If I had a pound for every person who has told me that they hated having their photo taken I would be a very rich woman! For most people the idea of having their photo taken seems a really alien and uncomfortable experience. I put it down to years of being told to look at the camera and fake a smile. You must remember the horrendous school photos we were all subjected to every year. My son has them now too. All you see from the resulting pictures are forced smiles and stiff poses. All the way from childhood we are told to stand still, look at the camera and smile…’say cheese!’ No wonder people have bad memories of having their photo taken!
This is why I love to capture photos that tell a story. Images that don’t just have the person sitting still and looking at camera. Photographs that capture a little something of the person in them.
Despite not enjoying having a photo taken, everyone reacts positively and loves photos that capture something of the essence of a moment. An image that shows the real person, not overly posed; a natural reaction.
Capturing that emotion is not straightforward, especially when someone is aware that they are being photographed. Its one thing managing to grab an amazing photo of someone laughing, smiling or even crying, when they aren’t aware that image is being taken. Quite something else when you have a rather camera shy person stood in front of you! This is when its up to you, as the photographer, to gain that persons trust and help them relax in front of the camera.
Here are some great ways to get those great ‘natural reactions’ with just a little assistance.
1. Reach out to the person & put your camera down for a moment.
I know, the irony isn’t lost, but just think of how much of a wall that camera can be, especially to someone a bit uncomfortable about having a photo taken. Its a great black lump that stops your rather nervous model from seeing your eyes and connecting with you. I’m not suggesting packing the camera away, but lower it a bit every now and again. Have a conversation, ask questions and find out about what makes the person you are photographing tick. Once they trust you and have connected with you a little they will relax. Once they have relaxed you will start to see the real person, and while you are chatting you can start taking a few pictures. The conversation will make them more animated and you can begin to capture some real reactions and show their personality.
This works for couples too. If a couple is a little nervous then get chatting to them. Ask them questions, such as how they met, or what films they enjoy, what restaurants do they like. Anything to get them talking to you and talking to each other. Once they start chatting together you can almost step back and leave them to it. Just making the odd comment here and there will keep them interacting.
2. Keep taking photos.
Once you have put the person at ease then take the time to take a few more photos than you think you might want or need. As with any new situation, most people take a little while to get into the swing of it so keep taking those shots. Make sure you try a few different angles and crops. Most people have a ‘good side’ or a pose or position that’s more flattering than others so try out some options. Don’t be afraid to give a little direction, after all they can’t see how they look through the camera.
I find a little light direction useful for couples too. Many people get stuck knowing where to put hands or how to stand. They overthink the whole thing and this is when it can all start looking too stiff and awkward. Asking a couple to hold hands, hug or lean against each other is easy and helps them feel safe because they are connecting together. I tend to find a spot with great light, where I want to take the photos, ask the couple to stand together or hug and then once they have relaxed step back a little and give them some space. I always start with photos from further away and then slowly get closer. This allows the people or person to ease themselves into the whole photo shoot. The last thing a nervous person needs is a camera up close and personal on the first shot, it takes a while and some trust to relax for close up portraits.
If things get stuck and you aren’t sure what to do next, go for a walk. Its my go to ‘let’s shake things up a bit’ shot. A bit of movement can help the person or couple relax and give you time to find a new spot or get some new ideas for the next photo.
3. Have a bit of fun, and be a little silly.
You may find some people leap into the whole ‘photo shoot’ thing quicker than others. One way of figuring out the persons comfort level is to have a little fun and get them to play around with different expressions. Can they be a bit silly, serious, sad or cheeky? (Feel free to join in and help them get into the swing of it!). For couples maybe you can ask them to play a game where they have to jump from spot to spot without bumping into each other? You could also try some word related games eg. ‘If Tom was an animal, what animal would he be?’. You will be amazed at the reactions and this always gets some laughs and discussions going!
This isn’t the be all or end all, as some people will immediately feel really self conscious, but at the very least they might start giggling at how silly they feel and you have immediately helped them relax and the ice is broken. You don’t need to stick with this for too long, especially if someones clearly not comfortable with it, but it can work well.
4. What happens in between the ‘shots’ is the key.
These are the times when you can see the real person you are photographing. These moments are the ones that happen right after the shot that the person was waiting for. They relax, they stand or sit the way they would naturally and this can make for wonderful photos that reflect the true personality of your subject. What this means for the photographer is that you should be ready to shoot at all times. Be prepared, anticipate the unplanned and look for those perfect shots that capture your subjects natural reactions. When you are moving from one spot to the other, have your camera ready. Don’t put it away!
5. Do a bit of homework before the shoot.
Its amazing how much you can find out about someone before the shoot by asking a few simple questions and chatting a little, even over email. The more you can find out before the easier it will be to get a feel for the person you are shooting and what makes them tick. It also means they will feel more comfortable with you as they will get to know you a bit through this process too. This can help you to work out what to say or do that will make them relax and allow you get those fab shots.
When it comes down to it, there are no hard and fast rules. Nothing is going to guarantee that you get that killer shot that just truly sums up the person or people you are shooting, but you can certainly help things slightly. Be yourself, be friendly and chatty and above all be ready, prepared and constantly watch whats happening because you never know when that perfect shot is going to happen.
Hope you find this helpful. I would love to hear how you get on with your portraits.
Thanks for popping by