How to Relax a Client During a Portrait Photo Shoot

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.

ways to relax a client during a photoshoot

Photo by Lachlan Hardy; ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/800-second exposure.

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!”

tips to relax clients during a photoshoot

Photo by Cocoa Dream; ISO 200, f/1.8, 1/200-second exposure.

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.

techniques to relax clients during a photoshoot

Photo by transp; ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/45-second exposure.

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.

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current: