Not all of us work with professional models that can turn on the natural-looking poses when the lens is bearing down on them. Whether it’s Auntie Jean or an aspiring model-to-be, some people just don’t feel comfortable in front of the camera, and this often makes for awkward-looking portraits. So, here are five tips you can use on your next photoshoot to put them at ease and take better portrait photographs.
Put on Some Music
Now, you don’t want heavy metal here or anything with explicit lyrics, nor do you want something that’ll put everyone to sleep. Easy ambient, chill-out music is good, something with a bit of tempo to keep things lively. Jazz is always a good option or electronica. My favorite is Bonobo. However, ask your model what they’ve been listening to recently or if they have any requests. Avoid the question “what music do you like,” as everyone always falters at that one, because the question is too broad. Also, an extra tip is to place the speaker somewhere equidistant from you both and turn it up until it’s just loud enough to hear. This means you can both hear each other easily so the model can ask questions and you can direct poses without feeling awkward.
Offer a Drink
After the meet and greet, it’s always a good idea to offer your model a drink, if you can. Tea or coffee are okay, but if you’re planning on shooting that bright, beaming smile, perhaps steer clear of drinks that could stain the teeth and lips. Soft or alcoholic drinks are fine, just bear in mind that alcohol could relax some people a little too much, which makes your job that much harder. Stick with soft drinks such as cola, soda, or juices if you want to play it safe.
Talk to Them First, Without the Camera
This step is especially important if you’ve never met your model before or you don’t know them very well. Get to know them and ask how their journey was. Talk about what they’ve been doing the week prior or where they’ve been on holiday — anything to get the conversation moving so they can relax. Or, if you’re British, as I am, you’ll find yourself talking about the weather!
Shoot Them Without Using the Viewfinder
Eye contact with your model is brilliant for making them feel at ease. Putting a big, scary camera and lens between you and them is a good way to make them feel like a rabbit in the headlights. Put your camera on a tripod and use live view or tether to a laptop so you don’t have to look through the viewfinder. That way, you can keep your hands on the camera and snap away, and the autofocus will remain at the right point as long as the model is stationary.
A five-minute drinks break here and there will let your model lower their guard, so they don’t feel like they’re constantly performing. Gradually, as they move between shooting and relaxing, they’ll realize there’s nothing scary about the photoshoot, and the rest of your time together will become much easier.
These are just a few techniques I use to help nervous or shy models relax during our photoshoots, but I want to hear what you have to say. What are some of your favorite ways to get people relaxed in front of the camera? Perhaps you've found that heavy metal really helps? Leave a comment below!