How to Relax a Client During a Portrait Photo Shoot

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If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years of photographing people, it’s that the response to candid photos versus posed is distinctively noticeable in my clients. That “aww” or “ohhh” I seek to produce and long to hear when presenting my work to a client intrinsically happens with those “in the moment” shots, so they are a must capture for me in almost every situation.

portrait session subject

Photo captured by Manish Kumar (Click Image to See More From Manish Kumar)

When a photographer catches a subject in his or her element it translates a level of emotion simply not found in posed shots. A person could be the most beautiful masterpiece of humanity and not be photogenic naturally. The camera has a funny way of changing things. However, I believe it true that there is not a single person who does not look good captured as who they are while in their element.

Now there is of course always a time and place for posed shots—the family picture at a wedding, for example. In fact, most of the time you need to pose your subject in one way or another, even if it means you are recomposing the subject by moving during a candid moment to translate the picture properly. So how do you inject the natural moments into the necessity of posing? Here is a list of pointers that will help.

First, the camera is their friend and not a starting gun. Remember, many people you are shooting rarely in their lives have had photographic attention. Aunt Margaret with her point and shoot may be the only paparazzi they have encountered. So they naturally think that when the camera is pointing, it’s time to perform—or turn red. I use the facts of photography to my advantage; a camera needs to be adjusted before and during shooting. Many might do this before the shoot; this is good practice of course. I always tell my clients I need to take some setup shots to get started and I continue to tell them I am resetting the camera throughout the shoot despite my previous setup time. This allows me to make sure I am right in my thinking about the settings and loosens me up a bit. Conversely—and most importantly—it lets them know that not every picture I am taking is for the only reason of getting a good picture of them, that beautiful Nikon click is not a starting gun. The product of this is at the outset they are getting familiar with the idea that there is time to get what we need.

Second, is simple but most necessary, talk to them. I often start a conversation with them about something they are excited about while I set up: their wedding, when and how they met, hobbies, career, etc. While talking you can snap a few shots. This will put you in front of the camera, not behind it. It helps them realize the camera is not only a tool but an extension of a person. They talk to the camera and in their minds it becomes you—helping it fade. I also glean picture ideas from the conversations, “Oh you’re a lumberjack are you? Stand over here and swing this axe. Whoa! Not at the Nikon!”

how to relax a portrait subject

Photo captured by Courtney (Click Image to See More From Courtney)

Third, the client is important to the picture but not all important. If you took pictures of them up against a brick wall for the entirety of the shoot and only talked about them, it would isolate them out as the only thing that matters. So get excited about the surroundings, let them know what’s on your mind. Don’t think to yourself “that open field looks great, I’ll take them there”. Don’t even say “I’m taking you to” or “let’s go to that open field.” Instead, say, “Look at that field. Look at the sun! It’s so perfect on the grass. I can’t believe how beautiful pictures look in the sun, rain, clouds” and so on. Go ahead and get excited about the surroundings. Introduce props. Let them know this is also about the beauty and fun of where they are. This again gets their mind off of themselves and onto being themselves. At the end when they receive your work, you want them to remember the day as a date, a walk in the woods, a gander at the falls—not a photo shoot. The pictures are just a bonus!

And last, never stop snapping photos. Most of the pictures I end up with are useless, not because of a lack of skill but because I never want to stop my shutter. There are many reasons for this—primarily, the comfort of the client. If you have long breaks between captures it brings the camera back into the shoot as the center of attention—that thing that makes them perform. If you only ever take pictures after they are exactly where you want them, they feel that photographic stage fright yet again. However, if you’re always shooting letting them know all the while you’re messing around with settings—or in other words, no need to perform. They will never feel the need to and therefore naturally do so candidly. The side benefits are that you will always have the camera where it should be, at your face, thus allowing you to capture those fleeting perfect moments that are gone is less time than it takes to get the camera where it belongs. It’s worth the extra cull time and the extra memory in the end.

relaxed portrait session

“Asya All” captured by Alexei Jurchenko (Click Image to See More From Alexei Jurchenko)

Ultimately, there is no set in stone rule to follow, but these ideas will certainly help you bridge the divide between the camera and client. In time you will develop your own signature interaction practices.

About the Author:
Michael Tigchelaar is from Zekar Photography and is based in Southern Ontario.

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4 Comments

  1. Kelly Wall says:

    Great tips! Keep them coming! Thanks for all of your help!

  2. I found this article very interesting and accurate. I too like to engage my model in conversation. It is very important to relax your model so they feel comfortable to be themselves. I like the way you put that when you said “It helps them realize the camera is not only a tool but an extension of a person.”

    goodone

  3. Gary R Hook says:

    This is a very good article. It is spot on with respect to connection to the subject, and tips on making the camera transparent.

    Kudos to Mr. Tigchelaar for putting down such wonderful insights.

  4. Yes the trick is to be relaxed and keep the client relaxed by engaging in conversation and being enthusiastic. This rubs off on the client. You can also show the client a photograph on the cameras rear screen you particularly like which will further boost their confidence.

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