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If you’re interested in diving into the world of lifestyle and portrait photography, or a veteran stuck in a rut of bland photos, and want to bring out some great emotions from your subjects – it’s time to get silly for serious images.
Chances are, unless you’re a natural born comedian or were from a large family where you had to ensure your meals by gaining mom and dad’s attention with witticisms and one-liners about Uncle Larry’s funny smells; you might not know how to go about making someone laugh on the spot. But it doesn’t have to be as hard as performing a stand-up act at the Gotham Comedy Club. In fact, you’ll probably end up joining in on the laughter too. (I will guiltily admit I’ve probably missed a great photo or two from laughing along hysterically with my subjects).
Here are a few techniques that have helped me light up the laughter.
I start almost all of my lifestyle photo shoots out by asking my subject(s) to think about something fun or funny that happened during the week.
I don’t ask them to share it, because maybe it’s not something they want to, but if it helps put them in a light mood or a secret smile on their face I know we’re off to a great start.
Then I tell them to think about a funny word like “purple,” “gorillas” or “potato head.” In all honesty, none of them are that funny, but they’re the exact opposite of what the person or people you’re photographing expect.
Sometimes that odd pairing catches them off guard and produces a bit of laughter. If it’s working, keep adding to it and get inventive.
A little good-natured self-humiliation usually catches everyone’s funny bones. We all love to hear someone go after themselves a bit. This can be especially effective for kids. If you’re setting up a photo and find the kids to be unresponsive, turn, take a good whiff of yourself and loudly exclaim, “Whew WHO stinks in here?!”
Are you a terrible dancer? Break out those awesomely awkward moves you’ve been saving up since Hammer Time. Take yourself lightly, laugh at yourself and your subjects might just start laughing along with you. If you can set your subject at ease and show them that you’re just a regular person like they are, they’ll have an easier time relating with you and opening up for those dazzling smiles.
Props are a classic way to get a good laugh. I’ve had some pretty good success on model photo shoots when I’ve brought along a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. Why? Because in an industry that takes itself very seriously, when you can be refreshingly light it’s a great change of pace. Finding a funny prop or two can be a cheap and effective way to bring out some laughs.
I once had a session with an aspiring model that I just could not crack a good smile out of. I could tell he was trying, but it just wasn’t genuine. That’s when I made the joking off-hand remark, “Why so serious, it’s not like your mom’s in the hospital.” For whatever reason, the mention of “mom” caused a tiny spark of laughter. Once I recognized that, I grabbed onto that spark and kept fanning it to a flame. I’m pretty sure I must have said “mom” about eight or nine times in a row right after, and sure enough he cracked right up.
Once that barrier was broken all I had to do was say that one word and it would produce some hysterical laughs. I even started pairing it with other words; at that point it didn’t matter. It’s all about breaking down that barrier and keeping it open once you do.
Remember every now and then that you’re going to have a person that is just not going to open up for you no matter what you do. Don’t let it discourage you. Keep trying and use it as fuel for the next time. Start acting a bit silly and you’ll start getting some seriously good lifestyle images.