Ten Tips to Creating Natural Photos

Ten Tips to Creating Natural Photos

Conducting a smooth running photo shoot is a challenge. You need to create the right set conditions, manage the equipment, and deal with the models. Thankfully, there are several steps you can take in choosing the right models, while providing them with a relaxed and smooth-running environment. Having relaxed models can make or break a photo shoot because they’ll give you a more natural performance, which translates into memorable photos. Here are ten tips for working with models and managing the set in order run an efficient shoot and produce natural imagery: 

1) Don’t Hire Pros  

To reduce costs and increase authenticity, it’s more common to use real people (as opposed to professional talent) as photo shoots models. Real people are more likely to sign model releases since they often have a greater return-benefit interest in receiving professionally crafted images of themselves. Because real people often have little prior on-camera “in the lime light” experience, it is important to screen these potential models. Asking open-ended questions during the casting process can provide insight as to the personality of the individual and their willingness to interact with others. Sharing images of prior shoots with the potential model can assist in managing their expectations and increasing their confidence and willingness to participate.

2) Manage Shoot Attendees

Because of the risk-taking involved and unknown nature of participating in a commercial lifestyle photo shoot, people tend to ask if they can bring extra people to the experience. In order to shoot dynamics, it is often helpful if close friends and family of the models are not present (unless models are under age 18). The reason for this is psychological, as the person who is modeling can often feel an obligation to speak with or entertain the non-participating extras. In an effort to allow the model to feel free and detached from the necessities to “perform,” while also increasing their natural interaction with others, it is suggested that models be encouraged to attend the photo shoot alone.

Photo shoot

3) Boost Confidence

It is important to give the potential model information about the photo shoot and who will be present and involved during the shoot. Providing a “what to expect” guidelines sheet in the form of a PDF that is emailed before the photo shoot day can be very helpful. This sheet can include photos of the team members who will be present, the location, wardrobe ideas, and a list of how the process will unfold.

The orientation process might include what types of conversations will be taking place on set, who will be supporting everyone with directions, and reasons for why the images are organized in a certain creative structure. This guideline is similar to the industry specific “call sheet,” but should go beyond factual details of time, place, and contact information. People are more likely to devote time and energy to a project when they understand the full parameters of what their participation means to the outcome.

4) Designate a Model Communicator 

Choose someone, or designate yourself, to be the introducer, initiator, and moderator of communication between models on the shoot day. It’s not uncommon that models, especially real people in a first-ever lifestyle photo shoot, feel initial shyness. The wrangler’s job is to keep the conversations going; thus, it requires emotional sensitivity to the needs of the models to feel warmly invited to the photo shoot and shooting process. It may involve helping to get snacks and water for models and any other specific special needs. It should also involve seeding conversations to help “break the ice” with humor and contemporary knowledge of news events and/or other collectively shared experiences in order to provide models with the opportunity to have real and natural conversational interactions.

5) Ensure Comfortable Surroundings  

Just as business meetings are more comfortable and relaxed when done over dinner, consider making the shoot experience more pleasant for models by introducing special treats. It could be seasonally relevant fruit, sweets from a nearby popular bakery, or a bottle of white wine (to avoid stains to clothing and upholstery). When food and drink are present, models are more likely to “stick around” for a while and get to know each other, bond, and be conducive to natural interactions when the photo shooting starts.

Dreamstime Photog

6) Take proactive measures when scouting the area

The photographer’s sense of confidence is just as important as the models’. By visiting the location ahead of the shoot time, one can creatively and logistically digest how the shoot will take place. This confidence will breed efficiency on the shoot day; anything from knowing where the bathrooms are, to how to turn on the lights, or where to park the car. Often the scout of a location before the shoot day can bring new ideas to mind that would otherwise be missed or unprepared for. Location scout photos might also be relevant to the shoot project and be licensable as stock images.

7) Clothes Matter

The more comfortable you are in moving about quickly and easily, the more comfortable and creative you will be during the shoot. Having a proper hat, layers of clothes, shoes, and accessories like sunglasses, sunscreen, gloves, or even kneepads, breeds an ease of accessibility to make interesting photos from unique hard-to-obtain angles. If you’re wearing the proper clothing, you will be more encouraged to trudge through the snow, stand in the mud, shoot from overhead, or crawl around from below; things that might make or break the perfect shot.

Dreamstime photographers

8) Overbook 

Not every model that is cast will live up to their expectations while on set during the shoot day. Sometimes people simply have a bad day or interact better in different group dynamics. Overbooking models allows for a cost-effective way to time manage the process of last minute, and inevitable, cancellation by a certain percentage of the talent. It also hedges a bet for the shoot concept in risk protection should a particular model not be performing as expected and need to have their role exchanged for a while by another model who is attending.  

9) Introduce everyone

Easily forgotten, a formal “stop in the action” introduction of each new attendee to the shoot helps to not only increase the group cohesion, it is a one-time-only efficient way to let everyone know who everyone else is. A formal announcement of the models attending is respectful and polite to their time and energy to attend and makes them feel as not “just another face in the crowd.”  People enjoy being known by name and knowing that others know who they are.

Dreamstime Photographer

10) Put the phones away

Easily the most distracting aspect on set these days is the smartphone and constant “check-in” to smartphone apps. Encourage people to put their phones to the side so that conversations might be had with each other instead. This will not only produce better cohesion, but will also increase attentiveness by those who are modeling and/or servicing the models. The suggestion can be framed by the reality that the more interpersonal the interaction is between those on set, the more likely they are to establish longer-term friendships with each other. Keeping cell phones in “Airplane Mode” will help encourage this process of networking and will improve the group rapport for everyone involved.

When utilized in concert, these ten tips can have a profound effect on the quality of your photos and the efficiency and overall “flow” of the typical shoot. By ensuring a comfortable setting, removing distractions, and properly managing models, photographers can ensure they produce natural-looking stock photos.


Shannon Fagan is a Dreamstime Professional Photographer

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Jordan Randall's picture

I've gotta completely disagree with step 1 although I like everything else. Non-pros will certainly be natural, but they may be naturally not-good haha.

A good model *makes* themselves look natural, that's part of what makes them good. You could tell Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell to stand on their heads and it'll make sense, most non-pros won't even look into the camera for a headshot without direction.

Otherwise, I read it all and am digesting it for my own work :). Thanks!

Adam T's picture

I agree if a pro model can't take a cue to act natural then they should be let go.