Practicing Wu Wei

I’ve been doing a great deal of studio portraiture lately. When I look back on how I used to try to plan out my sessions, I realize that over the years I have radically changed the way I do things.

The principle of “Wu Wei” is a concept of Taoism  that means natural action. It is a mental state in which the way we do things is more in line with the natural world. Results come without a great deal of struggle. My photography to a great extent has been a direct result of this principle.

Back in the studio, I’ve discovered that there’s no use planning anything too much. People show up and nine times out of ten, everything changes anyhow. Faces are different. Personalities are different. Confidence levels are different. I try my best to explain my philosophies regarding photography, and I think it helps to alleviate stresses and fear going into a shoot. I’ve seen people arrive as nervous wrecks, and a half hour later they’ve shown me many aspects of their personalities and carry on for the remainder of the session with complete confidence in themselves.

To a great extent, my job is to observe all the little nuances of gesture and expression until I feel that I can bring out who the person really is. It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to figure out if someone isn’t being their true selves. Simple body language tells us that. But the real skill in being a portrait photographer is in the fact that it’s a little like being an acting coach. In order to show who they really are, they have to become someone who they aren’t first. All the other stuff you need to know like lighting and camera skills pales in comparison to being able to encourage someone to take a chance in front of a complete stranger.

If I can see hesitation in my viewfinder, then everyone else will be able to see it as well. I’ve discovered that I can see thought through the camera as well. Thinking generally isn’t a good thing. My kind of photographs demand a certain degree of unplanning with split-second “real” moments.

Going with the flow and practicing the principle of Wu Wei has produced spontaneity in my subjects which leads to being able to drop all preconceived notions and get down to the real business of grabbing meaningful photos that are a reflection of who these wonderful people really are.

Happy Shooting




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