Let’s face it, getting in front of a camera feels uncomfortable to most people! As photographers, it’s our job to help guide the people in front of our cameras in ways that will allow them to feel more comfortable and also allow you to capture genuine emotion and interactions. In my experience, one really effective way to do this is through what I like to call “gentle posing”.
In other words, you give the people you’re photography some basic prompting that allows for emotions and interactions to unfold. This usually includes some posing instruction without being so specific that it starts to feel especially awkward and unnatural to them.
In this article, I’m going to share some of my go-to prompts and gentle posing instructions for different ages and groupings. Obviously, you’ll want to tailor these to the people you’re photographing, not every suggestion will work for every family or child.
That said, this collection of prompts will definitely get you started thinking about how you can begin to incorporate these techniques with the people that you find in front of your lens!
Babies & Toddlers
Here are a few ideas to use with your younger subjects:
- Ask the child, “Can you give mommy a snuggle?”
- “Can you kiss daddy’s cheek?”
- Have dad stand behind you and play peek-a-boo with their kiddo.
- Have mom stand next to you and mime that she’s going to come tickle the child.
- Start loudly singing a song from the child’s favorite movie or TV show (I usually ask parents about favorites in advance so I can look them up if needed).
- Bring a bubble machine and set it off nearby.
- Say, “Now everybody give Jane a kiss!” (using the child’s name)
Read more for other tips on photographing young kids here: 6 Simple Tips to Capture More Expressive Images of Your Children
Children (Ages 3-10 ish)
Here are some suggestions for slightly older kits:
- “Show me your best princess face! Great! Now show me your best monster face! Love it! Now show me your surprised face!”
- Tell a knock-knock joke, then ask them to tell you one.
- “Would you rather eat three worms, or a peanut butter and pickle sandwich?”
- Spin around twice and then sit down as fast as you can.
- Point to your camera lens, and ask them if they can see what color your eyes are through the lens.
- Ask them to show you their best trick or dance move.
- “Okay, whatever you do, DO NOT SMILE!”
- “Your turn to choose – what do you want me to take a picture of you doing?”
- For younger children, sometimes I’ll give them a “magic” rock or leaf and tell them that whenever they push it, the camera will take a picture. Invite them to try it out! (Make sure you have a hidden remote trigger to make this work.)
- “What’s your favorite part of school? Can you tell me about the funniest thing that happened at school recently?”
- “What’s the silliest song you know? Can you sing it for me?”
Also read: 5 Non-Posed Ideas For Photographing Kids
Teens and Tweens
This age group can get a bit tougher:
- “Give me your best Smize/Blue Steel!” If they don’t know what either is, spend a minute showing them YouTube clips and then demonstrate it for them. Trust me, this is priceless!
- “Who’s your favorite athlete/author/band? Great! Channel them for a minute and pose like they would for the cover of a magazine.”
- “What do you think you want to do after high school?”
- Ask them to give you their best Santa Claus laugh. Then demonstrate out loud with a hearty “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
- Tell a really lame joke.
- “Okay, start with your arms crossed in front of your body. Every time I say ‘Go!’, I want you to strike a different pose. Ready, go!”
- Compliment them! Tell them that they look fantastic, or that you think their accomplishments/ambitions are so amazing. Make sure your words are genuine – kids are perceptive and can tell when you’re just giving them lip service. That said, this generation continually gives me hope for the future of our world, so it should be easy to find something to commend them for.
- Joke around that when you’re photographing younger kids, this is usually when you break out into song, and start singing “Let it Go” or another popular children’s song.
- “Your mom is hysterical. Tell me about the last thing she did that was hilarious.”
- “What was the last book/TV show that made you laugh out loud? What was the last one that made you cry? What was the last one that you absolutely hated?”
- “If you could get on a plane RIGHT NOW and go anywhere you wanted, where would you go?”
- “What’s one thing you’re really proud of?”
Also read: Capturing Unenthusiastic Teens: Forget the Perfect Pose and Get Photos You Truly Love
- “Group hug! Smush even closer! Closer! Get as close as you can! Now nobody fart, okay?”
- “Everybody tickle John!”
- “Okay, everybody look right here at me. Now, everybody look at the person that snores the loudest! Now everybody look at the person that burps the loudest!”
- If the family has younger children, I’ll often have them play a game like Ring Around the Rosy or use a quilt like a parachute for the kids to run under.
- Sometimes I’ll ask families to hold hands and run towards an object (this works best if they’re running in front of/behind one another rather than side-by-side)
Read more here: 8 Tips for Getting Great Expressions in Family Portraits
- For siblings holding an infant, I often ask them to look at and/or touch a specific body part (i.e. “Do you see baby sister’s nose? Can you look at it?”
- “Give each other the biggest bear hug you can!”
- “Hold hands and look at each other. Now, look at me!”
- “Can you tell your sister a secret?”
- For couples, sometimes I’ll ask one person to use their nose to draw something on the second person’s cheek. The second person should close their eyes while the first person is drawing, and then has to guess what they drew.
- “When I say go, I want Joe (the guy’s name) to whisper his favorite vegetable in Jane’s (the girl’s name) ear in his most seductive voice. Ready? Go!”
- On occasion, I’ll have couples hold hands and walk towards me. If possible, I’ll secretly give one person instructions to use their hips to bump the other person as they walk.
- Everybody say “Coffee!” (This usually gets a laugh from couples at morning sessions, but it also results in a more natural smile than asking someone to say “cheese”).
- “What was your first dance song at your wedding? Hang on, let me find it on Spotify! We’re totally re-creating your first dance right now! Let’s see it!”
- “Wrap this blanket around yourselves. Now, touch noses. NO KISSING!”
Read more here: 5 Tips for Creating Romantic Portraits of Couples
- Some variation of “Sally, tell me the funniest story you know about Amy!” or “Joe, tell me about one time when Zack totally saved your butt!” are usually the best options for genuine reactions.
- For wedding parties, I sometimes ask the bridesmaids to give me their best groomsman pose and vice versa.
- I’ll often ask big groups to do a big group hug, and then tell them to get closer…and closer…and closer until they all can’t stop laughing.
- “On the count of three, give me your best model pose!”
Read more here: How to Pose People for Group Portraits
Whew, that was quite a list! Hopefully, it will give you some ideas of different ways to prompt the people you’re photographing that will elicit genuine emotions and expressions from them.
What about you? Do you have any go-t0 prompts for the people you’re photographing? If so, please chime in down below in the comments.