera. Your job as a photographer is to find a way to reach people in general, and men in particular, so they will feel more comfortable in front of your camera. Once you’ve established a rapport with them, you will begin to make the kind of photographs that are genuine, are about who they are as human beings and they will know it while you’re photographing them and afterward, when they see the proofs, they will remember you. The good feelings they had when you photographed them will return along with the pictures, and that will mean everything in the world to them.

James Schuck

James Schuck is a writer and photographer working in Southern California. He is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City and has photographed everything from Architecture to Auto Parts to Cookies to Portraits and Weddings.

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