Not everyone is comfortable in front of a camera. Having a picture taken feels unnatural and can be awkward, and that’s how your subjects will look if that’s how they feel. Some people will try to overcompensate by smiling too widely and the whole scene looks fake and off-putting. A tiny bit of this responsibility belongs to the subjects, but the bulk of it lies on the photographer’s shoulders. It is up to you as the professional to make your subjects feel at ease, natural, and satisfied to capture some stellar portraits, group shots, and even candids.
An important first step is to feel relaxed and cool yourself. An uptight person behind the camera is going to influence the people in the viewfinder. Introduce yourself, be friendly, and start a positive rapport. Use appropriate language that includes authentic compliments (that don’t sound forced). Avoid making any negative remarks about the way some of the photos are turning out. This makes individuals feel like they’re doing a bad job, or look wrong, and it will make the situation worse.
Direct your subjects with an encouraging voice. Be upfront and clear about exactly what people should do. Demonstrate a pose or show how something could be done. Try different versions to see what works. Don’t touch or move any part of your subjects without their consent (and try to avoid it, regardless). It’s difficult for people to know what poses look good and natural because they can’t see themselves.
In fact, it’s a good idea to let them see photos along the way so they can get an idea of what the scene and the people in it looks like. If they are on hand, show them other printed works of yours. Be sure to use a top quality, professional shop like Print Partner to impress them with the depth of colour, brilliance, luxurious finish, and beautiful potential of their future printed portrait.
Teach them tricks for posing, facial expressions, and finding their good side. Not every person takes a lot of selfies and knows how to smile for the camera and which angles and poses suit their face and body. Lead them toward appropriate looks for the photo in mind. Sensuous model poses don’t belong in a family portrait under a willow tree but saying so directly can embarrass the subject who may or may not think they’re going to be America’s Next Top Model.
Consider shooting candids or semi-natural shots as part of your session. Let your subjects play in the wild flower field, have a relaxed conversation on the park bench, walk along the water’s edge and capture the setting sun from behind. Try breaking-up the session by starting with posed photos, then some relaxed free time, with a chance to catch candids, then return to posing again. You might find the 3rd set of shots are the best ones. Once the session has been going for awhile and everyone can be at ease, their natural selves can shine through.