I spoke a lot over the weekend with a fellow photographer about gear and subject reaction. Of course this conversation went down the road of DSLR vs whatever. The bottom line is that human subjects do react differently to different cameras but as are most things… It's more complicated and subtle. While the subject is on my mind I'll summarize a couple of my findings over the years as well as some other connected subject reaction observations.
Primarily subjects react to you. Your approach, the way you look, your sex, age, everything. Non-verbal queues, tone of voice, accent, all of it is influential. Then again subjects range the gamut. The spectrum is huge. Our egos as people photographers just love to tell use that our magical skillz (I hate that so that would be extreme sarcasm) can provoke any mood or reaction from any subject. Wrong. If only… Different people will produce different pictures when working with each other. Not better or worse but certainly different. Even with professional actors, actresses or models the dynamic with different photographers and directors will change. Just a level set here so that anything else I write will be interpreted as it should – an influence rather than some earth shattering change in the photographer subject dynamic for your "norm".
Subjects I choose to shoot with the Fuji X100S instead of my D600 absolutely react differently in many ways. It's not entirely due to the camera being less big and scary. That can certainly be a factor but in some ways it comes down to how I use the X100S as well. Let's assume all other things equal with the exception of the camera. Let's pretend I'm going to use a tripod for a particular shot (funny stuff right?). If the particular imaginary shot we are talking about is highly setup with a lot of specific direction, formal placement of the subject, a lot of okay don't move or hold that kind of stuff the images are going to be pretty much the same no matter what camera I use.
Even without the direction there's a good chance that tripod is going to be a bigger factor that what sits on top of it. True enough within reasonable parameters. If there's something extremely strange and out of context for the subject on top of the tripod that may override the tripod itself in terms of influence – say a giant camera shaped like Richard Nixon's head. The point is that you cannot expect some dramatic small non-intimidating camera difference if you bring a tripod, a bunch of lights, an assistant, some reflectors, a tethered shooting set up, and an AD to the scene. You'll get about the same as you did with a big "scary" camera.
Let's pick up the gear thing again in a second but first let's talk about tone. In my experience the tone you set from the start pervades the rest of the session. That tone can change but usually only in one direction. If you start loose and less formal you can usually go a bit more formal and structured if so desired. If you start formal and structured it's harder to go loose from there. Human nature? I don't know, doesn't matter. Experiment for yourself to prove me right or wrong. Find out how it goes for you but definitely with intent and acute observation so you know how it goes for you. I will try to always start loose rather than super structured even if I might want something that feels more formal later.
Let's tie that loose/formal thing into gear for a second. Remember the tripod? Even if I intend to use one at some point I'll start hand held. I sometimes do the same thing with lights and reflectors. I'll bring them in later. Just my method that works for me and the options I want on the table in the spectrum of subject feel. What about that camera thing? Big and scary or little and cute? You can probably guess right…
Digging a little deeper into the camera related subject reaction and feel let's talk little cute Fuji X100S for a moment. Even that camera will get different reactions hand held depending on use – all else being equal. If I use the rear screen and wing it instead of bringing it up to my eye I will get a different set of subject reactions and a different feel. Try it yourself. I do have to say that I sometimes use the Fuji that way for that specific reason. Even more for that than to get a strange angle where I cannot look through the finder. I never ever do that with my DSLR because it's too cumbersome.
More on this sort of thing later. First post under 1,000 words in a while. What are your experiences?