If you’re a portrait photographer, chances are you’ve come across all different types of people. And though someone may have hired you to capture their image, unless they are a model/actor/musician/or other professional performer, they’ll probably be a little (if not a great deal) shy once you point that lens at them. All is not lost though, here are a few ways to ease their anxiety and make some great photos.
1) Get to know them.
If this happens to be a friend, great, you’re already halfway there. Ask them about their recent trip, their pet, their job, anything they really enjoy. If this is someone you’ve just met, do the same thing. Try and find out what they are passionate about, what really gets them riled up. Building rapport isn’t too difficult after a bit of practice. Once you find a similar interest, share some tidbits about yourself. Often times if a photographer doesn’t speak, they seem on a different level or even less human than the subject. Break the silence. Show them you are a person behind the camera as well.
2) Be authentic, yet eloquent.
There’s a difference between being polite and being fake. If something isn’t working, suggest an alternative. The way you phrase your direction is paramount in how your subject will be affected. Instead of saying “You’re not doing what I want you to do” say “Let’s try shooting a few over here instead.” Don’t let your subject know anything is wrong or blame them for it. Keeping a calm demeanor while working to find the images that work will allow them to relax and open up to you even more.
3) Use humor.
This is a big one for me. Even if you’re working with a straight-laced, non-smiling person, chances are you’ll be able to find at least one thing they find humorous. Whether this is in the form of observational sarcasm, exaggeration, or teasing, if sprinkled in now and then, it will keep the atmosphere light and fun for them.
4) Ask for their thoughts.
Finally, get out of your head. Look away from your viewfinder. Give this human your full attention. Ask them what they want to try or experiment. They may have had an idea but were worried about sharing because of judgement from you or they just didn’t realize they could. Show them that this is a collaborative process that they are taking equal parts in. That push towards partnership will really help.
Sometimes you may be nervous yourself. Maybe you’re shooting someone you really admire, or even a person that’s famous. Whatever the case may be, try and remember that this person is more than just an object for you to compose around. Be present, be respectful, and overall, be joyful for this opportunity to do what you love and appreciate that ability to share this with others.
May the light be with you.