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Photographing Adults: the Hardest Group of All

Step one: surround them with kids or puppies or something so they relax and act normal.

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Okay, fine.  That’s not always possible.  It’s hard to get your hands on a bunch of puppies for one.  It’s a little easier to find a bunch of children, but then there you are…… stuck with a bunch of children.

Adults are so awkward in front of a camera.  It’s just so much PRESSURE.  To look GOOD.  And NORMAL.  I’m am one of the biggest offenders of this.  A running conversation with me while I’m getting my picture taken goes something like this:

Is my hair doing something weird?  I feel like my hair is doing something weird.  

Oh man, you totally just noticed that my right eye is smaller than my left didn’t you?  I hate that.  I was always going to have it fixed, just as soon as laser eyelid reconstruction became available. 

Can you tell me when you’re actually shooting because I want to be sure I’m sucking it in and looking as skinny as possible. 

Why did I wear this shirt?  It only highlights my big weird left eye and my non-ability to suck it in.  That was so stupid.  Can you Photoshop in a different shirt?

Can you try to get my toes in the picture?  Because I painted them last night and that’s about the only part of me that probably looks okay right now.

Nope, scratch that.  I just saw a chip in the polish.  Great.  Just great.  

The whole thing is ruined.  No sense in even trying at this point, as clearly I will break your camera.

Now feels like a good time to mention that I’m not exactly low maintenance.  On any level.  But I also know that I am not the only one that does that, and I know this because every time I photograph an adult, this is the type of things I hear from them too.  Kids have it made when it comes to getting their picture taken—everything they do looks cute.  And if it doesn’t?  What do they care?  They have much more important things to worry about like why the chicken nuggets that are shaped like dinosaurs taste different than nugget-shaped ones.  (Though to be fair, I’m kind of curious about this too.)

Here are five tips for photographing adults without involving puppies:

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1. Keep them Busy

If I had a dollar for every adult I have asked to twirl and dance around, I would have enough dollars to buy this 200 pound St. Bernard I’ve had my eye on with enough left over to keep him in food for at least a week.  Adults fight me every time on this one, but I force it because I can, and hey, we’re all grown-ups here.  I don’t care about their twirling skills a bit.  What I want is for them to loosen up and let go of their worry over how they are going to look.  Ask for something to do something goofy and you’re likely to get a true smile and a natural stance.

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2. Use your Surroundings

Adults don’t often come with a car full of stuffed animals to include in the pictures (and boy if they do, I’m outta there so fast), so you have to find parts and pieces of the world around that are going to make the image interesting and personal.  I love me some sky if it’s an option.  I also don’t mind a little concrete but whatever it is, utilize it as a way to draw interest to the person and tell a little story.

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3. Give them Something to Do with their Hands

It’s a lot to ask of someone to just stand there and look cute and often the most awkward part of that is not knowing what to do with your hands.  Offer up anything but shoving them in pockets to avoid the inevitable “I don’t know what to do right now” look.

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4. Show them how You would do it

Every time I photograph an adult and have an idea for a pose or concept, I do it first.  “I would lay down in this patch of dandelions like this, but you may find that it feels better to you to do it a little differently”.  I encourage them to try it and see what feels comfortable.  In reality you’re just giving them a starting off point.  Once they feel like they are “doing it right” they will become more comfortable and be able to sink into a place that feels natural to them.

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5. Reassure them….  Lots

While I am shooting, I’m always encouraging.  In an obnoxious and loud way because that’s just how I roll.  I’ll tell them I love what they’re doing, or that they look perfect in this light, or that I’m getting tons of great stuff.  Sure, every once in a while I admit that something looks stupid but only because my idea didn’t work out.  And I’m a big believer in adults thinking I have a magical darkroom where I sprinkle special fairy dust on everyone’s faces and wrinkles and dull skin and that extra 10 pounds you swear exists that doesn’t, just magically goes away.  And then I go out to my money tree and pick todays offerings.  Seriously though, adults take a lot of comfort in knowing that you look at faces all day long and can be trusted to make sure the end result looks great.

And it never hurts to mention that as far as you can tell, both of their eyes appear to be the same size and you like their shirt.

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Lynsey Mattingly
Lynsey Mattingly

photographs families, kids, couples, and other groups of people who, for whatever reason, kind of like each other. Her portrait work has been featured in People Magazine, Us Weekly, BBC Magazine, and on national TV including CNN, Oprah, and Ellen, but most importantly, in the personal galleries of clients across the country. Her photography can be viewed at www.lynseymattingly.com or on Facebook.

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