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On Photographing People: Pt. 3

Editor's Note: This is the third in a three-part series by Italian photographer Sara Lando on photographing people. The series begins here. I asked her to select some of her favorite images to illustrate this piece.

By Sara Lando -- The model is gone, your studio is a mess, you’re tired but still a bit excited about the shooting and can’t wait to see your pictures on your big monitor.

Some might call it a day and go grab a beer. But there’s still a couple of things you might want to do before wrapping it up.

I won’t talk about the importance of post production in digital photography (long story short: when you think you’re not doing any because you shoot jpeg, you’re just demanding it to some random guy trapped in a camera factory, who decided which de-mosaicing algorithms to apply to your raw files) and I still think most of what I’m going to say is still valid if you shoot film: just because your model is gone, it doesn’t mean the work is done. I know mine isn't.

After my model is gone and the door is shut, I download my images right away and back them up on external hard drives. Memory cards are small, sneaky and the last thing you want to do is to format one of them before you know all your photos are safely stored in three different places. You don’t spend all this time, money and effort on learning how to use a very expensive camera just to lose those files because you were careless or lazy. I did, it burned.

With portrait photography especially, people are often emotionally invested and you’re kinda sorta supposed to actually give them some pictures at some point.


While I’m waiting for the files to download and copy, I usually quickly select 3 of them to send to my subject. Right after the shooting is the best moment to do so for several reasons:

1) I’m stuck there anyway.

2) I have just shot those images and I already know which ones I’m going to pick. There’s this feeling I get when I’m shooting someone and I really like what I see through the lens: it’s a little bit like being in love. And I know what came before and what came right after, so it takes me very little time to track those images down. It might take much more time after a couple of days or a week.

3) I want them to see a preview while they are still excited about the whole experience. This keeps the hype going.

4) If they receive a preview right away, they will not think it’s been photoshopped to death. If it takes you 3 month to get back with the final images, people are going to assume you have been spending the whole time working on them, so they most likely are going to think they look nice only because they have been retouched. This is particularly true for those who are used to seeing bad pictures of themselves. I almost never show the pictures to them in person because I want to make sure I don’t accidentally show them that one photo in which they have their eyes closed, their mouth open and no neck (there’s always a bunch of those).

5) It gives me the occasion to thank them for letting me take their picture. A small “thank you” goes a long way and even though your name is going to be the one on the credits, it takes two to play the game and you should recognize that.

I only send very small samples (400x600px) and keep the post production at minimum, usually I just develop the RAW files and adjust contrasts or sometimes convert the shot to black and white. I explain that what they are receiving are not the final images and I ask them not to publish them on Facebook/Twitter/wherever, yet. I also let them know exactly when I will be giving them the photos.
One of the most common complaints I hear from models when they talk about photographers (believe me, they do), is the amount of time it takes them to send them usable photos.

I don’t care if I’m shooting a paid job, a test or doing a favour for a friend: I treat each and every shooting as if I was paid top money.

If I don’t have time to deliver, I’d rather postpone the shooting. People forget how much they paid (or didn’t pay) for their photos, but they always remember how professional you have been, when it’s time to name a photographer for a job.


The more experience I gain as a photographer, the less post production I need to do on my images, yet everything I deliver to anyone has to be finalized. You never know who’s going to look at those file and unless you are working for a big client and just hand over the memory cards, what you show—and how—is something you should have complete control over.

You should already know how many pictures you are going to send (it’s an information I often include in my model release.) But I never just burn a cd with everything that has been shot: the really bad images are erased immediately, never to be missed. And if I said I would deliver 15 images, I try to make it at least 18. Again, it’s all about making people feel treated really well.

I usually send a link to gallery of images (Lightroom works great for that, because it’s fast and looks nice) they can look at on the web and a link to a .zip file of the same images they can download and have on their computers. I also spend some time writing the email that I’m sending, because “here’s the link” is effective but not exactly warm. I usually tell them which ones are my favourites and why. Those are the photos I’ll most likely publish and I want to make sure they are really looking at them.


Unless the model has been paid (and therefore the client is the one calling the shots), giving my subject the possibility to veto what I can publish has been the fastest way to build endless trust. If I have done my job, I know it won’t happen.

I have never shot a picture that has changed the history of photography and probably never will. But I know how it feels to be on the receiving side of a very bad picture displayed without your consent (thanks mum for hanging THAT shot in our living room for years) and it’s very upsetting. If someone vetoes your shots, it’s usually because you have tricked them into expecting something completely different and that’s your fault.

Sometimes people might veto a shot because of something that can be easily corrected in post production (sometimes it can be as small as “the almost-invisible-ring I’m wearing was given to me by my ex boyfriend and he left me for my best friend, so I don’t want that picture published”), so before you start thinking they’re tasteless idiots, ask them if it’s something you can fix.

You might argue that it’s *your* picture, and you can do whatever you want with your art… it’s an interesting discussion, and I can see the point here. Yet I am not into the business of making people miserable and this has always worked fine for me.

It happened to me only once to have someone asking me not to publish a specific picture. They felt like it was too intimate and even though they liked the shot, they asked me not to publish it on the Internet. I have photographed the same person several times after that, and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have happened, had I just told her “I have a signed release, I’m doing what I want”.


Because of Murphy’s law applied to photography, you want to make sure that the images you don’t really like, never EVER leave your hard drive, as they are probably the ones that will end up everywhere and that’s usually when people remember to give credit.

When I select the images, I pick everything I would like to show and a couple of shots I won’t use in my portfolio but I still like and I’m sure my subject will love because they look very good in them. Those are the ones that will be printed and hanged in their houses, posted on Facebook and showed to grandchildren.

One of the things I am most proud of is that a really high percentage of the people I photograph uses my images as their profile pictures in Facebook, Twitter or other social media. I always include the right to use my pictures on social media in my model release, and I’m very easy-going about that. They use something I did as the official representation of their identity and it’s really flattering for me, but there’s more than flattery involved.

Think about that for a moment: that picture is going to be seen by those who know how that person looks like on a daily basis. They see that person on a winter monday morning with a flu and then they compare it to my image. They are going to assume I am a good photographer, even though all I have done was place a light, find the right angle, make them do most of the job and select the best shot!

Regardless of what your subject decides to show others, you want to be very specific about what you publish on your website/ Flickr/ whatever. Many people consider a portfolio a way to show what they have done, but it should be more a display of what you would like to do more of.

You will find that the closest your portfolio is going to be to what you care about, the easiest is going to be to find models that are likeminded and perfect for your projects. Don’t try to please everybody, don’t be afraid to stand for something. All you care is the back of people’s heads? Own it.

A great photo is about what you exclude just as much as what you show, and the same can be said of a great photographer.

Sara Lando is based in Milan, Italy. To see more of her work or to commission her, visit her website.


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