“Hi, Samantha. Nice to meet you! My name is Dan. I’d like to start by having you tell me about yourself. I’m looking forward to getting to know you.” This was how the photographer of my daughter’s senior pictures greeted us when we showed up for her photo shoot on a warm June afternoon. He started the conversation, and then he listened.
He was not rushed, but instead took time to learn about her favorite activities and discover what she wanted to capture in her photos. He lightened the mood by making a few jokes that made her laugh. He asked about her family, friends, school, and work. He even asked her favorite music artists so he could have that music playing in the background while they were working. Before the first hour was over, they were talking as if they were old friends, and Samantha was relaxed and at ease as she posed her way through snapshot after snapshot. The session was scheduled for four hours and lasted five and a half because Dan took time, captured every image he thought she would want, and really focused on the goal: to capture Samantha in this moment and celebrate this stage of her life.
It wasn’t the day of her photo shoot that I really appreciated Dan’s work; instead it was the day we went to view the images. As soon as I saw them, I understood why he is recognized in his field. He had captured Samantha as the girl we raised and love. He had captured the zest for life her smile radiates, the quick wit and humor behind her laugh, the everyday expressions we recognize and appreciate, and the beautiful spirit we love so much.
At first, I was surprised at how he was able to get these images, and then I remembered how he had started the session and all the relationship-building techniques he had exercised. His work left me with three observations:
- Conversation—He asked questions and truly listened to the responses.
- Comfortable environment—He outlined the plan for the day, played music of interest, provided choices of settings and poses, and interjected humor.
- Time—He made sure Sam knew she was the focus of the afternoon/evening.
Combined, these three observations gave me one giant reminder: relationships must come first. They are the foundation on which excellence is built. When those we work with, students and colleagues alike, feel respected and valued, great things happen. This school year, may we take the time to listen to, learn about, and connect with our students and colleagues, building relationships first so learning can follow.
Photos by McClanahan Studio