I've been a portrait photographer for nearly ten years, and pretty much without fail, my subjects feel awkward and unsure of themselves at the beginning of a shoot. It's my job as the photographer to help them relax, feel confident, and have fun! I've seen it all: the stressed out mom, the overly excited kid, the grumpy dad, and the annoyed teen. Different tips help for different moods, but overall, these are the tricks of my trade.
1. Ask Questions
Oftentimes I don't meet my clients until I am at the shoot. I like to ask them questions about what they did that day, where they plan to go after our session (all dressed up), or what fun things the kids have done recently. The more they start talking and storytelling, the more relaxed they become. It also helps that we are getting better acquainted, and I'm no longer the stranger with a camera.
People get all dressed up for you as the photographer, so it's nice to notice and compliment them. I will say that I like the colors they chose to wear, how nice their hair looks, or something positive. There is always something beautiful, and it's important to point it out. It helps clients feel more confident in themselves, and that confidence is portrayed in the photos. Even as I start snapping pictures, I'll say, "Great smile," or "You're a natural," and it helps them relax even more.
3. Be specific about posing
Most people don't know what to do with their hands…or their head…or their feet, so I like to guide them every step of the way. I'll walk them to the spot I want them to stand and point to the ground. I will grab someone's arm and place it around a family member, or I will suggest "thumbs in pockets" if they have pants on so their hands look relaxed. I know what looks good in pictures, and I'm not afraid to instruct every step of the way. (Sometimes even when I am not photographing people, I forget and instruct then, too.)
4. Give a sneak peek
Even if I try some of the tricks above and still see a little stiffness from those I am photographing, I will show them a sneak peek on my camera. I know they look fabulous, the light is gorgeous, and the images are beautiful, but they don't know it yet. I'll pull up the images, show them the back of my camera, and srcoll through a few. Almost every time, I see that soft grin show up that lets me know they are happy.
5. Take candid pictures
Everyone wants posed pictures for a formal family portrait. However, most people don't realize how much they will love a candid image of themselves alone or interacting with their family until they see the finished work. I like to ask people to jump, run, whisper, sing, dance, play, whistle, high five, fake laugh (it looks real in a picture), or any sort of action to capture some fun candid shots. I'll often even bring a ball for father and son to throw around — the men especially like this. I love candid action shots, and just playing with each other helps people relax the most.
It’s the photographer’s job to come with a bag of tricks to help their clients become more comfortable with themselves, and, in turn, capture timeless images for them. If you are new to portrait photography and worry you'll forget these tips, write them down on a little slip of paper. When you are changing your lens, take a little peek at the list to remind yourself. It's definitely an art form that takes practice, but the more I've done this, the more natural is it for me!