Some people are not as comfortable in front of the camera as others. Perhaps they are shy, or perhaps they believe they have physical “imperfections”, so they aren’t at ease when it comes to having their photo taken. (I put quotes around that term because often these are not imperfections at all, but rather, beautiful parts of their body that they over-think.)
Unless they are a professional model, most people fall into this category to some degree. If they don’t feel comfortable, it will show in the photos. Luckily, there are things you can do that may help.
Give your subject something to do
Holding a pose will often garner an awkward expression. Thus, photograph them as they move. People are much more comfortable when they are in motion, than when they are still.
They don’t have to do anything overly complicated. The movements can be subtle, like looking up from a head-down position or fixing something, like part of their clothes.
Do your social psychology homework
Photographing people is part technical and part psychology.
For most people, you cannot start shooting the second your subject arrives and expect them to look natural, so communicate with them before the shoot if they are shy or concerned. Children aren’t the only ones who need time to warm up!
Make sure your subjects know how the shoot will go and what they need to do to prepare for it. If they are concerned about something, address it as quickly as possible. The longer a concern goes unresolved, the more it will grow.
Perhaps they have a scar on their arm they feel self-conscious about. Once you know that, you can address it, like letting them know you will try your best to avoid shooting it. Maybe they aren’t sure what to wear that will flatter their curvy body, so you can give them clothing suggestions or reassure them that you will use certain angles and lighting to accommodate this. Or maybe they are just plain shy, in which case, you want to make sure you talk to them! Let them know a little about you. Talk about common interests.
Making your subjects feel at ease is a very important and integral part of portrait photography.
When you have a shy or uncertain subject, being silent for a length of time can be unnerving for them.
Talk to them during the shoot, but be careful not to bark orders at them (ie. “Sit there, look here, put your hand like this, move your body like that!”) because that will achieve the opposite of what you want.
Rather, tell them what they are doing right, so they know to keep doing that, and explain what you are doing before you do it.
The entire shoot doesn’t have to be instructional or too commentated, but a little bit of talking will make your subject feel more confident and “safe”. With these feelings, personalities and natural expressions will surface.
If you are photographing children, you’ll want to read: How to Photograph Shy Children as well.
Do you have any other tips for working with people? Please share in the comments below.