Getting Your Subject/Model Comfortable

Lifestyle Portrait (2 of 16)

Some people are camera shy. As a photographer, you have to be ready and willing to work with these types of people. The more experience you have, the easier it will be. Everyone wants to take pictures of the perfect couple or model that understands your vision, poses perfectly, and has fun with the photoshoot. Many people do this naturally, but with others, it takes a bit more work. However there are four easy ways to get your model or subject to loosen up and become more comfortable with you.

1) “Say” Positive

You need to stay positive and “say positive” throughout the photoshoot. Do not say a single negative thing. Phrases like “This pose isn’t working, let’s do something else” or “no, no, go back to what you were doing before,” might seem innocent enough, but it makes your subject feel self-conscious, and therefore tense. It is essential to stay and “say” positive.

Part of “saying positive” is positive encouragement. Simple phrases like:

“Yes, yes, I love it!”

“You look great!”

“Work it!”

“I don’t even need to pose you! You look so good on your own!”

“*gasp* That was perfect. Keep doing whatever you are doing”…

are all fun, encouraging, and positive. Make sure that you mean it, and you are genuine. Again, if you don’t, it might backfire on you. Make the photoshoot fun for you both. And if things are not going your way, stay positive anyway. To redirect your subject. Say things like:

“That was great, let’s do another pose”

“I’ve got the shot. Let’s keep moving”

And so on and so forth. Never insinuate that their pose was bad or didn’t look good on camera. Just stay positive and friendly, and your model will warm up and get better as the photoshoot continues.

2) Monkey see, Monkey do.

This goes without saying. Show your model what you want. It is much easier to imitate someone, than to try to decode directions. Things get lost in translation. Trying to figure out who’s right and left you are talking about, who’s limbs need to do what becomes confusing and just slows down the session. Just show your model what you want. It is ten times faster and easier.

Another plus of showing your model example poses, is that they don’t feel self-conscious doing it themselves. There must be hundreds of social behavior studies that show this same thing; that humans are more comfortable following someone’s lead than taking the lead themselves. Especially in front of a camera. Even actors need a director.

For those that are camera shy and don’t really like to pose, you demonstrate how to do it for them. If you make an idiot of yourself, at least they think it’s okay since you did it first. And more often than not, I find that the photos I take right after the “cheesy pose” are the best. I sometimes notice clients giggling and having a good time after the pose, which is what we want in many portraits anyway.

With larger groups it gets more complicated. In those cases, call to your subjects by name, and demonstrate to them individually. Which brings me to my third point.

3) Repeat names

It is essential to know the name of the person you are taking photos for.  This seems like an obvious thing to say, but after taking pictures of so many people, it is easy to accidentally mix names up in your mind, especially with weddings. Make your client’s name a mantra before you get to the photoshoot, and during the photoshoot. Make sure you say your subjects name when you are speaking to them.  Your client will feel much more comfortable with you if you say, for example, “Jenna, can I get you to angle to the camera like this?” versus “Will you angle like this?” The photoshoot becomes much more personable and your client will open up and get cozy when you repeat their name.

If you are dealing with a large group, say in a wedding type situation where there is extended family involved, try your best. If you cannot remember who the mother of the bride’s uncle is, that is fine. But by all means, avoid the word “you.” Like, “hey you, can I get you to stand over here?” Maybe that works for some people, but I personally try to avoid it. It sounds too impersonal, unless you are directing the group at once. “Everyone gather in!” is fine for direction. If you absolutely forget names, use titles. Say things like “Mr. Smith,” or “Momma of the Bride,”  even “sir” or “ma’am” sounds better than “you”. Know names!

4) Space 

This was my biggest mistake during my very first photoshoot. I didn’t give my client’s enough space. I stood very close to them, and it invaded their personal space bubble. This will make your subjects uncomfortable, even if they are comfortable with you as a person. Everyone you work with will have differing comfort levels of closeness and personal space. Treat everyone like they need more of it, to stay on the safe side. Having a telephoto lense is also helpful for this, as well as your general portrait composition.

These are my little tips for getting your clients and models comfortable with you. Some practice with these and you will be a master of charm behind the camera in no time!


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