How intimate should you be with a subject? This might well be a provocative question to ask, but being professionals we don’t think it’s too ‘out there’.

David Bailey

However, photography great David Bailey has recently been cited as commenting: “I’m a whore; I fall in love with my subjects.”

A self professed whore as he may be, when reiterating this comment to the press, he was was doing so in the build up to his now well established show at the National Portrait Gallery; not an accolade to be sniffed at!

Having photographed everyone and anyone in his long career, David Bailey can probably reel off a long list of ‘love affairs’ over the year, each with their own story to tell. Having been married four times, it could even be said that David has a penchant of falling in love very easily.

Bailey’s Stardust, which opened on February 6th 2013 and will until 1st June 2014 has included some of the most beautiful, poignant and famous pictures that are now iconic images. Remember the famous Mick Jagger in his Parka coat? That’s there! How about the well known informal shoots that Bailey had with Jerry Hall and Kate Moss? They’re both there, too.

At Photoion Photography School London, we have often questioned exactly how to get the very best from a subject without crossing personal boundaries and into the dreaded unprofessional zone.

Bailey believes in making subjects become the centre of his universe for the duration of the time they spend together; falling in love seems to become a given component of this theory.

It is very important for the photographer to develop some kind of relationship with their subject in order to get the very best out of them; intimacy on a certain level, albeit preferably mutual, will encourage the subject to lose inhibition in order to create a shot that emanates total comfort from the subject.

How is it possible to find that connection in order to draw out the essence of your subject? 

Story telling is a great way to break the ice; swap information in an informal manner to work out how your sitter moves, reacts, how they speak, the way their expression changes as they relax; the more you can find out about the subject, the better, it will teach you how to read them and understand when you will get the best shot.


As photographers, we know that it’s not just all about taking a quick snap and hoping for the best; you have to almost become a psychoanalyst to quickly and effectively size up the information and characteristics that appear before you.

Finding an appropriate environment that your sitter is totally comfortable in is vital, as is moving in close and avoiding that awkward embarrassed smile.

You have to see people as the portrait they are going to become when the image is developed and in order to get the best out of a subject, you have to like them; you have to have the desire and urge to really show this person in their very best light.

Portrait images are intimate, people are laying themselves bare for a photographer and allowing them to see their every line, every crease, every blemish; their comfort is paramount, whether they are or not, they need to feel like the most beautiful person in the world, at least to you.

The key thing to remember is that, as a photographer, you have a role to play. Thinking of it as an acting gig with the outcome of pictures. Don’t defer from your role and gauging the balance between professional and a step to far will be a piece of cake.