Portraits should be pleasing

I’m currently working on a large portrait project, and it’s something of a trial by fire. I have little experience taking portraits of strangers, and I’m weak at dealing with the people – I can increasingly figure out how to light properly, and even get an ok composition, but the patter of quickly putting people at their ease isn’t one of my strengths. I could do with following somebody with more expertise, just to get some rough ideas.

I felt it particularly this evening, when I took someone’s picture, showed them the result, and they were clearly embarrassed at the result. Not at anything I’d done badly (they thought), but at how they looked –  they were ashamed by their personal appearance. They happily signed off on the picture, but were a little downcast, and I felt awful: my taking their photo had made them less happy. I hate that. That’s not how it’s meant to work. When taking portraits, my primary goal is to produce an image that is liked by its subject. I failed in this case, and I couldn’t think of a way to fix the situation. I need to get better at this.